People & Places – April 2022

Longtime director stepping down The end of an era is coming at central Minnesota disability services provider WACOSA as Executive […]

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Longtime director stepping down

The end of an era is coming at central Minnesota disability services provider WACOSA as Executive Director Steve Howard is retiring on September 30. 

Howard’s career has spanned 36 years in the human services field, with the last 14 years spent as WACOSA’s executive director. Under his leadership, WACOSA experienced a 65 percent increase in financial growth and a 44 percent increase in the number of people the organization serves annually (pre-COVID). 

“What an amazing honor to have played a part in the most recent chapter of the WACOSA legacy. I could not be more proud of the individuals we serve and the amazing professionals who provide these services,” said Howard. “I wish WACOSA all the best for an amazing and dynamic future. There are still many lives yet to be impacted in the coming years and WACOSA, its staff, leadership and Board of Directors are excited to help people find their voice and accomplish their dreams.” 

His tenure saw the beginnings of WACOSA’s first autism spectrum disorders program, the beginning of WACOSA’s first ThriftWorks! Thrift Store, growth from four to six service locations and the establishment of the WACOSA Legacy Society and first fund development and planned giving program. He has been a tireless advocate for people of all abilities and guided WACOSA through many difficult and challenging times, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Howard has remained a consultant and surveyor for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) for the past 30 years, working in North America, Canada and the Middle East. 

“It has been an absolute privilege working with Steve during my time with the WACOSA Board of Directors,” said Jon Archer, WACOSA board chair. “Steve is an incredible advocate for individuals of all abilities, and his strong leadership and creative vision has shaped WACOSA into the healthy and vibrant Organization it is today. I am thankful for the countless contributions Steve has made to both WACOSA and the field of human services, and I am excited as we look to the next chapter for the Organization.” 

During retirement Howard plans to spend more time fishing competitively in the coming years, continuing consulting work and taking his wife and best friend, Patricia, with him on future travels. A retirement celebration will be held prior to his departure. 

WACOSA’s Board of Directors is engaged in the process of succession planning with Howard leaving. More information will be forthcoming in the coming months as this process develops. 
WACOSA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works for adults with disabilities, building a circle of support that empowers individuals to develop skills, explore and pursue employment, and foster community connections from graduation through retirement. 

Four named to board 

Opportunity Partners, a Twin Cities disability services nonprofit, has announced that Milton Dodd, Julie Sjordal, Brett White and Katie Mattis Sarver as the newest members of its board of directors. 

Milton Dodd serves as sales director with the talent and consulting firm Salo and brings over 20 years of experience in coaching, business development, and team leadership. Dodd’s career includes leadership roles with Trust Edge Leadership Institute, Genesys Works and Lifetouch National Schools Studios. 

Julie Sjordal is chief executive officer of St. David’s Center for Child and Family Development, a nonprofit providing autism treatment, pediatric therapies, mental health services, early childhood education and home support services. She has dedicated her career to children, families and adult with disabilities, serving as a teacher, social service provider and leader in the field.  

Brett White is vice president of finance for General Mills’ North America Retail segment. In this role, he is responsible for all financial operations of General Mills’ largest operating segment. Before joining General Mills in 2005, he held positions with Kraft Foods, Pillsbury and Maple Leaf Foods in both Canada and the United Kingdom. 

Katie Mattis Sarver is Bell Bank’s first community development officer and focuses on building and growing the bank’s relationships with community, business and nonprofit leaders. Prior to joining Bell Bank, she served organizations and clients in the entertainment and sports industries for nearly 25 years. 

Established in 1953, Opportunity Partners is a Twin Cities nonprofit advancing the quality of life for people with disabilities. Opportunity Partners offers employment, enrichment and residential services that help people with disabilities earn an income, live as independently as possible, and participate as active members of the community.

Council has new members 

The Minnesota Statewide Independent Living Council (MNSILC) has announced new member appointments. The appointments were made by Governor Waltz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan. 

MNSILC is a federally funded council with members appointed by the governor. Members may serve up to two consecutive three-year terms. The council works collaboratively with the state’s eight centers for independent living (CILs) and coordinates activities with other entities in the state that provide services similar or complementary to independent living services. 

Recently appointed members include Judy Sanders, Minneapolis; Brian Baker, Coon Rapids; Joseph Dailey, Prior Lake; Rosalie Eisenreich, Roseville, MN; Deborah Gleason, Minnetonka; Karen Larson, Faribault; Stephen Larson, Brainerd; Thomas Reed, Minneapolis; Lisa Harvey, Spring Valley; and Edward Lecher, Ex Officio representative from State Services for the Blind, St Paul.  

For more information about MNSILC visit the website at To apply to serve on the council visit the Secretary of State website at and search for Statewide Independent Living Council. 

Human services leader to retire 

Minnesota Department of Human Services Deputy Commissioner Chuck Johnson will retire on June 30, capping 38 years of public service to the State of Minnesota, including 17 years in leadership positions at the agency. 

“Everyone who knows him knows that Chuck is the institutional memory of DHS,” said Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “Not only has he spent 38 years with the agency, he has held many different positions for 12 different commissioners. He is also highly respected for his integrity, compassion, and steadiness.” 

Johnson’s experience in government spans the organizational chart, from student intern at the State Planning Agency in 1984 to DHS deputy commissioner in 2013, with stints along the way as a program director, assistant commissioner, chief financial officer, chief operating officer and acting commissioner. 

He joined DHS in 1989 to work on the development of welfare reform, which led to field trials of the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) in 1994. The original MFIP program, which Johnson eventually led, broke new ground in producing an increase in work and family income, with the strongest outcomes for longer-term recipients and BIPOC families. 

Johnson was appointed assistant commissioner of Children and Family Services in 2005, where he first got involved in information technology work with the development of MEC2 system for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). He was part of a team started DHS down a path toward an integrated approach to enterprise architecture. 

Over the years, Johnson played a key role in the top human services issues of the day, including the ramp-up of the Affordable Care Act, building of the forensics mental health facilities in St. Peter, and support for White Earth Nation to take over the delivery of human services. He is also known for his management skills during difficult times, helping the agency through years of significant budget reductions while minimizing impact on Minnesotans in need, for example. 

“It has been a great honor to serve the people of Minnesota for 38 years,” said Johnson. “I will miss working daily with my dedicated colleagues at the Department of Human Services to support people in meeting their basic needs and living their best lives.” 

Harpstead said she is considering options for filling Johnson’s role. 

Minnesotan part of leadership 

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) has announced its 2022-2023 Board of Directors, effective July 1, 2022. Secretary-Treasurer Sarah Hall is a research associate at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 

President is Karrie Shogren, professor and director, Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, University of Kansas, Lawrence. 

AAIDD is the oldest and largest membership organization concerned with intellectual and developmental disabilities. it is a community of researchers, educators, clinicians, practitioners, and policy makers from around the world.  

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