The Arc Minnesota celebrated the accomplishments of several individuals and organizations November 15, at its annual awards banquet. The event was held at the Shoreview Community Center.
Andrew R. Richardson Advocacy Award – Barb Kulas, who works with adult day programs at Home and Community Options of Winona. For the past three years, she has championed and led the Grassroots Advocacy Task Force. Through her leadership, a local group of self-advocates, family members, and staff have helped change public policy to improve the quality of life for people with cognitive disabilities.
She has helped organize state capitol visits for agency clients, to help legislators better understand disability policy and issues and have led to the passage of legislation including initiatives to improve the quality of disability services. Kulas shows courage in sharing her convictions, her example that she sets for fellow employees and her efforts to teach emerging leaders to speak out for the rights of people with disabilities.
Teacher of the Year Award – Wendy Susen, Faribault Public Schools. Susen has worked in special education for more than 20 years as an early childhood special education teacher. She dedicates her life to providing the best possible learning environment for her students. Children with and without disabilities learn together in class. She provides solutions to each child’s challenges.
She makes strong connections with students and families. She actively supports agencies that advocate for all children, and informs parents what programs are available to them. Susen has been instrumental in creating after-school programming to enhance social, mathematical, and creative skills of many of her students. Her advocacy and support for children reach far beyond the classroom.
Irving Martin Professional of the Year Award – Jill Resseman, manager of Employment Enterprises Inc.’s thrift store in Little Falls. Her retail program is designed to train individuals to move into other community jobs.
Under her training, individuals working there acquire retail skills including operating the register, customer service and window design. She teaches her employees the skills necessary for success on the job, and she targets her training to meet each person’s individual needs. Eight individuals work there every day. Resseman speaks about all of them with pride and includes them at all times. She also does store publicity.
Volunteer of the Year Award – Angela Maile, founder and volunteer facilitator of the Brainerd Lakes region People First group. She researches projects and provides information to the group. Activities range from fundraisers to educational presentations. She provides support to organize each event from start to finish.
Her activities have drawn the attention of leaders in the community. Recently the Brainerd Planning and Engineering Board requested her feedback on community accessibility for individuals with disabilities. She, in turn, invited civic leaders to meet with the People First group.
Maile’s dedicated volunteer service successfully promotes inclusion in her community and helps people grow in independence.
Community Media Excellence Award – Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune sports reporter, wrote a piece headlined “A reminder of what high school sports are about.” Hopkins’ top-seeded boys’ basketball team lost a close state title game. During the medal ceremony, a few Hopkins players showed bitterness by removing their medals almost immediately after receiving them. Hopkins team manager Grant Petersen, a senior born with Down syndrome, showed the team what grace and sportsmanship look like. When called to receive his medal, Peterson reacted as if Hopkins had won the Super Bowl. Scoggins’ reporting was vivid, giving readers the feeling they were watching perfect sportsmanship take place.
Frances Klas Johnson Spirit of Giving Award – Mount Olivet Rolling Acres. Since 1997, Mount Olivet Rolling Acres has generously supported The Arc Minnesota and its public policy advocacy. Former executive director Wayne Larson initiated regular dinners honoring outstanding public policy advocates, to raise much-needed funding for The Arc Minnesota’s work at the state capitol. Over the past decade, eight public policy recognition events have spotlighted the work of community leaders.
Mount Olivet’s financial gifts have increased annually for the past five years, staff members are The Arc volunteers and it was a sponsor of this year’s successful statewide campaign to increase wages of Minnesota’s direct care staff.
Inclusive Housing Award – Brenda Schulz, Carver County case manager, helps many individuals and families. In summer 2013 Schulz was contacted by Mains’l, to help a young woman in a crisis home. Schulz showed incredible compassion by thinking outside the box to provide her a comfortable, stable housing environment. Earlier this year the young woman took a big step by moving into her own apartment, where she is thriving.
Schulz works tirelessly to secure resources and support needed for the best possible outcome with the support of her county supervisor. Schulz has given this young woman – and many other individuals – the opportunities they deserve.
Employer of the Year Award – Steve Wurst, Walgreens, Bloomington store manager, utilized the corporation’s Retail Employees with Disabilities Initiative (REDI) Program to hire employees. Wurst and
Opportunity Partners worked together to hire and train people. Wurst and his team have been supportive, accommodating, and engaged advocates for those with disabilities using the program. Trainees have received valuable employment opportunities, both during the time they learned retail job skills and after they graduated.
Thanks to this successful partnership and personal commitment from leaders like Wurst, eight REDI graduates have been placed at Walgreens stores. Five more people have been placed with other retailers since the program began.
Community Innovator Award – Ambassadors for Respect is an innovative anti-bullying program. Anti-bullying training sessions were held in three schools in North St. Paul and White Bear Lake school districts last year. The program is adding Mahtomedi schools this year. Teachers and paraprofessionals are involved in training sessions and interactive activities so they can reinforce the tips and tools that students learn. Curriculum from PeaceMaker Minnesota is modified so all students can benefit from this training.
So far, 330 students and 23 teachers were reached in 11 training sessions. The Ambassadors are working to obtain additional funding to expand their training sessions to school districts statewide.
Luther Granquist Systems Change Award – Alicia Munson, public policy associate at Opportunity Partners, is a liaison with several partner organizations that advocate for those with disabilities. Her leadership as Grassroots and Communications Committee Co-chair for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities led that coalition’s grassroots advocacy and civic engagement events and programming.
Her work on several committees for The 5% Campaign was crucial to the campaign’s success. Munson believes strongly that self-advocates should speak for themselves. To this end, she develops practical, meaningful, and effective support strategies for those served by Opportunity Partners and the various coalitions in which she is involved.
Betty Hubbard Family Advocacy Award – Sarisse Carlson connected with The Arc Greater Twin Cities when her daughter’s school wouldn’t provide needed special education services. As a result, she became an expert in education advocacy. Knowing that other parents in the district were struggling with education issues, she used her knowledge, experience, and skills to help them.
Carlson is a “go to” person and cheerleader for parents of children with disabilities. She offers them the understanding and support that only a parent who has experienced the struggles and frustrations firsthand can provide. Her efforts help parents feel less isolated and alone. She helps give children with disabilities the educational opportunities they deserve.
Bill Sackter Citizenship Award – Karen Loven is the nation’s first self-advocate to serve as a faculty member for Continuing Legal Education courses. She has presented to more than 300 attorneys and judges. She single-handedly debunks stereotypes about individuals with disabilities and makes everyone rethink assumptions.
She co-presents with U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank, sharing her personal story and views with skill, grace, and humanity. She is passionate about ensuring that those with disabilities not only have equal access to justice in our society, but are treated with dignity and respect in their daily lives. Loven is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking and a speaker in the Ambassadors for Respect program.