Many deserving and hard-working people were nominated for the 2011 Charlie Smith Award, given every year at the annual banquet hosted by Access Press. Here are their stories:
John J. Barrett
John J. Barrett is the president of Rise, Inc. The agency just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Barrett was hired as executive director in the summer of 1976. He hired talented people who help grow the agency and make it the success it is today.
He has shared his expertise with many other Minnesota groups as well. Barrett was a leader in efforts to help people move from state hospitals into the community, has worked to relocate services and has launched programs for immigrants with disabilities.
Barrett has not only helped Rise, Inc. grow into a multi-faceted agency for people with disabilities, he has mentored other organization, like Rise around the country.
Rhoda Becklund is owner of Becklund Homecare, her company, and Becklund Outreach, an affiliated nonprofit. She opened her own agency in 1984. Becklund was nominated for her work in providing home care and housing for individuals with special needs. She is praised as a visionary and someone who goes well beyond everyone’s expectations.
One of her areas of work has been in helping people who are on ventilators live independently. Allowing people with ventilators to live independently was seen by some service providers as being potentially too risky. But she worked to see past the challenges make independent living possible.
Linda Berglin served in the Minnesota Legislature for nearly 40 years. Few people have so directly shaped the health and independence of so many people with disabilities.
In her work at the legislature she experienced many successes and achievements as she worked to improve the lives of Minnesotans. In particular she authored or co-authored legislation that dealt on issues including health care, chemical dependency, mental health, in-home care alternatives, long-term care reform, assisted living, health disparities reduction, children’s mental health and more.
She also championed providing more consumer-directed community services to reduce nursing home beds and worked to improve the lives of health care workers.
In 2000, Susie Bjorklund opened the doors of Freedom Farm, a center providing therapeutic riding incorporating sensory, cognitive, and social stimulation to build skills and confidence to those with disabilities.
For the past 11 years, riders with various diagnoses including cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, developmental delays, and PSTD have opened themselves up to Bjorklund and the horses.
Many riders that join Freedom Farm struggle with being social, having low self-esteem and managing their feelings. After working with Bjorklund and the horses, they build confidence, improve their muscle strength, learn how to interact with others, and ultimately give them a sense of accomplishment.
Congressman Keith Ellison
Congressman Keith Ellison, who Represents Minnesota’s Fifth District, was nominated for his work in getting Minnesota’s disability community involved and engaged in political issues, and in get out the vote efforts. He has been very involved in voting rights issues involving people with disabilities, and has employed people with disabilities on his staff.
Ellison is also cited for his efforts at the federal level on making disability issues of all types a priority. He has worked on issues ranging from affordable health care to jobs, with a focus on helping constituents with disabilities.
Melanie Fry has advised government and a variety of private industries on disability culture, is tapped as a public speaker, and has functioned as a community organizer for 30 years. Fry has been a leading advocate for equal rights, full employment and career development for all people with disabilities.
Fry has served on the Executive Committee of the Minnesota State Council on Disability, the Orono Community Education Board, the Advisory Council of Rehabilitative Services, the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, and the Board of Directors of Helping Paws. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act she testified for the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee.
Betty Lou and Marjorie Hammargren
The Hammargren family of St. Paul works tirelessly as volunteers to help people with disabilities, with a focus on accessibility. Their motto is “access and acceptance.”
They are not afraid to discuss access issues with business owners, pastors and others, and have been able to achieve results in their neighborhood and beyond. They have also contacted elected officials to lobby for improved accessible doorways, restrooms and other building features, and have been effective in making changes. They are always on the lookout for public places and businesses where access needs to be improved.
Mark Hughes and Michael Samuelson
St. Paul officials weren’t controlling encroachment of restaurant sidewalk cafés onto public sidewalks. Restaurants with sidewalk seating made it difficult for people with mobility issues to pass through. Working in the disability community and with the St. Paul City Council, Hughes and Samuelson raised the issue.
They organized meetings with city officials and the public including persons with disabilities. They worked with Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune to bring together St. Paul Public Works, the Department of Safety and Inspections, Mayor Chris Coleman’s office and disability community members. Their efforts left to a new sidewalk café ordinance, to improve access for people with disabilities.
For five years June Lacey has served as co-chair for the Midwest Walk and Roll for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. She volunteers for MS Society events including the MS 150 Bike Ride, MS Annual Walk and education booths at the Minnesota State Fair.
She is very active with Disabled American Veterans (DAV). She visits homebound veterans and provides entertainment at VA hospitals.
One of Lacey’s volunteer activities is Project Bear Hugs. She collects and brings stuffed animals to nursing homes, to share with residents, and also brings stuffed animals to shelters, veterans’ homes and places where disaster victims stay. Lacey does all of this despite being severely challenged with arthritis.
Richard A. Brown
Richard Brown has a variety of passions that center around his community involvement. He is a person who looks at where and how he might help, whether it has to do with helping raise money for causes, as he puts it, for the truly needy, such as Toys for Tots or Made in the Shade. His visual art has been recognized as groundbreaking and “jaw-dropping” in its beauty. His art, which can take months to create, now sells for hundreds of dollars; all while breaking stereotypes about people with disabilities. Brown is an advocate, volunteer, writer, editor and artist. He is a person with cerebral palsy but doesn’t allow that to define him, according to the person who nominated him.