People & Places - February 2022

People & Places - February 2022

Longtime participants honored 

ProAct participants have celebrated anniversaries with the program. Logging the most years is James Gelking, who was recently honored with a 40-year service award. 

Staff saw him crack a smile when receiving his plaque, and his mother, Ellen, said he always seemed happy with his ProAct experience. 

“We never had any problems. He really liked going in and enjoyed his jobs,” she said. Gelking rarely shared details about his work in the skills training area, but never complained and would tell his mother his day was good when she inquired. He couldn’t remember all the jobs, but he enjoyed working with nails and bolts. 

When asked why he stayed, the 40-year veteran said he “just likes to.” These days, he’s a part of enrichment programming, which takes the form of classes and activities. His favorite class is geography and states.  

Another participant celebrating a major anniversary is Teresa Christ, at 38 years. During her time at ProAct, she has been known as the top “worker-bee” at the Eagan location, and when asked where she’s worked over the years, she replies, “Everywhere!” She has performed janitorial duties at various community work sites. 

When the pandemic started in 2020, Christ and many others had to stay home. She recently returned to ProAct to participate in enrichment activities. This is a new experience as her waiver services previously didn’t allow for enrichment. 

Having new activities means it’s time to leave the working world behind. She likes the variety of enrichment services, instead of the repetitive nature of work. 

She enjoys many activities but her favorite is helping her peers complete their activities if they need it. She is part of the health and wellness focus group in the mornings and afternoons and enjoys helping people do their reflection journals and putting their books together. She also started learning sign language so she can communicate with a friend in her focus group. 

Arts, access advocate has show  

When Owatonna artist Scott Roberts was business director of the Owatonna Arts Center several years ago, he led efforts to have an elevator installed. At that time he had no idea that he’d himself need access accommodations. A home accident more than two years ago put him in the hospital for three months and left him as a quadriplegic. 

Through February, Roberts is hosting an art exhibition at the Owatonna Arts Center titled “ADA, Me and the Minnesota Arts Community: My road to recovery paved in clay.” 

“Up until two years ago, I had taken art — or better, the creation of art — for granted,” Roberts told the Owatonna Peoples Press. “An accidental fall in the end of 2019 rendered me a quadriplegic, or involuntary paralysis of all four limbs, due to injury to my C2-C4 spinal cord area.” 

Roberts has a lifelong involvement in the arts community. After his accident, he wondered if he could create art again. While traditional physical therapy was tedious and oftentimes boring, he was able to speak with his doctors about working with clay as a means for physical therapy. Kneading the clay and painting covers his fine motor skills and allows for exercising his hands to build up strength 

A Minnesota State Artist Grant through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council was to give himself focus and something to do with his hands, which he still has mobility in. Roberts hopes his work will give both disabled and able-bodied artists encouragement to keep going when confronted with adversity. 

“I don’t plan who or what I will sculpt; it usually starts with an activity or object,” Roberts said. “From there it is what you see. Images, emotions, memories, can all be found amidst the bright colors and whimsical cartoonish characters.” 

One of his pieces is a Batmobile with the cartoon character Mr. Magoo and his dog, McBarker, transformed into Batman and Robin. 

“Most people have been considered disabled at one point or another in their lives. Mr. Magoo is essentially blind in the cartoon, but I created that piece to show that even with a disability, people can go on to do incredible things,” Roberts said. “Just because someone is or looks handicapped, doesn’t mean they live a disastrous life or are unhappy all the time.” 

Roberts spoke about how prior to his accident, he wasn’t hard to miss in a crowd, standing at 6’4″ and being a former football player in college. But now that he uses a wheelchair, he said he’s become invisible. 

“It was amazing how no one saw me,” Roberts said. “I don’t see it as something to be ashamed of. I wasn’t chosen to be handicapped because of something I did — it’s just life and it’s my new normal.” 

“I used to say that I would love to be able to sit in my studio and create art all the time,” Roberts said. “Be careful what you wish for because now I have all the time in the world to sit and do my art, but that came out of having my accident. 

Roberts will have approximately 50 sculptures on display at the Owatonna Arts Center until the end of February. FFI: https://www.oacarts.org/ 

Employees at Eagan's Hardware Hank holding award.
Eagan’s Hardware Hank

Hardware Hank is honored 

Eagan’s Hardware Hank store is ProAct’s 2021 Employer Partner of the Year Award. Store leadership has been a strong supporter of 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. 

The store partners with ProAct to offer work experiences for students and adults, and recently received  

Short-term engagements at Hardware Hank give individuals an opportunity to build skills, gain experience, and earn a wage. While Hardware Hank has opened its doors to ProAct and participants for over a decade, it has also kept the opportunity open during the pandemic, when many other businesses were not able to do so, said ProAct Employment Development Manager Anna Cahak. 

Because of its expanded partnership and many opportunities given to individuals with different abilities, ProAct selected Hardware Hank for the award. 

Sore owner Allan Funk says he is happy to provide opportunities and is glad they are able to help people in their employment journey. Cahak credits Funk and the Hardware Hank team in playing a pivotal role for people making the next step to exploring work. 

Appointees are announced 

Gov. Tim Walz and lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have announced appointments to state boards, committees and commissions. 

The Board of Aging has new appointments. Anjuli Cameron, Minneapolis, replaces Sherrie Pugh. The Board on Aging is the designated state agency on aging for Minnesota and administers federal and state funds to deliver a range of in-home and supportive services to older adults and their caregivers. Its two direct service programs are the Office of Ombudsman for Long-Term Care and the Senior LinkAge Line. In addition, the board promotes state and local policies and programs to support older adults to age well and live well. 

The State Advisory Council on Mental Health also announced appointments. Jennifer Springer, Edina, is consumer representative, replacing Jamaica DelMar. Barbara Weckman Brekke, Shakopee, is parent representative, replacing Jennifer Pedersen. Jode Freyholtz-London, Eagle Bend, is the consumer-run mental health advocacy group representative. This is a new seat.  

The State Advisory Council on Mental Health is charged with advising the Governor and all state agencies about policy, programs, and services affecting people with mental illness as well as educating the public about mental health across the lifespan. Members include individuals with lived experience of mental illness, parents and family members of those with mental illness, county commissioners, social service directors, advocacy organizations, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, legislators, and representatives of state agencies.