PEOPLE & PLACES – September 2019

Jerde is new leader for States Services for the Blind Natasha Jerde is the new director for Minnesota State Services […]

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Jerde is new leader for States Services for the Blind
Natasha Jerde is the new director for Minnesota State Services for the Blind. She began her duties in August and becomes part of the leadership team for the

Natash Jerde portrait

Natasha Jerde

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Jerde is very well known to those who work at State Services for the Blind and in the greater Minnesota disability community. She joined State Services for the Blind in 2008 as a vocational evaluator. She then became a rehabilitation counselor for individuals who are DeafBlind.

Her management-level vocational rehabilitation experience was launched in 2014. As vocational rehabilitation counseling supervisor, she managed a 12-person staff and specialized in policy and rule development. She moved up to director of policy and program administration – a position reinvented following a budget crunch – where she developed and managed policies and ensured they were aligned with state and federal regulations. Then as the interim deputy director of program services, Jerde managed State Services for the Blind’s Workforce Development, Business Enterprises, and Senior Services with a $15 million budget.

One story about her work is that Jerde created an extensive policy and procedure manual for the vocational rehabilitation program. In June Rehabilitation Services Administration representatives visited Minnesota. A monitoring team reported that it was one of the most thorough and comprehensive manuals they had ever seen.

Jerde is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stout, earning a Master of Science in rehabilitation counseling and vocational evaluation and a Bachelor of Science in vocational rehabilitation counseling. She holds a certification in DeafBlindness from Northern Illinois University and participated in the Emerging Leaders Institute, the state’s premier leadership development program for future leaders. She is a resident of Hammond, WI and reports to the Assistant Commissioner of Workforce Services.

State Services for the Blind’s mission is to facilitate the achievement of independence by Minnesotans who are blind, visually impaired or DeafBlind. It plays a critical role in ensuring Minnesota provides for a vibrant workforce by removing barriers to employment, as well as providing the printed word in accessible formats for persons with print disabilities. Its Senior Services operations help thousands of seniors with vision-related conditions that are often a part of aging.


Concepcion wins brain injury group award
Dr. Erwin Concepcion, clinical services director in the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Direct Care and Treatment Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services Division, was recently honored by the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance for his outstanding contributions to the care of people with traumatic brain injuries.

Recognizing his unique expertise in the treatment of brain injuries and co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders – as well as the decades he has spent helping to shape brain injury policy in Minnesota – the organization gave Concepcion its prestigious Elinor D. Hands Outstanding Achievement Award.

Concepcion’s many duties for the alliance include serving on its board and writing for its newsletter.

The award is named for Ellie Hands, the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota’s first executive director, in recognition of the immense impact she had in shaping services for people with brain injury in Minnesota. The award is presented annually to an individual who has significantly advanced the cause of brain injury services.


DHS, Ambassadors for Respect are among Humphrey Institute innovation honorees.
In state government agencies around Minnesota, employees are finding creative ways to deliver services to Minnesotans with greater impact and at a lower cost—such as an anti-bullying effort for fourth graders that is taught by people with developmental disabilities and a new online Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) resource that allows people with disabilities and those who support them to make informed decisions about employment services.

Those programs were among the winners of the 2019 State Government Innovation Awards from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Four Awardees

Accepting the 2019 State Government Innovation Award 
were Lesli Kerkhoff and Ryan Merz, Disability Services Division; Janene Cowan, Fiscal Analysis and Performance Management Division; and Stacy Twite, Assistant Commissioner for the Community Supports Administration, all from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The awards, organized in partnership with the Bush Foundation, recognize 10 projects that find innovative solutions to address the needs of Minnesota residents.

Jay Kiedrowski, senior fellow at the Humphrey School and one of the award judges, said the 76 submissions were evaluated for their creativity, sustainability, and cost effectiveness.

“We had a record number of submissions this year, and they were high quality,” Kiedrowski said. “The winners demonstrated real innovation that will serve the state well.”

Minnesota’s state government formally supports innovation and efficiency through its Office of Continuous Improvement, which was established inIts mission is to empower employees and improve the effectiveness of state government services.

“There are innovative, thoughtful, and sustainable improvements happening every day in state government,” said Alice Roberts-Davis, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration. “These State Government Innovation Awards amplify some of the best work from dedicated state team members to better serve their fellow Minnesotans.”

The state awards, now in their sixth year, were inspired by the Humphrey School’s annual Local Government Innovation Awards, which recognize schools, cities, townships, and county government entities for their programs and projects. The winners were formally recognized at an awards ceremony in August.

The DHS award centers on employment. Minnesota has embraced a philosophy as part of a national movement that calls for “Employment First” – that is, an expectation that working-age people with disabilities can and want to work and achieve competitive employment alongside people without disabilities.

Many people with disabilities want an opportunity to be part of the general workforce, but don’t see how it’s possible or aren’t given resources they need to work. The Minnesota Department of Human Services and its partners help people with disabilities find competitive, integrated employment.

The Employment First dashboards, developed by DHS staff, show employment outcomes for people with disabilities at the state, county, and service provider levels. Comparing these outcomes can provide useful information for individuals making decisions about services to help them find work or be successful in a job.

“It’s exciting to have this work recognized by the Humphrey School,” said Stacy Twite, interim DHS assistant commissioner for community supports. “The Employment First dashboards will help us to continuously improve efforts to support employment of people with disabilities and identify best practices.”

Another award went to the Department of Administration, Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities for the Ambassadors for Respect—Anti-Bullying Effort for Fourth Graders Ambassadors for Respect is an anti-bullying program for fourth graders taught by people with developmental disabilities, who have themselves been bullied. Ambassadors for Respect teaches children to address bullying at an early age, and to reflect on their own behavior if they are being hurtful toward others. The program includes active learning activities such as shredding derogatory words and slurs in a paper shredder. The fourth graders also commit to carrying out acts of kindness with each other. More than 3,064 students have been reached. While the students are learning anti-bullying skills, the presenters are learning leadership and presentation skills that in some cases have turned into employment.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Parks and Trails Division, was honored for its Parks and Trails for Everyone – The Minnesota Great Outdoors Website. One key focus for this website is to promote parks and trails accessibility.

Ambassadors for Respect was one of four award winners chosen to have a video made about its work.


VSA Minnesota takes a final bow Minnesota wraps up its work this month, spinning off its many arts programs to other agencies, But before bringing down the curtain, it’s time to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments and salute the staff and volunteers who have done so much for so many.

Skaalen and Dunn smiling

Jon Skaalen and Craig Dunn

The VSA Minnesota Celebration is 6:30-9 p.m. Mon, Sept. 23 at Illusion Theater, 516 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. Join VSA Minnesota’s board and staff Craig Dunn and Jon Skaalen to celebrate its 33- plus years of working to create a community where people with disabilities can learn through,
participate in and access the arts.

For many years VSA Minnesota has supplied Access Press with its arts listings, Dunn and Skaalen were honored in July at the state’s annual Americans with Disabilities Act celebration at Hamline University in St. Paul.

Performers, music, photos, memories, poetry, a look to the future and refreshments will all be part of this evening of fun. More details to be announced.

Please RSVP – and send a story, memory or comment if there is a short memory to share. ASL, AD and Open Captioning offered. The event is free and open to the public.

RSVPs are requested. FFI: 612-332-3888, [email protected]

  • "Stay safe, Minnesota. Take steps to protect yourself, & others from the COVID-19 virus."
  • "Stay safe, Minnesota. Take steps to protect yourself & others from the COVID-19 virus."

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