Regional News in Review - December 2010

Vets play hockey
   
Coming soon to a sports facility near you: hockey games played by the Minnesota Warriors, a startup team made up of veterans with disabilities from across the state and Wisconsin. The nonprofit group has forged a deal with Vadnais Heights to hold regular games and practices at the city’s brand new Sports Center, which now houses one of a half-dozen sled-accessible hockey rinks in the country. Already named the group’s “home ice,” the center may later house the group’s actual headquarters.
   
Minnesota Warriors President Toni O’Brien called Vadnais’ willingness to house the program “an over-the-top generous offer” facilitated by a Warriors board member who knew someone on the Vadnais Heights City Council.
   
“This is an opportunity for us to give back to all the men and women who have put their lives on the line for us — to (have them) enjoy the privilege of playing this game,” said O’Brien. “We’re the only program out there right now that offers hockey to vets at absolutely no cost to them.”
   
Right now the Warriors is relatively small, with six registered players from across the state and another eight who have expressed interest in playing. But O’Brien said once word spreads this winter, she expects a roster of about 20 standup players (those able to stand to play) and between 10 and 12 sled players (those unable to stand who use specially designed sleds). Later, she predicted, the group should attract more from both states, as vets who have played hockey all their lives turn back to the sport for recreation and a social outlet.
   
The group is open to male and female U.S. military personnel who have been injured on or off duty. Hockey skills training is offered; the group website said another goal is to “assist individuals with disabilities in developing self-confidence, adjusting to their new lifestyle, rehabilitation, self-reliance, concentration, and to assist in helping participants back into mainstream lifestyles they were accustomed to prior to their disability.”
   
“You don’t see this type of hockey anywhere in the state,” she said. “For them to be the home rink and get the word out — I think they’re going to draw a lot of people in.”
   
More information is available on Facebook under “Minnesota Warriors,” at www.mnwarriors.com  or at www.minnesotahockey.org/page/show/116365-usa-minnesota-warriors-2009. O’Brien can be reached at warriorsmn@gmail.com  or 651-307-0660. [Source: Vadnais Heights Press]



Wheelchair thief pleads guilty
   
A St. Paul man who stole a pickup truck and a teenager’s wheelchair last summer from a Hugo  home has reached a plea agreement. Chad M. Dann, 35, will plead guilty to two felonies as part of a plea agreement.
   
Dann pleaded guilty Nov. 29 in Washington County District Court, to charges of theft of a motor vehicle and obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit. A third charge of fleeing a police officer will be dismissed at sentencing as part of the agreement. He will be sentenced Feb. 10.
   
Dann’s arrest followed a high profile campaign to find and bring back a wheelchair belonging to 13-year-old Amber Diel. The teenager has spina bifida and uses the chair to get around without assistance. She had designed the pink TiLite 2GX Swing Away chair herself. It is valued at $6,000. The chair was in the family truck when the vehicle was stolen from the Diel family’s Hugo garage.
   
Dann was caught after he tried to pass a fraudulent prescription for a narcotic pain reliever at the Stillwater Target store. The pharmacist was suspicious of the large prescription and an altered form, and called police. Dann was chased before he was captured. As part of the plea agreement he won’t be charged with fleeing a police officer.  [Source: Star Tribune]



Thrift store is no more
   
Dress for Less Resale Shop, which raised money for people with disabilities for many years, closed in November. The little shop, which most recently was near White Bear and Larpenteur avenues in St. Paul. The shop had been at that location for a decade. It was on Rice Street in St. Paul for more than 40 years before that.
   
Closure of the shop, staffed by volunteers, means that corporate parent Bethesda Lutheran Communities will no longer have a St. Paul presence, though its Minnetonka and Rochester storefronts will stay open. The nonprofit, now in its second century of existence, provides services and supports to people with developmental disabilities. In 2008, Bethesda’s 27 thrift stores—mostly in Wisconsin but also in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Texas—earned $1.2 million a year.
   
Volunteers at the shop cited declining revenues and increased competition as reasons to shut down. In 2009 competition emerged when a large Value Village store opened nearby, run by nonprofit Arc Greater Twin Cities.
   
The store’s end leaves 19 remaining Bethesda storefronts, as the nonprofit switches gears somewhat to concentrate on opening up larger, more efficient operations run not only by volunteers but staffed by people with disabilities. The group won’t rule out a return to St. Paul in the future.  [Source: East Side Review]



Schools eye expanded policies
   
The Minnesota School Board Association wants districts across the state to expand their harassment and violence policy. The group is urging school districts to expand protection to groups including students with disabilities, as well as to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
   
Most Minnesota school districts’ policies only protect against harassment based on race, religion or sex. The association’s proposal would prohibit any form of harassment or violence “on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, familial status, and status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation or disability.” The association also wants boards to put more pressure on school officials to intervene when they witness bullying.
   
The recommendation will likely be controversial as its 335-member districts decide whether to act on the recommendation in the weeks ahead.
   
The bullying issue is controversial in Minnesota. Efforts to get stronger anti-bullying legislation passed are likely to be brought up at the state capitol during the 2011 legislative session [Source: Star Tribune, Associated Press].



Eden Wood work nears completion
   
Hundreds more disabled residents can turn to an Eden Prairie center for help now that the Eden Wood Center has increased its capacity by 50 percent. A group of volunteers has been working to improve the facility this fall and should wrap up a renovation project this month.
   
Four retired carpenters led dozens of other volunteers in a four-year long renovation project.  The revamp would have cost the nonprofit approximately $930,000. Thanks to the donated services, it cost about half.
   
The many projects undertaken at Eden Wood include building foundation replacement, addition of a storm shelter, accessible bathroom improvements, renovated sleeping areas and installation of new windows.
   
The revamp means Eden Wood Center is now serving 900 residents a year instead of its usual 600.  It comes at a time when demand for its service is on the rise. Since 2006, the camp, located in the northern edge of Eden Prairie, has been receiving a makeover.  One huge step was taken in 2007 when the center dorms were winterized.
   
Eden Wood is a piece of Minnesota history.  It was established in 1925 as Glen Lake Children’s Camp, a place for children who had been exposed to tuberculosis. The site was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. While it is a historically significant site, Eden Wood also functions as camp for children and adults with disabilities.
   
Friendship Ventures has operated the camp since 1995. The organization leases it from the city for $1 a year.  Friendship Ventures provides direct services for children and adults with disabilities. It provides services to families including respite care.  Since 2006, enrollment in the respite care program has increased 75 percent.  [Source: KSTP-TV, Eden Prairie News]



Accessibility improvement grants available to metro arts groups
   
ADA Access Improvement Grants for Metro Arts Organizations are now available in the Twin Cities seven-county area. The focus of these grants, up to $20,000 each, is to help make arts programming, activities and facilities more accessible to people with disabilities.
   
Made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, which voters approved in 2008, the grant program is administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC). Last year $190,231 was awarded to 17 Twin Cities organizations. In 2011 approximately $250,000 is available to be awarded over two rounds, with application deadlines on Jan. 14 and April 29, 2011. A series of information meetings will be announced shortly.
   
The project grants are not intended for one-time activities such as a sign language interpreter or a Braille program for one play, but to have the potential for significant or long-term impact in involving more people with disabilities as participants or patrons in arts programs.
   
Minnesota nonprofit arts organizations in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties are eligible if their annual budget is under $4,460,000.
   
Download grant guidelines and application at www.vsamn.org/forms.html#adagrant . Or contact VSA Minnesota at 612-332-3888 voice/tty or access@vsamn.org   [Source: VSA]

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