People & Places – May 2019

Life, My Choices is MOHR awards’ theme “My life, my choices” is the theme of the second annual MOHR Life […]

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Life, My Choices is MOHR awards’ theme

“My life, my choices” is the theme of the second annual MOHR Life Enrichment Awards competition. Award winners provide programs and activities that accomplish one or more of the following: bring about inclusion, build confidence, enhance skills, center on people, partner with community, fuel self-advocacy, promote the arts, drive health/fitness. The winners were announced in April.

“Community-based providers are at the center of Minnesota’s effort to help people with disabilities to live fuller lives,” said MOHR President Julie Johnson. “Excellent programs give people options to engage and thrive in their communities.”

The MOHR organization represents more than 100 such day programs across the state. Johnson said Minnesota has always been a leader in the provision of services for people with disabilities, and MOHR members like ProAct play a crucial role. “We are connected as a community, and service providers are mission-driven by staff members who care deeply for the people they serve. That’s how individual lives are enriched.”

Life Enrichment Awards are non-vocational, and may involve programs and activities that bring about inclusion, build confidence, enhance skills, center on people, partner with community, fuel self-advocacy, promote the arts and drive health/fitness.

Each year, MOHR members are encouraged to nominate their own programs, as are individuals with disabilities, their families and partnering groups.

The five 2019 honorees are: Functional Industries, honored for self-advocacy education in partnership with Self-Advocates of Minnesota, to enhance leadership, self-transformation. The Functional Industries program is designed to build personal power for people with disabilities, connect them with disability rights laws and history and build community, said Lisa Parteh, vice president of client services.

Bev Kaler, regional organizer for Self-Advocates of Minnesota, trained one staff member and two participants with disabilities to serve as trainers. A grant provided funds for a second and third round of classes. People with severe and persistent mental illness were also prepared for the training. Functional Industries is seeking new venues and partners to expand the self-advocacy training using a “train the trainer” approach. The ultimate result is greater empowerment for youth and adults with disabilities.

Opportunity Partners, Asplin Center, art program for personal growth, increased confidence and engagement. “People who thought they weren’t good at art, or perhaps were afraid to try it, have turned into artists,” said Julie Peters, communications director for Opportunity Partners. Asplin Center has had art instruction for years, but a new revival took place in 2016, after a remodeling drove the need for a more professional and inviting look on the inside walls.

Asplin Center artists have also taken their work offsite for display at a local library and at community art shows. Their designs appear at other Opportunity Partners locations. The nonprofit prints art reproductions on notecards to distribute.

An individual named Faith was very resistant to drawing. With coaching and practice, her skills improved, Peters said. One of Faith’s drawings was featured on the Disability Services Day at the Capitol buttons worn by hundreds at the annual event in St. Paul.

ProAct, Inc. ProAct Playhouse, enhancing self-esteem, communication skills and professional presence through theater arts. ProAct Playhouse began as a mix of physical, verbal and memory-based activities to build self-esteem and has expanded to full public performances before larger audiences that tackle controversial topics. Another important aspect is the “person-centered” approach of the program, said Co-Director Matt Briggs. Participants with disabilities have a say in their roles, the stories and how best to tell them.

“Our goal is to enhance self-esteem, build communication skills and professional presence,” Briggs said. The group started in 2006 as a classroom tool to help ProAct participants with disabilities to find their identity and voice through fine arts.

Rise, Adult Day Program, enhanced services through community center and YMCA partnerships. Operating five adult day programs in connection with the area YMCA and several community centers, Rise has many active participants in the community. “Every day we can see the benefits of adult day programming for the people we serve from enhanced socialization opportunities, increased physical activities, additional cognitive development from group discussions and learning activities, as well as the one-on-one caring attention they receive from Rise team members,” said Judy Anderson, director of adult day programs. The holistic, customized approach to service delivery assists people in increasing their personal growth, independence, and physical, emotional and mental wellness.

WACOSA, St. Cloud Kiwanis Aktion Club, character-building, leadership, inclusiveness and caring to serve the community. The mission of the Aktion Club of St. Cloud is to provide adults with disabilities an opportunity to develop initiative, leadership skills and to serve their communities. Kiwanis of St. Cloud chose to partner with WACOSA and its fund development manager, Carrie Peterson, who serves as chair for the group.

Peterson’s energy and enthusiasm are praised for shaping a strong program. Together, WACOSA and the Kiwanis Club of St. Cloud chartered the Aktion club because of WACOSA’s longevity and history.

Fraser salutes those who serve community

Donors and volunteers for Fraser, Minnesota’s largest and most experienced provider of autism and early childhood mental health services, were honored at a recognition breakfast held at the Metropolitan Ballroom and Clubroom in Golden Valley in April.

During 2018, 3,569 volunteers logged more than 9,700 hours to create bright futures for individuals with special needs.

Fraser President and CEO, Diane S. Cross, thanked guests for their dedication of time, talent and financial support over the past year. “It’s impossible to thank you too much,” she said. “We simply could not do it all without you.”

The recognition breakfast was a celebration of hope and happiness, with award-winners and speakers sharing their stories of transformation through Fraser. Emcee for the event was Lynda Michielutti, who serves on the Fraser Board of Directors and is senior director of global communications for Cargill Animal Nutrition. She shared her story about the life-changing gift that Fraser gave her family: hope. Speaking about her granddaughter’s diagnosis of Cri du chat, Michielutti said her family initially heard from neonatologists and pediatricians about the limitations the child would face. At Fraser, the family found a brighter future. “Like sunshine after too many dark, cloudy days, those simple words and the promise of ‘what can be’ and ‘reaching potential’ gave us back our hope,” she said.

Event speakers Jeff and Shari Hegna shared their story of volunteering with a Fraser independent living Apartment. They started and currently run a reading club for facility residents, opening the world to adults with special needs through books.

The breakfast program included a presentation of the 2019 Louise Whitbeck Fraser Awards. This year’s business award was presented to U.S. Bank and accepted by Daniel Hoke, senior vice president, retail distribution planning and ATM banking.

U.S. Bank was selected for helping Fraser best serve children and adults seeking mental health treatment and other services at the new Fraser location in Woodbury. The bank’s generous five-figure pledge helped make the new clinic a possibility. U.S. Bank also sponsored the Fraser annual benefit reception in 2015 and 2016. U.S. Bank was the presenting sponsor of the event for the past three years, providing generous gifts-in-kind for the auction, including the popular Vikings Ultimate Game Day Experience and the Wild U.S. Bank Suite.

Individual volunteer honorees are Duane and Lynda Jergenson. The couple has supported Fraser since 1996 when their son moved into a Fraser supervised living home.

The Jergensons were selected for their 20-plus years of fervent support of Fraser Housing and through their generous support of Fraser programs and events. They have provided many gifts-in-kind to enhance the men’s experience at the Fraser Jewel House residence, where their son resides, and underwrote the celebrity sponsorship of the Fraser Annual Benefit in 2017 and 2018, through their family foundation.

The Louise Whitbeck Fraser Award is presented each year to those who build on the legacy of Louise Whitbeck Fraser, founder of Fraser services. The award honors the outstanding vision and dedication of companies and individuals who have devoted themselves to improving the lives of children and adults with special needs. Today, Fraser serves more than 11,000 clients annually; through healthcare, housing, education, and employment services.

Center will help connect people with programs

CAPI USA has been awarded a grant from the National Council on Aging to join a national network of benefit enrollment centers. CAPI USA’s new center will provide coordinated, people-centered services to enroll low-income seniors and younger adults with disabilities in programs connected to health care, prescriptions, food, utilities, transportation assistance and more. This is the first such center launched in Minnesota.

The Minnesota’s Department of Human Services aging profiles project that by the year 2020, 17.1 percent of Minnesota’s population will be 65 years of age or older. As this aging demographic grows, CAPI USA’s new center will help eliminate barriers to service accessibility and help seniors and young adults with disabilities, enabling increased access to benefit programs and responding to the needs of this population.

CAPI USA’s new center will assist Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in five core areas including; Medicare Part D Extra Help/Low-Income Subsidy, Medicare Savings Programs, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. “We are honored to launch this new initiative to expand resources for Minnesota’s low-income seniors and young adults with disabilities,” said Kristina Doan, CAPI USA’s Health and Human Services Manager. “These programs provide crucial income supports, and we are thrilled to be offering these services.” CAPI USA’s Benefits Enrollment Center services are provided at CAPI’s Immigrant Opportunity Center in Brooklyn Center as well as at CAPI’s South Minneapolis location.

CAPI USA is dedicated to promoting economic independence, self-determination and social equality for Minnesota’s immigrants and refugees as well as US-born individuals through programs which increase access to jobs, housing, food, health education, and youth and senior social services.

Community Involvement Programs announces hire

Vicki Gerrits has been a leader in the disability community for more than 30 years. She is a passionate and valuesbased person who enjoys positively impacting human services. Known for her collaborative style, she has a long track record of developing innovation services.

She joins Community Involvement Programs (CIP) as the vice president
of programs, moving from a post as the chief strategy officer at Accra. There she provided leadership to programs, led development and growth, and established a legislative advocacy program. Prior to Accra, Gerrits worked many years for Lifeworks Services as the vice president of service development and services. There she established policies and practices around state and federal regulations, oversaw programs, provided contract management, and oversaw strategic growths.

She will be working with CIP’s case management, individualized community supports, metro residential services, northern programs, home health and personal support services. Together with Bob Brick, vice president of employment and day services, they will form a strong team to lead programs and services into the future.

CIP provides support to more than 2900 people in case management, community services, employment services, home health, and housing. Program participants are in Hennepin, Anoka, Dakota and Pine County communities. CIP and ALLY People Solutions recently merged. To learn more, visit

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