Regional News -- May 2021

Regional News -- May 2021

Mankato MRCI Thrift Shop closes its doors

Almost 50 years of service to the greater Mankato community is coming to an end with the closure of the MRCI Mankato Thrift Store. the store was slated to close at the end of April.

The store began in 1964. It closed due to declining revenues and difficulty finding volunteers. The closure saddens longtime volunteers, shoppers and staff. The store sold new and used donated clothing and household items in support of MRCI, one of Minnesota’s largest and most diverse providers of employment and day services for people with disabilities.

The closing is a trend other disability-focused thrift stores have faced.

Becky Rossow saw the decline of volunteers during the 20 years she worked and volunteered at the shop. She told the Free Press of Mankato, “When I started, we had about 130 volunteers. In 2019 we had 40.” Rossow began as a store assistant manager in 1999 and then went to volunteering in 2004 after her daughter was born.

Brian Benshoof, CEO of MRCI Workforce, said the decision to close the shop was tough but driven by declining revenue, a dearth of volunteers and difficulty finding paid staff. While the pandemic heightened the problems, he said the issues challenging the shop will continue into the future.

“We really lost profitability the past three years. Last year we actually lost money. The mission of the store was always to raise money for services for our clients.”

The store has always relied on volunteers. As longtime volunteers aged out it was hard to find replacements. Mankato also is in the midst of a labor shortage so it was hard to find staff.

Benshoof said competition from a growing list of thrift stores in Mankato added to overhead. “I count seven thrift stores in Mankato. To compete we had to be open nights, open longer hours.” That required more paid staff and volunteers.

The pandemic forced the store to close for several months. Even when businesses were allowed to reopen, the thrift shop didn’t have volunteers and also lost staff.

Benshoof said he’s proud of all the volunteers and the community for supporting the shop for decades. “We’re very grateful to the community for all their support over the years. We’ve always had strong support and we appreciate it.”

He said MRCI is strong and growing. “We have a lot of great things going at MRCI. We’re rolling out new programs and are very strong.” The nonprofit plans to sell the store building, and a neighboring structure.

The MRCI Thrift Shop in New Ulm will remain open.

(Source: Free Press of Mankato)

Glass crushing will provide jobs

Little Falls-based company Employment Enterprises Inc. will use a new glass-crushing machine to provide more jobs to people with disabilities as well as generate more income for the company.

Employment Enterprises Inc. is one of four Minnesota businesses that received funding from the first round of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) market development grants, intended to help drive stronger markets for recycled materials.

The recycling industry contributes $15 billion to Minnesota’s economy and accounts for 36,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the MPCA.

“The projects funded by these grants mean to create more local demand for recycled material, increase value for the raw product and maintain or create jobs,” said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.

Employment Enterprises Inc. runs a day-training and habilitation program for people with disabilities. Executive Director Pam Baltes said the program serves about 140 people in Central Minnesota.

In-house, most of the employment is in recycling materials: tin, aluminum, paper, cardboard and glass. The employment service is one of three programs Employment Enterprises offers. In addition to recycling, workers also do outsourced work for other companies.

A grant of more than $50,000 will be used to purchase the necessary equipment for processing glass differently. With a glass crusher, a hammer mill, a separate screener and some conveyor belts, Employment Enterprises Inc. will have several glass products to sell.

The grains of glass can be used in sandblasting. Other glass pieces could become fill, be used to decorate concrete or for crafting.

(Source: St. Cloud Times)

Closed captioning to be provided

The City of Minneapolis will provide live closed captioning of most public meetings and boost its interpretation services. the services results from a discrimination complaint, filed by a deaf man, who couldn’t take part in hearings about the future of the Police Department.

North Minneapolis resident Jon Shanahan wanted to participate when the Charter Commission was taking comments on a City Council proposal to replace the department in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Shanahan, who was born deaf, often relies on an American Sign Language interpreter to follow public hearings. He said he contacted the city asking for accommodations but, when the crucial moment arrived, help wasn’t there.

The city told him he could submit a comment, but he felt he was at a disadvantage because he didn’t know what the other speakers had said. “How am I going to put a comment, if I don’t understand the meeting?” he said.

As meetings continued, Shanahan said he felt “growing frustration, because I felt that my rights were taken away. I felt like a second-class citizen.” Shanahan and his attorney, Heather Gilbert, filed a discrimination charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and eventually entered into mediation with the city.

Once the city attorney working the case understood the problem, he “was great to work with, but then the next problem we had was how do we solve this, how do we work this out,” Gilbert said.

New closed captioning systems, aside from the automated one the city adopted in early 2020. Eventually, they arrived at a settlement that calls for the city to provide live, human-generated closed captioning for most public meetings.

“That’s a really big accomplishment,” Gilbert said.

The settlement also requires the city to provide sign language interpretation for public hearings if residents request it at least seven days in advance. It includes a $20,000 payment as well, $8,000 of which reimburses a portion of the attorney’s fees and $12,000 of which is compensatory damages for Shanahan.

The City Council approved the settlement in April.

(Source: Star Tribune)

Maltreatment of vulnerable adults drops during pandemic

Allegations of maltreatment of vulnerable adults in Minnesota trended downward in 2020. State and local experts who track this data believe the COVID-19 pandemic caused the drop in reports.

In Minnesota, the maltreatment of vulnerable adults is reported through the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center (MAARC), operated by the Department of Human Services (DHS). MAARC data shows that reports of suspected maltreatment dropped in the first 10 months of 2020 when compared to 2019. About 50,000 vulnerable adult maltreatment reports were made in 2020. Earlier this year DHS released data that showed a similar decline in child maltreatment complaints during the same period.

“Reports of vulnerable adults experiencing abuse, neglect or financial exploitation decreased in 2020, but that doesn’t mean actual maltreatment is down,” said Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “We believe this trend is pandemic driven.” 

The reduced number of reports is likely due to several impacts of the pandemic. Vulnerable adults are not interacting with mandated reporters as often, or in the face-to-face ways they were pre-pandemic. Other possibilities include the cancellation of medical appointments due to fear of COVID-19 exposure; a reduction in community services, such as adult day care; and less interaction with family and caregivers.

The health department investigates complaints related to maltreatment, quality of life and quality of care at health care facilities including hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living and home health agencies.

Anyone suspecting that a vulnerable adult is being abused, call the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center, 1-844-880-1574.

(Source: Minnesota DHS)

Limb loss is highlighted

Motorists honked horns their horns and waved to the mannequins featured at the Limb Lab building in downtown Rochester April 15. But the mannequins waved back.

Dressed in white, skin-tight bodysuits with only a prosthetic showing were several Limb Lab patients, some of whom have been receiving prosthetic limbs for years. Some were “on display” in the windows, while others stood outside. they handed out fliers to support Limb Loss Awareness Month and the Limb Lab Foundation’s fundraiser.

Twelve-year-old Landon Uthke of Albert Lea, was one of those dressed in all white, leaving only the prosthetic on his left leg showing. It was the second year he participated as a live mannequin, and he said he’ll continue to do so to get his message out there.

“I just want to display that even though you may have a disability, you can still live an active life,” he said.

Uthke lost his left leg at 3 years old from a lawn mower accident. He said it was hard for him when he first started going to school, but his love for hockey had him determined to still get on the ice.

Limb Lab provided him with a prosthetic that allowed him to participate in sled hockey, where he mans the faceoffs as a center. A big Minnesota Wild fan, Uthke had the opportunity to even attend a Wild practice, skate alongside the players and get a few shots in between the pipes.

“It’s been a journey. It’s been good at times. And it’s been kind of rough,” he said. “But it’s been good. (Limb Lab) is great. They helped me with a lot of stuff.”

For Limb Lab CEO Brandon Sampson, the entire month of April is about trying to erase the stigma that comes with being an amputee. He wants to show people how prosthetics can allow people to achieve goals others didn’t think were possible with a missing limb.

“Losing a limb is a really big deal. Some physicians even say it’s like losing a loved one, and it’s unfortunate that we can’t do anything about that,” Sampson said. “But what we can do is show them what life could be like afterward and inspire them to set new goals, inspire them to be part of the creative process — inspire them to wear their prosthesis proudly.”

“I think more and more that we take the stigma away from what it means and to not hide it,” he said. The lab hoped to raise $10,000 by month’s end.

(Source: Rochester Post Bulletin)

More equity sought in state grants

Gov. Tim Walz’ administration has called on the Minnesota Legislature to approve funding for the creation of a new office of equity in grantmaking. the goal is to expand access to state and federal funds to communities of color and other underserved groups, including people with disabilities.

“The (pandemic’s) disproportionate impact on BIPOC communities makes it even more critically important that we make sure that we have systems and processes in place that are in a position to help those who need help most,” said Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan. “We feel the urgency of this moment and hope the Legislature will also step up as our partners right now.”

The state issues hundreds of grants worth millions of dollars to organizations that support workers and businesses each year. And despite efforts to make sure communities and organizations around the state know about those opportunities and are able to apply, the state has work to do yet in making conversations about those grants more inclusive, Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said.

The Department of Administration, which handles purchasing for the state, saw double the amount of spending with businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans and people with disabilities after creating the Office of Equity in Procurement, Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis said. Setting up an office with oversight of state grants could have a similar impact.

Philanthropic organization leaders said the state could take small steps to bring in a broader pool of applicants like fully opening up the application process online and making sure language about eligibility clears states that small businesses can apply.

“We need to punctuate the fact that as a state we have so many great things that are going for us and if we can figure out how to accelerate this work … really creates a playbook not just for our state but for the rest of the country,” McKnight Foundation President Tonya Allen said. “How do we take this moment to really lift it up and make it not just a political platform but a way that the state does business?”

(Source: Forum Communications)