People and Places - November 2015

Guild Incorporated announces new board member

Guild Incorporated, which provides services for people with mental illness, announced that George Stone has joined its board of directors. Stone currently serves as director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) Minnesota.

He is an alumnus of Hamline University. Stone has extensive experience in direct service provision, tenant landlord relations and child-care. Currently his focus is working to advance supportive housing as well as integrating housing and healthcare. He has been a featured speaker in local and national forums on issues such as developing supportive housing and creating the American Indian Supportive Housing Initiative in 2006.

“I was impressed with Guild Incorporated’s understanding of the various needs faced by specific populations and their enthusiasm in developing new and innovative approaches to ending homelessness,” he said. “Over the years I have been personally impacted by the challenges of mental illness in my life. Multiple family members have struggled with their mental health and it affected their housing, employment, and support systems. The correlation of mental illness, homelessness and the social determinants of health is a growing concern and I think I can help Guild be a leader in the area.”

 

Changes at State Services for the Blind

Radio Talking Book and State Services for the Blind has announced changes in personnel. Jay Maruska is the new supervisor for the Braille Unit. Maruska joins the agency after working at Intermediate School District 287, where he had worked as a Braillist for the past seven years.

Maruska studied Braille through Volunteer Braille Services in 2000-2001, and became a certified Braillist shortly thereafter. He is also fluent in American Sign Language. Maruska succeeded supervisor Donna Marhoun, who retired in September. She had been the supervisor since the death of Mary Archer in 2009.

 

Two who make life better for others are recognized

Two people who work with Minnesotans with disabilities are the 2015 recipients of the Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards. The awards were presented in October at the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits annual convention in St. Paul. Honored were Tom Johnson of St. Paul, a client advocate with Mental Health Minnesota and Wilbur Neuschwander-Frink of Mankato, a community organizer with the Arc Southwest.

Presented by the council in partnership with The McKnight Foundation, the Unsung Hero Awards honor individuals doing life-changing work in communities across Minnesota. Awards for excellence were also given to groups that work with Minnesotans with disabilities: Washburn Center for Children, Opportunity Partners, Mixed Blood Theater Company and People Incorporated.

“We’re fortunate to live in a state with so many generous individuals,” said Jon Pratt, Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s executive director. “The Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards honor people who contributed their time and passion with no expectation of credit, just the drive to help their community. It’s truly a testament to the extraordinary difference a person can make.”

Johnson and Neuschwander-Frink were each presented with a cash prize of $10,000. Additionally, a video was to be created to highlight the work for which they are being recognized.

Neuschwander-Frink is a community organizer at The Arc of Minnesota Southwest. She also works for Pathstone Living as a volunteer coordinator. She leads two theater groups for individuals with disabilities and has served with a number of organizations in various capacities, including Feeding Our Communities Partners’ BackPack Food Program, People First, the Good Thun

Neuschwander-Frink became involved in the self-advocacy movement when she worked as a nurse in New Ulm, helping group home residents and staff manage the residents’ health care. But her interests go back to childhood, as she grew with a cousin with a disability. Her family worked to make sure the cousin was included in family and community events.

She served for several years as regional director of The Arc Minnesota Southwest, a nonprofit that promotes the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her talents include writing plays that are performed by people with disabilities, helping the New Ulm-based United We Stand Players and Mankato’s AKTION Club Theater with presentations.

Johnson is a client advocate at Mental Health Minnesota, where he helps individuals with mental illnesses advocate for themselves and maintain independence. His passion for advocacy began at the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota in the 1990s.

Johnson also serves on the State Mental Health Advisory Council and has worked on legislative proposals to require those studying law enforcement to be trained in mental health crises.

Johnson became involved in mental health issues after his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “I remembered how confusing it was for family members,” he said. People who work with Johnson praises his dedication to and patience with his clients. He is known for overcoming barriers and for treating people as individuals who deserve respect and dignity. “They’re not their diagnosis,” one woman said.

Much of Johnson’s work focus is on housing, as he notes that other forms of assistance aren’t as effective when clients lack stability in their home lives.

“I can’t always solve the problem, but I can try, and people know they have been heard,” said Johnson. Notable mention honorees Robianne Shultz of Perham and Mary Powell of Shoreview will each receive $1,000 to donate to an organization of their choice. Powell is the president of the board of directors at the Center for Engaging Autism and served as the executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota for 18 years, where she developed programs for individuals and families with autism. Under Powell’s leadership, the Center for Engaging Autism has become an invaluable resource for parents and families. Additionally, Powell started Outcomes, Inc., a residential service provider for individuals with autism; developed a summer camp for individuals with autism; launched the State Autism Conference; and advocated for teacher licensure in autism spectrum disorders.

Schultz is the state’s American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network lead volunteer, a position she became passionate about after being diagnosed with cancer in 2001. Through this role, Schultz guides advocates at the local and national level to work with elected officials to develop policies to fight cancer and increase funding for cancer research. Additionally, she serves in a leadership role for Relay for Life in East Otter Tail County, where she helps to raise funds for the event.

This was the first year for the nonprofits’ council to work with McKnight Foundation on the Unsung Hero Awards. Since 1985, The McKnight Foundation has recognized Minnesotans who have improved the quality of life for individuals and the community around them through the Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service. The award is named in honor of Virginia McKnight Binger, who served for nearly 50 years as a McKnight board member, as president from 1974 through 1987 and then as honorary chair until her death in 2002. Although her parents, William and Maude McKnight, established the McKnight Foundation, it was Binger’s personal compassion and generosity that set the standard for its work.

As part of the conference, the council and MAP for Nonprofits presented their annual Nonprofit Mission and Excellence Awards, presented by MCN and MAP for Nonprofits. These awards emphasize the importance of nonprofits to the quality of life in Minnesota by recognizing achievements that make a significant impact in several categories. Washburn Center for Children was honored with the Innovation Award. Opportunity Partners was honored for Advocacy. Mixed Blood Theatre Company was honored for its anti-racism work. The Excellence Award went to People Incorporated.

 

MN-CCD hires new managing director

Sheryl GrassieSheryl R. Grassie was recently hired as the managing director for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD). Grassie, who holds a Phd. in educational leadership, is a longtime advocate for disability issues.

“In her role as managing director, Sheryl will be responsible for effective outreach and relationship building,” said MN-CCD Board Chairman David Hancox, “She will be maintaining effective and regular communication with the members of the MNCCD.” Hancox urged all MN-CCD members to join in welcoming Grassie to the organization.

Grassie has an extensive background which includes leadership roles in several disability focused nonprofits, as a special education teacher, clinical work, and organizational developmental. Most recently she was the executive director of the Minnesota based nonprofit The End of the Spectrum, advocating for the needs of children diagnosed with autism.

Grassie has also served as an independent writing and business consultant. She has authored, ghostwritten and/or edited numerous books and articles related to the fields of psychology, disability and education.

Grassie earned her doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas, a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Macalester College. She resides in Minneapolis.

She has three children and is an avocational potter. MN-CCD is located at 2446 University Ave West, #110, St. Paul, MN 55114. Grassie may be reached at srgrassie@mnccd.org; her phone number is 952-818-8718.

 

Service dog is off to college

Can Do CaninesTwo of the latest Can Do Canines graduates are in pursuit of higher education. St. Cloud State University student Samantha Wanner and Obie, her mobility assist dog, were among the 19 people and canine assistance dog teams graduating from the Can Do Canines assistance dog program October 24 in New Hope.

The graduating class includes dogs that assist people who live with autism, diabetes, hearing and mobility issues. All dogs are provided by Can Do Canines free of charge.

Wanner, 22, and Obie attend college together. Diagnosed at age 15, the umbrella term for Wanner’s disability
is autonomic dysfunction—a chronic problem with the internal system that controls functions like heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. This causes her body to experience extreme exhaustion, deep aches and sporadic and quickened heart fluctuations.

Obie helps Wanner feel more and confident and safe in her daily life, and in doing so, she has reenrolled in college. She hopes to graduate with a degree in psychology and pursue her dreams of helping others with disabilities.

Obie, a yellow Labrador retriever, helps Wanner up the stairs and acts as a brace when she stands up. The assistance dog hauls her laundry and picks up items that she drops. But what Wanner said is the most impactful is how Obie decreases her anxiety.

“Obie is uncomfortable when I’m out of his sight,” she said. “So I know he will always be by my side if I need his help.”

Can Do Canines is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs. Since 1989, Can Do Canines has provided more than 480 assistance dogs to people with disabilities.

 

Two win Jacobson Award

Judd Jacobson AwardTwo people with disabilities are recipients of the 2015 Judd Jacobson Memorial Award, an award given to honor exceptional entrepreneurs. The awards are given by the Courage Kenny Foundation, with each winner receiving a $5,000 cash award to help advance their businesses.

In 2012, Duluth resident Zach Knuckey, 26, experienced a stroke in his spine which left him with paralysis. Knuckey’s love of water and an active lifestyle led him to found Waters Edge Guide Service, which provides guided fishing tours and builds custom fishing rods.

Knuckey’s paraplegia doesn’t impact his exceptional ability to guide people to catch fish. His number one goal is to find fish; his second is to teach his customers how to catch them. While recuperating from his stroke he perfected his skill of building custom fishing rods.

Custom rods will soon become one of his primary sources of income along with the guided fishing tours.

Knuckey plans to use the Jacobson Award money to build and maintain a website for his business. He also plans to purchase a rod wrapper and finisher to assist in building custom rods and purchase a state-of-the-art side imaging sonar with 360 degree imaging to help set his guided tours apart from others. To learn more, visit here.

Minneapolis resident Kelsey Peterson, 30, is a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident in 2012. Since her injury she has devoted her time to Siren, an organic, safe, holistic body care line.

Siren products range from deodorant and men’s shaving and facial care to quality moisturizers, face masks and therapeutic bath soaks. All products include organic and locally sourced essential oils and are handcrafted in small batches. With a very grassroots movement, Siren started through friends and family and has spread from there.

With the award money Petersen plans to extend her customer base by participating in fairs, farmer’s markets, local businesses and trunk shows with other local artists. She also plans to order new eco-friendly packaging and develop new marketing and display tools to help her grow her business. To purchase Siren products, go here.

Knuckey and Peterson were honored October 8 at a banquet at the Edina Country Club.

Courage Kenny Foundation raises funds to support patients and clients of Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, which was formed in 2013 by the merger of Courage Center and Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, part of Allina Health.

 

Hearing Loss Matters documentary has its premiere

A new documentary, Hearing Loss Matters, has made its debut. Co-produced by Twin Cities PBS (TPT) and the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans, the documentary first aired October 25. Check TPT and its affiliates for rebroadcasts.

The documentary includes interviews with national experts and everyday Minnesotans learning to cope with the effects of age-related hearing loss, and is a blend of human interest stories and details of cutting-edge research.

The documentary addresses the difference that addressing age-related hearing loss can make in the lives of Minnesotans from all walks of life. It also points to public policy issues that need and deserve our lawmakers’ attention National experts discuss the importance of addressing age-related hearing loss. Katherine Bouton, author and former editor at the New York Times said,

“We’re finally getting past the stigma that hearing loss is a condition of aging … that you just had to shrug your shoulders and not do anything about…We now understand that hearing loss is not a cosmetic condition. Treating it isn’t like coloring your hair or getting a facelift. It’s a medical condition – treating it is actually good for your physical and mental health.”

“We’re just now beginning to understand…that [hearing loss in older adults is] incredibly impactful for things like cognitive decline, our risk of dementia, falls, even preventing hospitalizations,” said Dr. Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University.

The documentary makes the point that age-related hearing loss is more than a personal inconvenience; it’s a public health issue with wide-ranging social impacts.

Recent research links age-related hearing loss to significantly greater likelihood of developing dementia, increase in hospitalizations, falls, isolation and severe episodes of depression. However, a growing pool of technologies and communication strategies can help those experiencing age-related hearing loss and their families, friends and co-workers to overcome the challenges it poses.

Hearing Loss Matters is focused on and the medical and social consequences referenced above pertain to those who experience hearing loss later in life and are used to communicating by listening and usingspoken language – not to those who are culturally deaf and primarily communicate using American Sign Language.

The documentary grew out of the work of a task force the commission convened to study age-related hearing loss and healthy aging. The task force was chaired by former Rep. Tom Huntley and commission member John Wodele, both of whom personally experience hearing loss. It was made up of health care professionals, consumer organizations, state agencies, the insurance industry and policy makers. The task force concluded their work this summer and made recommendations for addressing this growing issue that can be found on the commission’s website.

For more information about age-related hearing loss, the latest research, options for addressing it, where to get help and needed public policy, go here.

 

Sixty years of camping fun

Camp CourageCamp Courage celebrates its 60 years of serving individuals with disabilities in 2015. In 1955, Camp Courage
opened in Maple Lake to serve campers with physical disabilities such as polio, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, as well as other congenital and acquired disabilities. Sixty years later, camp remains a place where individuals of all abilities come to relax, develop lasting friendships and experience new and exciting activities.

Camp Courage is now a part of True Friends, a nonprofit, privately-funded agency that enriches the lives of nearly 4,000 people with developmental or physical disabilities and special needs annually. Other camp locations include Camp Friendship near Annandale, Camp Eden Wood in Eden Prairie and Camp Courage North near Lake George.

Camp Courage hosted an alumni reunion and open house recently to celebrate the 60-year milestone. More than 300 friends of Camp Courage joined in the festivities including one of camp’s founders, Virginia Schoenbohm-Clymer and a counselor from the 1990s who traveled from the Czech Republic to be a part of the day.

Camp Courage“Camp was built for just anyone, with any kind of disability, to enjoy being around wonderful, warm friends who are accepting and understanding,” said Schoenbohm-Clymer. She recalled a quote from Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey as he dedicated the Speech and Hearing Camp that was added in 1966. At that time, Humphrey said, “This camp is a living prayer.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of something that has done so much good for so many people for such a long time,” said President and CEO of True Friends, Ed Stracke.

“You want to know that what you’ve done in life makes a difference in the lives of other people,” said Dave Phillips, former camp director. “Part of all of our stories is camp, and that’s why it is special. Thank God for Camp Courage.”

 

The Arc Minnesota honors many for their service

Several people who provide outstanding service to Minnesota’s disability community were honored October 23 by The Arc Minnesota. Awards were presented at the organization’s annual banquet. Many of the awards are named in honor of past community leaders.

The Community Innovator Award honors work that increases community inclusion or self-determination of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Award winner Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI) has brought the ReelAbilities Film Festival to Minnesota twice. The ReelAbilities film festival is the nation’s largest film festival that focuses on people with disabilities. It is dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of lives, stories and artistic expression of people with different abilities.

The Teacher of the Year Award went to Kristi Downs, a special education teacher at Willow Creek Middle School in Rochester. After working part-time at a group home with people with a variety of disabilities, she returned to school to get her master’s degree in special education. Downs concentrates on what students are able to do independently, rather than focusing on what they are unable to do. She is considered a role model and great mentor.

The Luther Granquist Systems Change Award went to John Hetterick. A longtime public policy advocate, Hetterick was a key player in passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. In 2004, he drafted a concept paper on a possible education savings plan for people with disabilities. The first draft of the bill was introduced in 2006. The ABLE Act was signed into law in December 2014. Hetterick is now a spokesperson for the program.

The Andrew R. Richardson Advocacy Award honors those who speak for and/or raise awareness of the rights, needs, abilities, and/or human acceptance of people with disabilities. Winner Brandon Stahl, an investigative reporter for the Star Tribune, recently wrote about the death of Eric Dean, a Pope County boy with developmental disabilities. Children with developmental disabilities, especially children of color, have a higher rate of abuse than children without disabilities. The articles led to more protections for children.

The Volunteer of the Year Award went to June Joy. She has volunteered with Living Well Disability Services for the last 19 years, working with people in a therapeutic horticulture program to promote health and wellness. She was instrumental in the evolution of what started as a handful of accessible garden beds to an organization-wide program. Gardening is used to improve the lives of people with disabilities through increased physical activity, self-awareness and independence.

The Legislator of the Year Award went to Sen. John Hoffman (DFL- Champlain) and Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River). Both supported The 5% Campaign’s bill, with Hoffman as one of the authors. In 2015 Hoffman authored bills that became law including helping people keep more of their income and still qualify for health care under Medical Assistance; providing information on services and supports available to expectant parents who receive a diagnosis that their unborn baby has Down syndrome, Edwards Syndrome, or Patau Syndrome; changing law that discouraged use of funding for community-based services; and allowing Minnesota to start implementing the federal ABLE Act.

Zerwas became a “go to” legislator on health and human services committees. He was chief author of several bills in 2015, including increasing the amount of income that people can keep and still qualify for health care under Medical Assistance; allowing Minnesota to implement the ABLE Act; expanding access to durable medical equipment; and increasing access to dental services for those on Medical Assistance. He supported lowering parental fees and the mental health legislative agenda.

The Irving Martin Professional of the Year Award honors an individual employed in community services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities who has demonstrated sensitivity and the ability to provide an outstanding quality of service, which results in increased independence for the people being served. Sollo Kamanga and Wilbur Neuschwander-Frink are the honorees. Kamanga has worked at the Living Well Disability Services – Larpenteur home for the past 13 years. Kamanga works to maintain his unique relationship with everyone in the home, working weekends, covering co-workers’ time-off requests, and rearranging the schedule at his other (full-time) job to be attend a residents’ events. He takes residents to countless community outings. He also assists residents and other staff with technology.

Whether it is inclusive theater groups in Mankato and New Ulm she directs or the 10 People First groups in Southwest Minnesota she supports, Neuschwander-Frink ensures all are fully involved. She works with Self Advocates in Minnesota, The Arc Minnesota honors many for their service and helps Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered representatives to carry out their duties on a national board. She works with self-advocates through the Olmstead Academy, to increase their involvement in Minnesota’s plan for increasing inclusion and participation in the community.

The Employer of the Year Award, for an employer who has an exceptional record of providing inclusive, competitive employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, went to SouthWest Transit. Intermediate School District 287 asked SouthWest Transit to see if the agency would provide competitive employment opportunities for students with disabilities. Almost 50 students have been employed at minimum wage jobs there, performing a variety of custodial and organizational duties. Students work at Eden Prairie and Chanhassen sites.

The Inclusive Housing Award went to The Arc Greater Twin Cities, for helping persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities live in the community in the least restrictive environment possible. A housing initiative began in 2012, organizing stakeholders and hosting forums to identify key housing issues. In 2014, the chapter held housing resources. Key partnerships and promotion of legislation have resulted in an additional $100 million for housing developments.

The Bill Sackter Citizenship Award, for an outstanding individual with intellectual or developmental disabilities, went to Jameson Crawford. Crawford works as data entry specialist and information technology contact at Achieve Services. He is a board member of Achieve Clean, a company that produces environmentally-friendly laundry detergent and provides employment training and business experience. He has contributed many valuable ideas for Achieve Clean. Because of his expertise with computer spread sheets, the business is able to better keep track of employee payroll and product-related data. Crawford also runs his own eBay business and visits his legislators regularly to provide them with insight into the needs of a person with disabilities.