People & Places – May 2022

Wingspan leader honored  Wingspan Life Resources is celebrating 49 years of serving adults with developmental and other disabilities in the […]

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Wingspan leader honored 

Wingspan Life Resources is celebrating 49 years of serving adults with developmental and other disabilities in the greater Twin Cities. Executive Director Therese Davis is celebrating a milestone of her own, with 45 years of service to Wingspan. 

Davis marked the anniversary on April 27. She was also honored recently as one of the Health Care Heroes feted by Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal. Davis will be in the publication’s June 17 special edition and honored at a June event. 

Can Do Canines hits milestone 

Can Do Canines has reached a milestone, certifying its 800th assistance dog team. Carden Olson, who has cerebral palsy, was recently matched with mobility assist Dog Viggo, a three-year-old black Labrador Retriever.  

“I’m getting to the age where I’m trying to move out of my house and I’m in graduate school, so I’m living on my own a lot more. I realized that a dog could help me feel so much safer and give me more stability, Olson said. Viggo performs a variety of skills for Olson, including tugging off socks and slippers, retrieving items, closing drawers, turning on a light, assisting with laundry and pressing access buttons and more.  

Viggo also helps Olson manage his muscle spasticity by using pressure therapy, lying across his legs to stop muscle spasms and stretch tight muscles. Olson wants others to be able to experience these same benefits. He is expecting to graduate in 2024 with a master’s in social work and hopes to start a private practice that includes animal assisted therapy. 

While he wouldn’t use Viggo in this way (since Viggo already has a job), Olson would depend on the support and confidence his sweet counterpart offers to introduce others to similar experiences. He said, “I’m really interested in doing therapy with other people with disabilities and using animal-assisted therapy as a way to interfere with trauma, like medical trauma. Dogs have always been such a therapeutic presence in my life, and I feel like the disabled community could benefit from that too.” 

The Viggo-Olson team was celebrated at a graduation ceremony earlier this spring. Eleven other teams also graduated. 

Graduations are held three times each year. In 2021, Can Do Canines certified 41 teams. This year, the organization is on track to certify at least 50. The first team for the organization certified in 1989, when two other teams were also placed that year. For more information about Can Do Canines, visit 

Durant honored for starring role 

Duluth celebrated Daniel Durant Day in April, to honor the hometown actor. Durant was a star of Academy Award Best Picture winner “CODA.” Durant wiped away tears as dozens of fans, friends and family members threw their hands in the air to applaud in American Sign Language during Duluth Mayor Emily Larson’s declaration. 

“I’m thankful to all of Duluth,” said Durant after the mayoral declaration. “That’s really where all this started emerging.” 

“We are grateful, and we are proud of you,” said Larson. “Your work in ‘CODA’ is just so beautiful and powerful. You helped us to see our common humanity.” 

The celebration was co-hosted by Larson and Duluth City Councilor Mike Mayou, who represents the council district, home of Durant and his mothers Lori Durant and Mary Engels. The ceremony included remarks from five people who worked with Durant as he was discovering his acting talent during his Duluth childhood. 

Larson saluted Durant as a person “whose work as an actor has captivated and engaged a global community.” She concluded, “before you were the world’s, you were ours. Duluth is so proud of you and thrilled that millions of people around the world now know of your work.” 

Pat Castellano, a retired educator who worked with Durant at the Duluth Children’s Museum, earned a big laugh when she asked Durant to autograph her souvenir magnet from “A Nurse, a Child, and a Bear.” That 1999 play, written by teacher Raysa Carlson, starred a young Durant and was a touchpoint for speakers. 

“It was down at the Playhouse in the Depot,” said Durant, speaking with media before the ceremony. “To have that role at 9 … I just loved to be on stage with an audience there and be able to tell stories, and be able to act and put on different characters and work with people in that way and be so creative. It just kind of had this natural connection for me.” 

Durant’s mothers stood by beaming throughout the ceremony, and their son — who brought them as his guests to a string of Oscars afterparties — acknowledged their foundational role in his life and career. Born in Detroit to birth parents who became caught up in addiction, Daniel Durant was adopted and brought to Duluth at age 18 months by his aunt Lori Durant. 

“With the support from my moms and the schools and the wonderful interpreters, I had the deaf community here,” he said. “I was able to take all of that and be who I am today. … This celebration is really touching for me. I think it’s really celebrating the whole Duluth community as well.” 

Cheryl Blue, who collaborated with the Children’s Museum on behalf of the state’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, remembered the young actor’s incredible expressiveness. “I just felt like you had the world at your fingertips because you were so creative,” she said. 

Taylor named to higher ed post 

Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College have appointed Nicholas Taylor as the inaugural director of civil rights and affirmative action. In his role, Taylor’s primary responsibilities will include fostering an inclusive, accessible and diverse campus experience related to the missions of the two schools. 

“I am grateful and energized for this opportunity to serve as Bemidji State and Northwest Tech’s director of civil rights and affirmative action,” Taylor said. “I look forward to infusing my passion and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism into the work we do every day.” 

Taylor will also facilitate efforts to ensure equal opportunities for students and employees from recruiting to retention, increase awareness of diversity issues through advising and training, and strengthen relationships across diverse groups. 

Additionally, Taylor will be responsible for BSU and NTC compliance with policies, procedures and regulations related to affirmative action set forth by the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities. 

Taylor previously served as interim affirmative action officer at St. Cloud State University before his appointment as interim affirmative action officer at Bemidji State and Northwest Tech in July 2021. In this interim position, Taylor developed capacity for BSU and NTC to include data and assessment into the hiring process, initiated procurement of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility employee training, and participated in a Minnesota State system of colleges and universities task force to solidify appropriate coding for faculty and staff positions within the system.  

A descendant of the Metis peoples of Canada and U.S. military veterans, Taylor holds a bachelor’s degree in humanities and a master’s degree in higher education administration. During his career, he has engaged in addressing inequity of outcomes for students and has advocated for racial justice, veteran reintegration, LGBTQIA2S+ rights, and addressed the stigma associated with disability in all forms. 

“As institutions of higher education, we cannot hesitate in addressing systemic inequities in the outcomes of our students, staff and faculty,” Taylor said. “It is specifically in our institutions where we can address representation, access, opportunity and empowerment.” 

Minnesotan honored at conference 

A Minnesotan was among those honored at the American Network of Community Options and Resources  (ANCOR) conference in Miami in April. Staranne Dauer from Dungarvin in Waldorf is the 2022 state direct support professional (DSP) honoree. 

Maria Swift, a DSP from Westminster, Maryland, is named the 2022 Direct Support Professional of the Year. ANCOR is a national trade association representing providers of community-based services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“Whether it’s something as simple as helping people go to the gym or as complex as ensuring they have the opportunity to make their own choices about where and how to spend their time, direct support professionals like Maria Swift are proof-positive of the crucial roles this workforce plays in communities across the country,” said Heidi Mansir, president of ANCOR’s Board of Directors and executive director of Uplift, Inc., a disability service provider in Gardiner, Maine. “ANCOR is proud to celebrate Maria and the 50 other professionals who comprise the 2022 class of outstanding honorees.” 

ANCOR represents almost 2,000 organizations employing more than a half-million professionals who together serve more than a million individuals with disabilities. 

Off-Leash Area announces performers 

Off-Leash Area’s inaugural Off-Kilter Cabaret participants have been named. Martha Bird, Braille, Atlas O. Phoenix, Daniel Reiva, Amy Salloway, Scott Sorenson and Young Dance are the lineup. They will perform at the Barbara Barker Center for Dance on June 9,10, 11 and 12, with a question and answer period after the June 10 performance. 

Off-Leash Area is a Minneapolis-based dance and theater company with 23 years of creating original interdisciplinary performance works, including the Ivey Award winning Psst!, and designing unique community programs. Off-Leash Area champions independent, diverse, and distinct voices in local performing arts, artist-creators of original works, and conducts its collaborations with integrity, respect, and a commitment to high quality production. Throughout its history, Off-Leash Area has built strong relationships within the disability community. From its collaboration with Blind Inc on its production, Now Eye See You Now Eye Don’t, to having created a fully accessible venue with the Off-Leash Art Box, Off-Leash Area has put individuals and organizations among the disability community at the center of its creative and organizational work. Learn more and get information about performances at 

Appointees named to groups 

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have announced appointments to state boards, commissions and committees that work on disability and aging-related issues. 

Several members were reappointed to the Minnesota Council on Disability. Myrna Peterson, Grand Rapids; Ted Stamp, Marshall; Jennifer Foley, St. Cloud and Nichole Villavicencio, Maplewood, were all reappointed. Villavicencio was reappointed as council chair, 

Nimo Ahmed of Columbia Heights is a new council appointee, replacing Christy Caez Claudio. The Council on Disability advises and aids the governor, state agencies, and the public on policy and the administration of programs and services for people with disabilities in Minnesota. The Council advises, provides technical assistance, collaborates with advocates to expand opportunities, improve the quality of life, and empower all people with disabilities. 

The Statewide Independent Living Council has new and returning members. Paulo Matheus Carvalho Chaves de Castro of Minneapolis replaces Mary Koep. Mohamed Mourssi-Alfash of Woodbury was reappointed. The Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) works collaboratively with the Centers for Independent Living to create, monitor, review, and evaluate the State Plan for Independent Living. SILC coordinates activities with other entities in the state that provide services similar or complementary to independent living services. 

The Governor’s Council on an Age-Friendly Minnesota has three returning members. Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr., Cass Lake; Dian Lopez, Alexandria and Rajean Moone, Woodbury, return to the council. The Governor’s Council on an Age-Friendly Minnesota works to elevate the voice of older adults in developing the vision and action plan for an age-friendly state. The Council also works to engage with community, identify opportunities for and barriers to collaboration and coordination among services and state agencies, promote equity and make progress towards equitable outcomes, and catalyze age-friendly work at the local level. 

The Ombudsman Committee for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities has new and returning members. Robert Haight, St Peter was reappointed, Haight is a member of the medical review subcommittee, as is fellow reappointed Jennifer Olson, Golden Valley. New member is Angelique Quinn Strobl, Ramsey, who will also serve on the committee’s medical review subcommittee 

The Ombudsman Committee for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities advises and assists the ombudsman in developing policies, plans, and programs to benefit persons with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chemical dependence, and emotional disturbance. 

Grants are awarded 

The Minnesota Historical Society is pleased to announce the newest recipients of 42 Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Small Grants ($10,000 and less), totaling $355,452 in 23 counties. 

Small grants are awarded quarterly to help nonprofits, educational organizations, government units and federally recognized tribes to preserve and share Minnesota history. Two small grants have ties to disabilities. 

PACER Center, Minneapolis, received $9,655 to hire a qualified consultant to conduct primary source research on the history of PACER Center, Inc., from its founding in 1976 to the present. 

Tower-Soudan Historical Society, Tower, received $10,000 to improve public accessibility at the 1895 Tower Fire Hall and better comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

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