People and Places – November 2017

UCare hires new leader Mark Traynor is now the president and CEO of UCare, after holding the interim spot for […]

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UCare hires new leader

Mark Traynor is now the president and CEO of UCare, after holding the interim spot for several months. Macaran Baird, chairman of the UCare Board of Directors, announced the hire.

“I am very pleased about this new direction for UCare,” said Baird. “Mark is the right leader for the organization at this time. His deep knowledge of Minnesota health care and strong commitment to UCare’s mission and member focus enable him and senior management to lead the organization into an era of growth and success.”

Traynor’s appointment follows a six-month period as interim leader. During that time, he led the organization through significant growth with the return of state public program members. Traynor and the management team also provided strategic direction for transforming UCare’s digital presence, operational processes and platforms.

Traynor held leadership roles at the not-for-profit health plan for 18 years. He is a key member of the senior leader team, instrumental in leading UCare’s strategic planning. Traynor was most recently UCare’s senior vice president of provider relations and chief legal officer responsible for leading the provider relations, legal, compliance
and internal audit of the organization.

Before that he was general counsel/chief legal officer, and served as board secretary. Prior to joining UCare, Traynor held executive and legal positions at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

In 2015, he received the Minnesota Law Review Distinguished Alumni Award. Traynor is excited to move the organization forward. “UCare strives to be the market leader in serving Medicare enrollees, those eligible for Medicaid and adults with disabilities while continuing to grow opportunities for individuals and families to access our high-value, responsive health plans and services,” he said. “It’s an honor to lead the committed UCare team who go the extra mile to serve our members.”


Grant to help People Incorporated

A $9,931 grant from Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless will help People Incorporated build relationships and trust that can lead to enrollment in services and access to housing.

People Incorporated’s mission is to support mental health and wellness in the community through collaboration and integration of care. Case managers engage long-term homeless individuals by providing basic needs and materials, such as food, tents, sleeping bags, tarps, blankets, and clothing. If they are interested, outreach contacts will receive information about shelter, housing, and benefit options.

Funding from Open Your Heart will provide supplies for street outreach and help individuals experiencing substance use disorders and chronic homelessness meet their basic needs. By helping to meet basic needs, outreach case managers build relationships and trust that can lead to enrollment in services and access to housing.

Each year Open Your Heart supports more than 200 homeless shelters and food shelves like People Incorporated throughout urban, suburban, and rural Minnesota. Open Your Heart looks for gaps in funding of services based on
geographic or demographic considerations and reaches out to agencies serving those communities. The nonprofit supports programs in communities where many traditional funders do not reach – volunteer run domestic violence shelters, homeless programs in sparsely served remote corners of the state, inner city programs dedicated to serving the poorest among us, and hunger programs serving clientele with special needs. The primary goal is to ensure that front line providers of crisis services have the tools, equipment, and infrastructure necessary to carry out their work.


Employment honors for two firms

A well-known restaurant and a livestock industry medical supplier were named for ProAct’s 2017 Employer of the Year awards. Both are strong partners that have helped the Eagan-based nonprofit better the lives of people with disabilities.

Honored at an annual recognition banquet in Oakdale were Culver’s restaurants in Eagan, Rosemount and West. St. Paul, and IMV Technologies in Maple Grove. The firms were recognized before a crowd of about 500 individuals, families and group home staff at the Envision Event Center in Oakdale. A special address was given by Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan, who has a long history of service to the Eagan community.

“Work is something that brings dignity and satisfaction to the individual, and I cannot stress strongly enough that employers are crucial to the success of the people we serve,” said ProAct President and CEO Steven Ditschler. “We are grateful for the efforts of the 2017 award winners, and truly value their Employer of the Year categories are for Community Employer and Business Partner areas, designations which align with ProAct’s services for people with disabilities.

Community Employer winner Culver’s has franchises operated by the Laudenbach family. Franchise owner Matt Laudenbach said the impact of the programs ProAct offers has been life-changing and that Culver’s fully supports their growth. “Working with groups like ProAct to have their team members join our family business has given us way more than we have given them,” he said. “I am confident that the true effect reaches well beyond the walls of the restaurant to our whole community.”

Culver’s is a prime supporter of the customized employment model that matches the skills of job seekers with the needs of the business, said ProAct Employment Manager Heather Deutschlaender. Culver’s also offers many natural supports, or help coming alongside individuals in the workplace, which increases each person’s independence.

Business Partner recognition went to the IMV Technologies operation in Maple Grove. The French firm produces straws that are used for livestock insemination. These are assembled and packaged by individuals at ProAct in Eagan. The original product was invented by IMV in 1963.

ProAct Business Services Manager Mary McGeheran said the company’s success has allowed dedicated and talented individuals from ProAct to help produce more than a quarter-million products in the past year for farmers and breeders. “They have provided tens of thousands of hours of work to our greatest resource here, the individuals we serve,” she said.

Eric Salonen, who serves in supply chain and operations with IMV, said individuals with ProAct take great pride in
handling the company’s materials. “They know it’s involved with biologicals and animals, and that it’s a clean environment,” he said. Branded insemination straws are sold to another company which then fills and freezes them before sending them out to farmers. ProAct has helped to make the operation more efficient.

McGeheran said IMV’s mission and values speak to, and align beautifully with ProAct and its mission to provide person-centered services that enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities in the areas of employment, life skills and community inclusion.

ProAct, Inc. is headquartered in Eagan and has additional operations in Red Wing, Zumbrota and in Hudson, Wis.


Can Do Canines reaches milestone

David Finwall and assistance dog Jewel are a unique team. The Brooklyn Center due also is the 600th team that Can Do Canines certified. Can Do Canines provides training for several types of assistance dogs.

Finwall was diagnosed with HIV. Because of this, he has neurocognitive issues and peripheral neuropathy. He struggles with balance, especially on certain terrain, and can fall. His neuropathy causes him to drop things. Finwall also has a seizure disorder where seizures are triggered through new environments or people, and crowds. Emotional triggers can also cause seizures.

Finwall requires mobility and seizure assistance. In July of 2017 he was matched with Jewel, a black Labrador retriever that does both mobility and seizure work. Jewel can retrieve items and help prevent falls. Jewel provides seizure assistance by putting her head in Finwall’s lap and licking his hands, helping him feel more present.

Because of his cognitive difficulties, Finwall doesn’t have a sense of direction. Jewel helps him get around, and keeps Finwall from getting confused.

When asked what Jewel has changed for Finwall, he laughed and said, “She has changed in me a willingness to actually go back out into the world … in the past, I could spend all day getting ready to go out and then never go out.” He listed all the places he goes and things he now does before saying, “Long story short, I feel more confident to go out and do things.”

Finwall is incredibly grateful for Jewel and the people who helped raise her. “I have an ocean of gratitude for what they’ve put together … [Jewel has allowed] me the opportunity to feel more whole and more human.” If he met those involved in raising her, he would “thank them for helping me take back ownership [and] responsibility of me … for giving me back to myself.


Memoir describes her life after injury 

Welcoming adversity and inspiring readers to face their own “trap doors” of opportunity are themes of Minnesota native Tasha Schuh’s memoir. A revised edition of her book, My Last Step Backward, has been published recently by Wise Ink Creative Publishing.

At a young age, Schuh began to dream of a career in theater. Just days before her opening night performance in The Wizard of Oz, she took one step backward and fell 16 feet through a stage trap door. It was November 11, 1997. She was 16 years old.

Schuh landed on the concrete floor of Red Wing’s historic Sheldon Theater, breaking her neck, crushing her spinal cord, and fracturing her skull. She would never walk again.

My Last Step Backward chronicles the inspiring journey Schuh endured after taking one fateful step backward and through a trap door in 1997, leaving her a C-5 quadriplegic. Post-op complications turned her struggle and ultimate triumph into an unbelievable journey of hope. From loss and grief to self-discovery and achievement, Schuh’s faith, resilience and honesty have allowed her to leave the “old Tasha” behind while she faces her new life.

Her memoir received many favorable reviews. KSTPTV’s Joe Schmit, sports anchor and author, called her book, “Brutally honest, undeniably captivating and an inspirational story that needs to be shared.”

Through her own harrowing life experiences, Schuh realized the importance of having her own “PITCrew”– people surrounding her who lift her up and keep her focused on the promise of the life before her. The PITCrew Movement is focused on bringing a message of hope to everyone across the country by focusing on anti-bullying, suicide prevention and the importance of teamwork.

Schuh hasn’t left the stage behind. Today she is a sought-after motivational speaker, giving talks around the region. Jeff Fern, guidance counselor at St. Croix High School, said, “Tasha’s message was very inspirational and was the right message for our student body as we kicked off the school year. The students really appreciated listening to Tasha’s personal story and were able to connect it to areas of their life. As we continue to move forward in our school year, we express the importance of resiliency and the best is yet to come.”

Learn more about the book and Schuh herself at


Off-Leash Art Box has opened its doors

The Off-Leash Art Box, a new professional performance space and studio, celebrated its grand opening in October.

The intimate theater/rehearsal studio will serve as the home base for the award-winning Off-Leash Area’s productions, classes, workshops and other programming. Off-Leash Area’s artistic directors, Jennifer Ilse and Paul Herwig, said it fills a large gap in the local artistic/creative community by providing an affordable and professionally equipped small venue for the many independent dance and theater makers in the Twin Cities.

“There’s a huge need for small performance and rehearsal space in the Twin Cities,” said Ilse. “Over our 18-year history it has become so difficult to find venues for our productions that we were starting to make too big of compromises, and we know virtually dozens of other small dance and theater makers in the same spot we are. This space helps fill that need.”

Off-Leash Area acquired a vacant property located at 4200 E. 54th St., Minneapolis, earlier this year. The past several months were spent gutting and redesigning the space with professional lighting, flexible seating and other elements conducive to creating “By owning our own building we own our destiny, and we wish to share the power of that self-sufficiency with our community,” said Herwig. “This is an intimate space where local audiences can see vital work by the area’s most exciting contemporary and independent performance makers.”

A focus at Off-Leash is making performances accessible for patrons and performers. The newly renovated building is one story. Both main entries are accessible. Seating is flexible. The building has two fully accessible all-gender single stall bathrooms, and its own off-street parking with easy access for Metro Mobility drop-off and pickup.

One board members, Mike Cohn, is a Twin Cities dance creator and performer with physical disabilities. He has performed in one Off-Leash production and has another in the planning stages. Co-Artistic director Herwig has had lifelong low vision, which has led to developing a connection with the blind community. Off-Leash has done programming about low vision issues, frequently provide audio description for shows.

Large print programs are available upon request two at least two days’ advance notice. Audio description requires at least two weeks’ notice. Guest companies renting space will be asked to provide accessibility services upon request.

Anyone with questions may contact 612-724-7372 (voice) or e-mail at [email protected]


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