People & Places – June 2016

PACER Center wins major grant PACER Center has won its largest grant ever, a $1 million award from the Otto Bremer […]

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PACER Center wins major grant

PACER Center has won its largest grant ever, a $1 million award from the Otto Bremer Trust. The grant was presented at PACER’s annual benefit in May. PACER has “a long history of providing services based on a model of education, advocacy and empowerment,” said Dan Reardon, Otto Bremer Trust’s co-CEO and trustee. “We are thrilled that PACER is using these funds to provide services to under-served families.”

Paula Goldberg, PACER’s co-founder and executive director, said the money will be used to create a technology and innovation center. “We hope to do very creative and innovative projects that’ll make a difference in the lives of children and young adults,” she said. Plans include are creating coding classes for young people and developing workshops for families on topics
such as mental health and bullying prevention.

PACER already offers a wide array of software, apps and other adaptive devices, has been key in his education. In May, he graduated with honors from Augsburg College in Minneapolis with a degree in psychology, and later in the day he was to receive an Otto Bremer youth leadership award.

“Without technology, I wouldn’t be able to be independent,” Graves said. About one in five U.S. families has a child with a disability or special health care need, and about one of every four American students is bullied each year, according to data collected by PACER.

While initiatives like bullying prevention have helped reduce the stigma around young people with mental health problems and special needs, “there’s still tremendous
need in this state and in this country,” Goldberg said.


Adapted softball athletes shine

North Suburban and Dakota United are the 2016 Minnesota State High School Athletic League champions in adapted softball. Dakota United won the PI title, for athletes with physical disabilities. North Suburban won the CI title, for athletes with cognitive disabilities. The tournament was June 3-4 at Coon Rapids High School and featured two of the state’s best adapted sports athletes, Grayson Nicolay of Dakota United and Anthony Bengston of North Suburban. Both shortstops have been fan favorites. Grayson is done competing as a prep athlete. Bengston will play his senior season in 2016-2017.

Both teams won their divisions earlier this year in the floor hockey state tournament. But neither team was favored to win its softball division, so success was all the sweeter.

The Dakota United Hawks defeated Rochester 13-7 in the PI championship game. Nicholson capped a successful high school career as he helped his team to the win, hitting a grand slam home run, tallying four RBIs and three runs. Teammate Nick Kuefler was three for four with four RBIs, including a bases-clearing double in the fourth inning that gave the Hawks an 11-4 lead.

It was Dakota United’s third softball championship in the PI Division and first since 2008. The other crown came in 2006. Dakota United is made up of athletes from South St. Paul, Simley, Henry Sibley, Hastings, Eagan, Eastview Rosemount and Apple Valley.

Nicholson graduated from Rosemount High School as the state’s all-time leading scorer and assist-maker in adaptive hockey.

Nicholson looked back on a successful career. “I didn’t join adapted sports to be the best I could be,” he said. “I just wanted to prove to people that people with physical disabilities can overcome the disabilities they were born with or they got later on in life. I just think of it as a challenge, not something people should stare at. They should conquer it.”

The Hawks defeated Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound-Westonka and defending champion Anoka-Hennepin to reach the title game. The Rochester Raiders topped Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville and Wayzata/Minnetonka to get there.

Anoka-Hennepin took the third place title over Wayzata-Minnetonka. Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound-Westonka defeated St. Paul Humboldt for the consolation crown. Osseo was the eighth team in the tournament.

Nicholson was on the PI all-tournament team, along with Hawk teammates Kuefler and Charles Schultz. Rochester athletes Sean Healy, Joshua Befort and Phillip Del Vecchio joined them. Rounding out the team are Ana Younkers-Zimmerman of St. Paul Humboldt, Jordan Klein of Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka, Kai France and Tyler Ezell of Anoka-Hennepin, and Benjamin Carlson and Holden Kowalke of Wayzata/Minnetonka.

Bengston led the North Suburban Cougars to its first-ever CI title, with a 17-15 win over Osseo. He racked up a home run, four RBIs and three runs.

North Suburban defeated South Washington County and Anoka-Hennepin to reach the softball title game. Osseo topped Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee and Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville.

Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville downed Anoka-Hennepin for third place. South Washington County beat Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee for the con solution title. White Bear Lake and Minneapolis Roosevelt were the other teams in the tournament. North Suburban athletes come from Centennial and Spring Lake Park high schools. “We were the underdog in every game,” Centennial assistant coach Erik Aus said. “We’ve played in three state championships (this year) with these kids. . . . I would never have guessed we would have gotten here today.”

Bengston was five or five with five runs batted in for the Cougars. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning while the Cougars were building a 10-2 lead after three innings. The Cougars, however, couldn’t breathe easy and celebrate until finally securing the final out. Osseo scored 13 runs over the final four innings, including four in the bottom of the seventh, to make a run at the Cougars. Kevin Beaupre was also 5 for 5 for the Cougars with four RBIs. Osseo’s Paige Faber was 4 for 5 with five RBIs.

Bengston made the all-tournament team, as did teammates Jonathan Caliendo and Nick Reichenbacher. They were joined by Osseo’s Faber, Jason Robins and Cole Brambilla. Other honorees are Justin Neff, South Washington County; Dylan Theroux and Cole Denny of Anoka-Hennepin and Kombe Khawi and Lucas Petrich of Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville.


Bowling tournament champs crowned

The Minnesota State High School League’s prep bowling tournament featured a new division in 2016, with an ASD division for athletes on the autism spectrum. This year’s tournament was held May 20 at Brunswick Zone, Brooklyn Park. Hundreds of young athletes, their coaches and supporters were on hand.

The tournament also was noteworthy because there were no repeat team, doubles or singles champions in the PI and CI divisions. Athletes with physical disabilities competed in the PI division. Athletes with cognitive disabilities competed in the CI division.

Two senior bowlers, both competing for the St. Paul Highland Park High School Scots, finished their prep careers with state crowds. Conor O’Meara won the boys’ PI singles title, with Matthew Erath of Austin High School finishing second and Brandon Ainali of Albany High School finishing third. O’Meara had a score of 468.

Kyra Kracht, a Highland Park senior, won the girls’ CI singles title with a score of 474. Courtney Karnes of Austin High School finished second and Abby Zmuda of Anoka-Hennepin finished third.

Maeve Mc Devitt of St. Paul Humboldt High School won the girls’ singles PI title, with a score of 525. Keirsten Stierlen of St. Peter High School placed second and Heather Kelly of Albany High School placed third.

Emily Forester of Moorhead High School won the girls’ ASD singles title with a score of 385. Kaitlin Tykarskie of Monticello High School finished second, just one point behind Forester. Caitlin Schultz of Princeton High School finished third.

In the boys’ ASD singles division, Hayden VanZuilen of the Goodhue County Gophers won first place, with a score of 448. Lucas Stulc of Mahtomedi High School finished second, at 447. Minh Dang of St. Paul Highland Park finished third. VanZuyllen is a seventh grader and was the tournament’s youngest title winner.

Alexandria Area High School’s Elton Gruber won the boys’ CI singles title with a score of 451. Peter Bassett of Anoka-Hennepin finished second and Blake Fredrick of Lake City High School finished third.

In doubles, Kevin Seekon and Logan Ricard of North Branch High School won the ASD title with a score of 865. Tartan High School’s Antione Tuck and Colin Urbanski won the CI doubles crown with a score of 926. Simley High School’s James Wells and Nick Reich won the PI title with a score of 985.

Team titles were also awarded. Albany won the team title in the PI division, with a score of 1,175. Defending champion Simley l took second and Goodhue County took third. Ten teams competed for the title.

Tartan won the CI title, with a score of 1,751. Albany finished second and two other Tartan teams tied for third place. Twenty-seven teams competed for the title. Mankato West High School won the team title in 2015.

Mankato East High School won the first-ever ASD team title with a score of 1,613, and Mankato West finished second. The two schools fielded the only ASD division teams.

Doubles and team rosters are not split up by gender.


Brain injury story wins award

Author and St. Paul resident Amy Zellmer’s book, Life With a Traumatic Brain Injury: Finding the Road Back to Normal, won a silver foil award at the Midwest book Awards this spring. The book was entered in the health books category.

Zellmer sustained a traumatic brain injury as a result of a fall. She challenged her experiences into the book and founded Faces of TBI.

She has become an advocate for treatment and care of persons with brain injuries and has gone nationwide to speak to others about her experience. Learn more about the book and Faces of TBI at


Fraser obtains major grant for clinic

Autism services provider Fraser received a $500,000 matching challenge grant from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation to support a new Fraser clinic in the Twin Cities east metro. Fraser will receive the $500,000 when an additional $500,000 is raised to meet the match by June 1, 2017.

“We’re so grateful for this visionary gift from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, said Joel Barker, Fraser vice president of development. “This gift will positively impact nearly 6,500 children and families in the east metro in the next 10 years.”

There is a great demand for autism and mental health services throughout the Twin Cities and especially in the east metro where there are few service providers. Fraser recently purchased a parcel of land to build a state-of-the-art clinic to serve more children and adults with special needs.

Fraser provides services for mental health and other developmental disabilities for children and adults with special needs through healthcare, education, and housing. For more information, call 612-861-1688 or visit


Group honored for transit work

Self-advocates were honored June 6 for their efforts to improve transit accessibility all along Green Line light rail. The Leading in Transportation Access training was offered by the District Councils Collaborative, Olmstead Implementation Office and Rick Cardenas of Access Associates. The group capped its final session with a celebratory lunch. The group celebrated a recent victory in making many St. Paul sidewalk ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Al Czaia, who oversees sidewalks for the St Paul Department of Public Works, presented information on upcoming repair work

The group also reflected on what they had learned and received certificates of recognition. About 9,050 people with disabilities live within a few blocks of the Green Line, which extends from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis. Studies from September 2014 showed that more than 1,000 people with disabilities use five of the stations, with 2,000 using Central Station in downtown St. Paul. But many areas have accessibility problems, due to sidewalks in poor condition, blocked sidewalks, poor sight lines and other issues. Attention was drawn to these issues with a report and in a video, The First: Last Mile. The video, which is available for showings to community groups, shows the difficulty of accessing some rail stations. Cardenas and Thabiso Rowan use wheelchairs and took part in the video production. They were filmed in areas where access and sight lines were problems.

The DCC, which is made up of St. Paul district councils and Minneapolis neighborhood organizations along the rail line, initially studied Green Line walkability in 2011-2012. The walkability studies covered north-south streets several blocks north and south of rail stations. Reports were done for each station area. DCC Executive Director Carol Swenson said that evolved into a more in-depth study focused on access for people with disabilities. Additional attention was focused on the Dale and Snelling areas.

The federally mandated Olmstead Plan calls for full integration of people with disabilities into the community, on the statewide level. Olmstead office staff helped with the studies.


Our Dance Place gets everyone moving

Our Dance Place is offered in three Twin Cities locations, to give people with disabilities a safe and welcoming place to go. Founders John Thorpe and Michael Wines founded the nonprofit organization so that people with disabilities come have a place to socialize, dance and have fun with their peers in a safe and hassle-free environment.

Admission for Our Dance Place is $5. Our Dance Place is open 5-9 p.m. Monday nights at Banquets of Minnesota, 6310 Hwy. 65, Fridley, with $1 concessions and dinner $5-$7. It operates 5-9 p.m. Tuesday nights at Banquets of Blaine/BeBops, 1009 109th Ave., Blaine. Pizza by the slice is $2, with $1 soft drink refills and $1 concessions. It is also open 5-9 p.m. Wednesday nights at Forest Lake VFW, 556 12th St. SW, Forest Lake. Dinner baskets are $5-$7, $2 soft drinks and $1 concessions. Our Dance Place serves 150 to 200 people every week. Its motto is that “everyone belongs.”

Thorpe retired after more than 50 years in the music business and still operates a DJ business. Wines has 16 years’ experience in work with a transition program for young people, working in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Parents and guardians are welcome to attend the events. For more details, visit

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