People and Places – October 2013

Simply Jane/Artable offers opportunities A Minneapolis-based arts organization has evolved to work with more artists and expand its space and […]

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Simply Jane/Artable offers opportunities

Simply Jane ArtabilityA Minneapolis-based arts organization has evolved to work with more artists and expand its space and programming. Now Simply Jane/ArtAble has hired its first full-time staff member, Jean Birkelli.

Birkelli has been with Simply Jane since the beginning but recently became a full-time contributor to the studio, managing the studio floor. An accomplished artist, Birkelli brings a wealth of knowledge in painting and craft mediums as well as experience teaching after-school and pre-school programs. She has expanded the programming to include pre-K morning time and more after-school classes.

Simply Jane was founded in 2007 by local artist, Jane Elias. Her vision was to create an environment of art and therapy for everyone to experience. Simply Jane started out in a space on Nicollet Avenue and

48th Street and grew into a larger, light-filled studio space on 54th and Nicollet with three new party and special event rooms. Although the studio was put to great use for drop-in paint, adult classes, children’s birthdays and team-building events, Elias saw the potential to reach even more budding artists. She wished to expand to further include those artists with both mental and physical disabilities.

One year ago Simply Jane formed the non-profit Simply ArtAble. The space became fully accessible thanks in part to funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and a facade improvement grant through the Nicollet East Harriet Business Association. Ramps and an automatic door-opener were installed. Equipment was purchased for accessible arts programming. Simply Jane/ArtAble now offers a wide range of art programming for adults and children with disabilities. The studio also now employs three wonderful studio assistants with special needs: Morgan, Pedar and Jane’s sister Mary. All have been a great addition to the studio, bringing in new vitality and viewpoints.

To contact the studio, call 612-354-3961, email [email protected] or check the website at




‘A Playground for Everyone’ campaign

The Turtle Lake Elementary PTA Playground Leadership group is raising $280,000 to bring inclusive play to the Shoreview school. After nearly two years of dreaming and planning, supporters are starting to raise funds for the project. The goal is to build “A Playground for Everyone” by summer 2014.

Turtle Lake Elementary is a public elementary school that serves approximately 1,000 students and 720 families from 20 different cities. It is in the Mounds View School District.

Built nearly 20 years ago, the current playground is in need of replacement. It has only two accessible swings, which face away from the rest of the play area. Much of the surface is wood chips, which are difficult for children who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices to navigate.

Ian, a kindergartner who uses a wheelchair for mobility, said that having an accessible or universal playground at school would be welcomed. “It would be like a vacation,” he said.

For detailed information on this project and the benefits of inclusive play visit




Minnesota State Council on Disability honors nine with annual awards

The Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD) is marking 40 years of service at its annual awards banquet, 1-3:30 p.m. Thursday, October 17 at the DS Event Center, 415 Pascal St. N., St. Paul. Admission is $15. Call 651-361-7800 for tickets or email [email protected]

Keynote speaker is John Kriesel, as former state representative who is now Anoka County Director Veterans Services. Kriesel was injured while deployed in Iraq, and lives as a veteran with a disability. He’ll speak about his work and life experiences. MNSCOD will also present several awards.

The honorees are:

Advocacy Award (a one-time award for 2013) — Aaron Holm, founder, Wiggle Your Toes. The nonprofit Wiggle Your Toes is dedicated to helping amputees and their families regain independence and mobility. Holm, a bi-lateral, above the knee amputee, and Wiggle Your Toes have helped people raise money for prosthetics (which insurance doesn’t usually cover), and find equipment, home modifications and other supports and technical assistance. Wiggle Your Toes helped the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, who suffered limb loss.

Above and Beyond Veteran’s Employment Award—Sue Worlds, Regional Director, Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. Worlds is regional director of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans in Mankato. Worlds has dedicated herself to helping veterans with disabilities by assisting them in returning to the workforce and recognizing the many issues that accompany returning vets from combat.

Access Award—Midwest Outdoors Unlimited. Midwest Outdoors Unlimited provides outdoor recreational activities for people with disabilities, throughout Minnesota, Michigan, Montana and Canada. Organization leader Ron Welle has dedicated his life to helping people who enjoy activities such as hunting and fishing but find it challenging due to having a disability. His team of volunteers provides assistance, equipment and gear at all his events to get everyone involved.

Employer of the Year (large)—Pitney Bowes, Fridley. Pitney Bowes provides packaging, mailing, shipping and document services. Its Fridley center is a presort mailing house that commingles mail to provide savings on postage for their customers. Executives Mike Wright and Scott Bersheid have established a hiring process that encourages an environment of inclusion. Their center in Fridley currently has 41 employees who have disclosed as having a disability. The employees with disabilities at the Fridley site are some of the highest performers with little turnover.

Employer of the Year (small)—Azule Staffing, Twin Cities. Formed in 2012, Azule Staffing provides employment solutions for skilled and talented veterans by placing them with excellent career opportunities. Its corporate goal is that 80% of their placements go to veterans. Owner Mike Wolbrink and his staff have placed more than 50 veterans who have disabilities. Azule was recently awarded the Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business certification from the Veterans Administration.

Mentorship Award—Bridget Siljander, Executive Director, the Youth Legacy Foundation. Siljander’s commitment to people with disabilities led to her work to start the Youth Legacy Foundation. The foundation engages youth with disabilities in humanitarian, charitable, and service activities. It helps them make a difference and changing the world. Siljander believes that if given the right support and guidance along the way, youth with disabilities can make many positive contributions.

Minnesota Award—Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Ritchie has served two terms as Minnesota Secretary of State. He and his agency partner with township, city and county officials to organize elections on behalf of Minnesota’s nearly 4 million eligible voters. Another part of his job is to oversee a range of services for businesses, including the archiving of official and corporate documents, and administering Safe and Home. He has shown great commitment to allow everyone full access to the voting booth, including nonvisual and physical access, so that everyone can vote independently and privately.

Friend of the Council Award—Kathy Hern, Employment Specialist, Human Development Center, Cloquet. Hern’s work with the Human Development Center Employment Connection in Cloquet has helped many people find work. She has an 85% placement rate, so it’s no surprise that her consumers and employers love and trust her. This unassuming and quiet woman is unwavering in her dedication to her clients, and her commitment to finding competitive employment for individuals who have mental illness is unparalleled. With more than 20 years’ experience, Hern helps those whom others have “given up” on.

Media Award—Dan Voss, Manager, RP Broadcasting, Bemidji. Voss hired Bradley, a music fan, after the two met at a fishing event. Voss discovered that Bradley had a great interest in and knowledge of music. Bradley helped organize more than 6,000 songs in the music database at one of his stations, Real Country 98.3, completing the task within eight hours. He’s since been on the air. Listeners are benefiting from Bradley’s experience, thanks to the decision to hire him.




Changes at The Arc Mower County

The Arc Mower County has announced updates and changes to its website, email contacts and Facebook page. The changes took effect in September and were made to better reflect the organization’s name.

The new website is at Staff and general email contact information can be found there. The new Facebook page link is at

The Arc Mower County serves residents of Mower County in southern Minnesota. It is based in Austin. The phone number remains the same, at 507-433-8994.




PACER Center leader wins honors

Paula F. Goldberg, executive director and a founder of the national nonprofit PACER Center, has been named Woman of the Year by the Gamma Sigma Sigma service sorority. Goldberg was honored at the sorority’s recent national convention in St. Louis. Goldberg has dedicated her life to making a difference in the lives of children through her work with PACER.

“The young women and alumnae of Gamma Sigma Sigma volunteer to help many individuals in their communities across the country. It is an honor to be recognized by such a wonderful organization,” said Goldberg.

“It speaks to the hard work of our terrific PACER staff and the many volunteers who make such a positive difference in the lives of children and families.” Goldberg was nominated for the Woman of the Year award by a teacher and PACER volunteer. As part of the nomination process, many parents of children with disabilities, along with leaders of other parent organizations, wrote letters of support for Goldberg and PACER.

Gamma Sigma Sigma is a sorority that promotes a lifelong commitment to service and diversity, in an environment of unity and equality. Last year, members and alumnae contributed over 288,000 hours of service to a wide variety of projects across the country.

Previous winners of the award include former First Lady Barbara Bush and Mae Jemison, the first African- American astronaut.

PACER is a national parent center located in Minneapolis. It was founded on the concept of parents helping parents. The organization strives to improve and expand opportunities that enhance the quality of life for children and young adults with disabilities and their families. Goldberg now oversees more than 30 different projects and a staff of 70, most of whom are parents of children with disabilities.

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