Double Feature: We’re in This Together

Part I

By Deb Krug, Direct Support Professional

Passionate and creative are the two words that best describe me. I have found that these characteristics serve me well in my work at Hammer.


Three years ago, I began working for Hammer as a Direct Support Professional at Lake Place. I was looking for something to enhance myself and provide personal growth. I have been working with District #287 as a teacher and Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) instructor, but needed something more to really make my life complete.  Serving 18 -21 year olds in the transition program, I knew working at Hammer would give me the chance to see how the transition skills I teach actually apply in real life. So, after working at Hammer for a couple years, I approached Director of Training and Education Cate Saracen-Peters about CPI classes. She jumped on the opportunity, and within a couple months, I became a CPI instructor for Hammer!

The cornerstone of CPI is the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention™ program, which is considered the worldwide standard for crisis prevention and intervention training. Its core philosophy is to provide care, welfare, safety, and security for everyone involved. CPI has taught me proven strategies for safely resolving situations when confronted by anxious, hostile, or violent behavior, while protecting the therapeutic relationships with those in my care. I have adopted this philosophy in both my professional and personal lives. My passion for this is strong and is rooted in person-centered thinking. 

I am truly honored to be a part of the Hammer family and am driven to teach all Hammer employees how to de-escalate potential crises. I feel compelled to help them grow and understand the importance of relationship building during possible crisis situations. Through innovative ideas and the established techniques of CPI, my end goal is always to improve the support we provide to amazing individuals we serve. And, it really helps when we have such quality, well-trained staff.

Family Ed logoI believe in the power of communication and how it impacts the people we serve.  Together as a team, we can move forward with whatever situations arise and find positive outcomes to negative implications.  I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts with family members and guardians at next week’s Family Ed Forum. Together we can do this!

Part II

By Eric Sage, Credentialing Coordinator and Program Manager

According to the MN Department of Health it is estimated that 1 in 88 children will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). So, I wasn’t surprised when Hammer’s Training and Education Department told me they would like to have a focus on AD at the Family Education Forum this year. Like most states, Minnesota has struggled with the growing demand for services as autism diagnoses have soared in the past decade.  Treatments like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are often well beyond the means of most families, and many insurers refuse to cover them. So what do we do? At Hammer, we acknowledge that our staff teams and families will need additional trainings and support to best serve the individuals we care for so deeply.

Sage, Eric.jpgI’ve been at Hammer for almost six years now, and I’ve worked with several individuals with varying diagnoses. I’ve tried multiple strategies to achieve different goals, and I look forward to sharing some of these coping mechanisms and skill building techniques during the autism focused break out session. I will also be sharing information on ASD’s effects on the educational, social, family, and professional aspects of individuals living with autism. It’s important that we come together as a team and realize the importance of partnering together to best support each other and most importantly the individual.

As Cate Saracen-Peters said in Rich Roots Grow a Learning Partnership: “I thought it best to include this “back to basics” approach with a conversational format designed to re-emphasize the importance of connection and the power of sharing through stories.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement and look forward to seeing many family members and guardians at next Thursday’s forum.

The Travel Bug

By Kim Gharrity, Hammer Donor and Volunteer

sandy 2Monty Python comedian and actor Michael Palin recently quipped: “Once the travel bug bites, there’s no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” I’m pretty sure Hammer Travel volunteer Sandy Hongerholt has been bitten and smitten by the same bug!

Did you even know that Hammer has an in-house travel agency? Since 2008, Hammer Travel, LLC has been a subsidiary service of Hammer Residences, Inc. It provides travel opportunities for people with developmental disabilities that are unique, safe and enjoyable. Sandy has been a volunteer on many of these trips over the last two years.

Sandy has been familiar with Hammer for many years. She is co-guardian of her 52 year-old cousin Dean, who is one of four men living at a Hammer home in Wayzata. Amazingly, this group of guys has lived together for more than 15 years! Despite this long time association with Hammer, it’s only been in the last few years that she’s had the flexibility to travel.

On every trip there is one paid Hammer staff member who acts as the trip leader, and then there are as many additional volunteers as needed to keep the ratio of traveler to staff at four to one. After a trip is scheduled, the trip leader and volunteers get together with Tom Ryan, the Director of Hammer Travel, for a pre-trip meeting to discuss the itinerary and assess other needs and possible interests at the upcoming destination. Sandy has taken many trips with Hammer Travel since her first one to the Wisconsin Dells in the summer of 2013.  Others trips include two to Hawaii, two to Alaska, one to Florida, one to Las Vegas, one to a dude ranch in Texas and two Disney cruises. Yikes, I have jet lag just writing this!


Sandy loves going on these trips, helping out as needed and having just as much fun as everyone else. She says the best part for her is seeing these vacationers realize their travel dreams and be given the opportunity to explore the world in a way they may not otherwise have been able. She has made lasting friendships on these trips and keeps in touch with many of her co-travelers afterwards. As a matter of fact, she continues to get together with Dawn who lives in a Hammer home and was her roommate on one of the Alaskan trips.  Sandy and Dawn have gone out for dinner together, taken walks by the lake, gone shopping, gotten manicures, visited the library and just hung out.

As a Flight Attendant, I know the thrill and excitement these trips must bring to all involved and also recognize how grateful Hammer must be for Sandy’s contribution.  What an invaluable, selfless blessing she is to these globetrotters by helping them realize Hammer’s primary mission … to experience life to its fullest!

For Love of the Story

By Jennifer Larson, Graphic Designer

I love a good story. I’m guessing you do too. It’s one thing I love about Hammer – their wealth of good stories. Hammer is all about people, and people make the best stories.


I’m a graphic designer and communications consultant, and I started working with Hammer a little over a year ago. In that time, I’ve helped Hammer put together a new brochure highlighting the organization and created materials for the annual meeting as well as for last year’s Reach for Ralph fundraiser. And, I’ve worked with the Communications team at Hammer to redesign their Discoveries magazine using photos and text to more clearly focus on the people of Hammer.

Along the way, I’ve had a front row seat for hearing a bunch of great Hammer stories. From the individuals who have called Hammer family all of their lives to stories about friendships between volunteers and the people Hammer serves. From the Direct Support Professionals who work hard to understand needs and do their jobs well to people like Director of Communication Tony Baisley who left the corporate world to promote work in which he believes. And of course, there are a wealth of stories of regular people who with some support from Hammer, live independently, find jobs, make friends, and enjoy the little things in life.

In my design business, I primarily work with nonprofits because I like supporting organizations doing work that closely align with my beliefs. I love my clients! My work is oftentimes behind the scenes. But, I have the opportunity to make a difference to organizations by helping them figure out how best to get their message out – how to tell their stories and use images for the best impact – and in the process, connect to the community, spark interest in volunteering, and encourage donations.

Jenny blogSome things I’ve noticed about Hammer:

The people I’ve met have all been warm and genuine.There is a strong dedication to each individual they serve and support is always given in a professional, classy manner. The organization seems to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for supporting people in living their lives and treating them with dignity and respect.

In the materials I’ve help put together, I’ve seen true appreciation and care for all who work at Hammer. All employees are respected for the amazing work they do in jobs that can be very challenging.

I look forward to continuing to learn and grow in my work with Hammer – and to hearing more inspiring stories.

Jennifer Larson is a graphic designer and photographer based in Minneapolis. Her business is Jennifer Larson Communications Design. Link:

Sharing What I Know: My Hammer Story

By Alex Gonzalez, Financial Consultant at Thrivent Financial

Alex GonzalezThe story that brings me to Hammer Residences is somewhat selfish. I connected with Hammer because my wife Simone and I have a son with high functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome. His name is Jake. I have sought out new connections, both personally and professionally on our journey with Jake. Hammer has become an integral part of that journey.

I sought out Hammer as a potential resource for Jake (thus the selfish part) for when he became an adult if he needed such supports. He is now 20 years old, still under our wings, but showing strong signs of independence. So, he may not need the services that Hammer provides, but having such a trusted resource in our lives provides a lot of confidence for the future.

Family Ed logo

Along the way, Cate Saracen-Peters, Director of Training and Education, has encouraged me to share some of my professional background with the Hammer community. Through special needs financial planning and values-based money management workshops, I have been able to share some of my knowledge with others. I hope that it has helped the special needs community at least a little bit. As the disability community has been a blessing to our family in our journey with Jake, my goal is to give back in as meaningful a way as I can.

So, if you are a Hammer family member or guardian, I encourage you join us for the upcoming Family Education Forum this spring. There are many resources available – skills, knowledge and experience we provide each other. This sharing of resources is an especially important aspect because no one knows it all. We can all learn from each other, and I am happy to be part of it. Thank you and I hope to see you in a few weeks!

Target’s Model Behavior

By Emily Robillard, Assistant Program Manager

Emily Target 1



Look up here!!!!!




Loud, energetic, exciting – all words I would use to describe a Target photo shoot. My daughter Harlee (pictured above) has been modeling for Target since she was about nine months old. She thoroughly enjoys the excitement and goofiness the photographers and “baby wranglers” (yes that is an official title for the person whose job it is to make the children laugh and smile) bring to each photo shoot. What I think she likes most is being in a room with people and other children.

Target Ad

This past holiday season, Target ran an ad with a beautiful little girl who lives with Down syndrome. When I saw the ad I was thoroughly impressed with Target! Then a few weeks later, we were at a shoot, and two children with Down syndrome were there. My heart was so full to see that Target had chosen to continue hiring children with developmental disabilities; it wasn’t just a onetime thing. Watching my daughter interact with these other little models was amazing, and it got me thinking: “Why can’t we all see each other as little children do?” The three of them laughed, colored and ran around as if they were best friends. The fact that two of them had a disability did not stop them. Not once did they stare at each other or shy away from one another.

This experience also reminded me of my childhood. I grew up in Wayzata next to a group home of adults with disabilities. I’m not sure what organization supported/supports these individuals, but my parents still live next to them. From a very young age, my siblings, neighborhood friends and I would always go ring their doorbell and ask them to come out and play. None of us ever saw them as disabled. We actually thought they were way cooler than any adults we knew because they would play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with us!

Emily Target 2Fast forward to when I moved home after college and was looking for a job. I had worked in a group home with children while in school and loved it. I knew of Hammer so I applied, and the rest is history. A few winters ago I had the privilege of participating in Ralph in the Schools. It was an amazing program! Teaching children from a young age about differences and similarities is a wonderful idea. Young minds are so open and eager to learning. Helping them understand abilities and disabilities really shapes their empathy and kindness later in life.

I am so proud of Target for opening up jobs to children of all abilities. It not only helps get the word out about disabilities, but it shows that anyone is capable of anything. In fact, I recently read about a young woman who walked in a fashion show for New York Fashion Week. She has Down syndrome and didn’t let that define her life. Watch out fashion world!

A March Toward Awareness

By Jason Jenkins, Wayzata Community Editor of the Sun Sailor

Hammer Residences reflects on advances, obstacles as it celebrates Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Hammer Residences has made a mission out of giving adults and children with developmental disabilities the opportunity to live life to its fullest. And all through March, the Wayzata-based nonprofit and residents of Hammer’s 46 homes and apartment programs are celebrating Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

John and WayneJohn Estrem, Hammer’s CEO, said the 92-year old organization has helped shape the landscape of developmental disability care in Minnesota.

Hammer’s settings of care include group homes, apartment complexes and in-home services. Apartments are typically reserved for those able to live more independently, with on-duty staff providing help as needed. Group homes settings are set up for more constant care. Hammer also provides staff for in-home care for those living in their own home or with someone else like parents or a guardian.

Through its apartment program, Estrem said Hammer has been able to offer a higher level of service to those unable able to live completely on their own.

“They’re able to live in their own apartment, but still have a sense of community and the support that they might need,” Estrem said. “That’s been somewhat innovative. We now support 120 people in 10 different apartment programs… That’s something that we’ve been kind of developing and refining along the way.”

Whatever the living situation, Estrem said Hammer’s goal is simply to help those living with developmental disabilities lead their own lives.

“I think that’s probably one of the biggest changes in our field in the last couple of decades,” Estrem said. “Today, we look at people as individuals and we try to design support for the individual rather than getting the individual to fit some predetermined program.”

That notion of crafting individual-based support was laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act, which marks its 25th anniversary this year. Signed into law in 1990, the wide-ranging civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on disability. It’s a law similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that called for the protection against discrimination based on race, religion or gender.

To celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Hammer will role out social awareness campaigns throughout the year and is inviting people to join through its website and social media.

Tony Baisley, Hammer’s director of communication, said the hashtag #DDAware will be used on Hammer’s Facebook and Twitter pages to connect those supporting or looking to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the services Hammer provides.

“Throughout the year, we will be unveiling some more public awareness campaigns acknowledging people with disabilities and how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go,” Baisley said.

‘How far we have yet to go’

While those connected to Hammer are celebrating Developmental Disabilities Month and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Estrem points to several ongoing challenges organizations like Hammer are facing.

“It’s always an issue for people with disabilities to find employment, gainful employment particularly, that pays at a living wage and is in the community,” Estrem said. “That’s been a longstanding struggle and it continues to be a struggle going forward.”

AARM 064Funding for services is another challenge Hammer and other nonprofit organizations face. With decreases in state and federal funding, organizations are finding it more difficult financially to provide the same level of support offered in the past.

“Funding that, 15 years ago, was really quite robust is now actually not enough,” Estrem said. “And that’s a pretty big change for us well.”

Currently, there is a statewide moratorium on group homes that are licensed corporate adult foster care facilities. Reasons for the continued state restrictions, Estrem said, have likely centered around the cost of building group homes and a mistaken belief that there is enough capacity within the current number of group homes.

“Our point of view is there needs to be, what I sometimes call, a continuous continuum of housing options for people with disabilities,” Estrem said. “There has to be things all along the spectrum as far as levels of support.”

While the moratorium has sped up the development of Hammer’s apartments, it has made it more difficult for people who need the higher level of support provided in a group home.

And as the next generation of people living with disabilities look to move out of their parents’ homes and into a more independent living situation, Estrem said he’s seeing the need for more space.

“While funding is a huge issue around access, the truth of the matter is, we just don’t have any openings. So, even if people had funding, we have a hard time getting them in because there just aren’t enough group home beds, at least in the Twin Cities….We take a call a week probably from families who are often very much in distress because they cannot find services,” Estrem said.

While there are no bills currently at the state legislature that would lift the moratorium, Estrem said he’s beginning to see support, particularly among families looking for services.

“It hasn’t gotten to the point yet of generating any public policy stances on it, but there certainly is a groundswell,” Estrem said.

Olmstead Plan

Another challenge Hammer and other organizations providing care to the developmentally disabled is around the state’s current efforts to comply with the Olmstead Act, a federal law requiring states to ensure the most integrated settings for care in an effort to eliminate unnecessary segregation of those with developmental disabilities. Writing an Olmstead Plan is how states document what needs to happen and what they plan to do to comply with federal rules.

dr zangara

Estrem noted that there’s been tension around what it means to comply with the federal Olmstead regulations and how Minnesota’s plan should be written.

Dr. Darlene Zangara, executive director of Minnesota’s Olmstead Implementation Office, said the system the state sets forth needs to be respectful and responsive to the choices of people with disabilities. Zangara said the Olmstead Plan should be about choice.

“We need to have a full range of options available for people with disabilities. For some, a group home may be the most integrated setting. Other people with disabilities may choose to live in a group home. But for some people, they may want services that would allow them to live in their own apartment,” Zangara said.

Questions remain among states and organizations like Hammer over what it means to be compliance with the Olmstead Act. Does the act’s “more integrated setting” requirement mean moving away from the group-home model? Does it mean having to offer the most independent settings possible?

“Every state is grappling with that and trying to figure it out,” Estrem said.

The Martinkas

Joy Martinka and her mother Ann sit in the living room of their Eden Prairie home. Joy, a sophomore at Eden Prairie High School who was born with Down syndrome, recaps her busy day. Among the subjects studied in school, she said, were math, photography and social studies.

Joy, like others around the word living with Down syndrome, is also getting ready to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day Saturday, March 21.

Ann and her daughter Joy stand in the backyard of their Eden Prairie home March 12. Joy is a sophomore at Eden Prairie High School and Ann works in the travel department at Hammer Residences. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)

Ann and her daughter Joy stand in the backyard of their Eden Prairie home March 12. Joy is a sophomore at Eden Prairie High School and Ann works in the travel department at Hammer Residences.

Ann works in Hammer’s travel department where she helps plan vacations for Hammer residents.

“It allows everybody to have the chance to go on vacation like everyone else … Just because you need extra support doesn’t mean that you can’t do things,” Ann said sitting across from Joy. “And we tell her all the time. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, we just do it modified.”

And when it comes to texting, Ann said her daughter is no different than any other teenager. Ann said Joy loves to type out messages and that getting a cell phone has actually helped her daughter communicate. It’s also helped Joy keep in touch with her brother, who is attending his first year of college in Madison, Wis.

“For somebody with disabilities, that form of communication is so awesome,” Ann said.

When asked about her plans for after high school, Joy replied with one word, “TASSEL,” referring to Eden Prairie School District’s TASSEL Transition program designed for students 18- to 21-years-old living with special needs. After that, Joy hopes to go to live with roommates, maybe go to college and then get married.

While the 16-year-old is living at home, Ann said where Joy will go once she’s ready to move out is a lingering concern.

“You don’t know who’s going to care for your child as much as you do,” the mother said.

It’s a fear that Ann said her four years of working for Hammer has helped alleviate.

“I’m not as afraid of the future as I used to be because I’ve met people at Hammer and I know that good care is out there,” Ann said, “And Joy certainly doesn’t want to live with us for the rest of her life, and we don’t want that for her. So, we were kind of stuck not knowing where to go, but now I feel good.”

Contact Jason Jenkins at

Rich Roots Grow a Learning Partnership

By Cate Saracen Peters, Director of Training and Education

It’s no coincidence that Hammer’s leadership has always supported providing our family members with an avenue to expand their knowledge and network of connections related to their loved ones. You see, it is deep in our roots as an organization. This rich history and legacy of shared learning goes back to our founder Alvina Hammer and Evelyn Carlson, a nurse and a teacher respectively. They developed learning partnerships with professionals and family members alike, in order to realize the outcome of fulfilled lives for individuals living with developmental disabilities.

Family Ed logoFast forward to today where our commitment to this Learning Partnership continues to grow stronger than ever. Hammer’s Family Education Forum, established as an annual event in 2014, has become that official avenue for family members to learn and grow. The Training and Education Team has a passion for providing a format that fits just right, as we approach our second Family Ed Forum on Thursday, April 30th.

School is in session this spring, with a menu of choices to support attendees in getting the answers they need. Matching needs with the latest service innovations in our field, coupled with the vital importance of the shared story and relationships, will ensure rich content that is current. Aside from the traditional classroom, hand-in-hand story sharing is where the greatest impact can be made.

Mayor5Our new “On the Spot Conversation Tables” that are topic based give this Hammer forum a personalized touch, while delivering resources on a variety of topics. As Director of Training and Education, I thought it best to include this “back to basics” approach with a conversational format designed to re-emphasize the importance of connection and the power of sharing through stories. The more traditional breakout sessions will also be available, and for the first time we will open with a keynote address focusing on the Person Centered Life.

We recognize this as a unique opportunity to connect, to learn, and to work together with family members into the future. As our CEO John Estrem shares: “We have learned from our family members and guardians over the years that this collaboration naturally strengthens these vital relationships and speaks volumes to partnership we all value.” So, if you are a Hammer family member or guardian, please join us in building upon our strong roots as we share a common goal to walk beside someone, helping them do this thing called life.

Big Adventures in the Big Apple

By Kelly Bosch, Program Manager

Broadway 1New York City. This had always been Karen’s dream, always. And, Karen’s plans for this dream were not small. They included all the fun touristy things do to, but at the top of the list was auditioning for the historic Apollo Theater. For ten years, Karen has been singing/dancing/acting for a decade now at Interact for the Visual and Performing Arts. She is a self-proclaimed “diva,” performing 2-3 plays a year for large audiences in grand theaters. So, when Karen found out they were holding open auditions at the Apollo the week we were going to be there, all the stars aligned!

The early departure day started off flawlessly. We breezed through airport security and even had time for a quick breakfast before boarding the plane. Once the wheels hit the tarmac in New York, Karen flashed me the biggest smile and quietly said: “We are in New York City!” Then, the adventures began.

Karen 2Once we got settled at our hotel, we hit the streets of the Big Apple. There was so much shopping, walking and stuffing our faces with endless amounts of good food on every block. We even squeezed in Karen’s very first massage – much needed relaxation in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Thursday, audition day, was fast approaching.

That day started with breakfast and meeting up with an old friend from Interact who had moved to New York. She was so excited to hear that Karen was auditioning for the Apollo that morning. The studio where the audition was being held was only five blocks from our hotel. Was this fate or what? We arrived 10 minutes before the doors opened for sign up with just enough time to thaw out a little. Karen was 38th in line so she continued her warm-ups. Those two hours were slightly nerve racking, hearing what seemed like every click of the second hand of the clock on the bare, white wall.

Apollo 2

Finally, it was time. Karen stood in front of three judges and belted out the classic tune “On Broadway.” The judges sang along and really enjoyed her performance. Karen ROCKED it! One of the judges told Karen to “keep doing what you’re doing.” She could not have been happier after hearing that.

Her day had already been made after the audition, but it was about to get even better. Our next stop was actually on Broadway to see “Mama Mia” – Karen’s favorite musical! We were one row away from the stage. SO close! The show wrapped up with Karen showing off some sweet moves to “Dancing Queen” in the aisle. As it was the last night of the trip, we ended it with a fancy dinner of filet mignon!

Broadway 3I have worked with Karen for nine years, and I have heard about this dream for nearly as long. It was such an amazing experience to see all of this through Karen’s eyes and enthusiasm. She crossed off a lot of things on her dream list, and it was beyond rewarding to be there with her. This was truly a vacation to remember and we want to extend a huge thank you to Joe and Kathy Reis for the incredible support in making this dream a reality!

Respect: the Other, Better R-Word

By Kris Miller, Self-Advocate

Kris 1My name is Kris. I have been supported by Hammer Residences for about 25 years. I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences about bullying and why I hope everyone will stop using the R-word.

I want you to know that no one should use the R-word. If you do not know what the R-word is, R stands for Retarded, and I will only refer to it as the R-word going forward. It is an awful word, and it causes pain to many people, myself included. R should stand for Respect.

Stop saying the R-word. It hurts my feelings. Be respectful about disabilities. Be nicer. Treat us as normal people.

Kris 2When I was in school, people teased me a lot. In high school, people put tape in my hair and spit on me while calling me the R-word. Someone even punched me in the stomach while calling me that word.  That made me upset. It made me cry like crazy. When they called me the R-word, it made me feel ashamed, like I was less of a person.

I hear the R-word in the movies. I hear it in music and on television. I have to turn off the television or stop listening to the music. It is a painful, negative word.

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Yes, I have a disability. But like everyone else, I feel really good and happy when I am treated with respect. I think people do not always understand. I encourage people to ask me questions. I tell them that I have a learning disability and that makes it hard for me to learn things. However, I still have feelings and try very hard to learn new things. Things usually turn around for the better when people begin to understand. Afterwards, it can be a very positive relationship.

I want people who may be bullied to know that they can stand up for their rights. Say: “Stop saying that!” or “Stop teasing me” or “Be respectful and treat me like everyone else!”

I respectfully ask that everyone speak with words that are not hurtful and not support or allow others to spread the R-word. One person at a time, we can stop the use of this negative word! Make your pledge here.

A Hammer Connection: Volunteer Turned Lifetime Advocate

By Lindsay Grome, Hammer Volunteer & Account Supervisor at Weber Shandwick

Giving back.

It’s one of those things we all hear we should be doing, and deep down many of us truly want to do. However, it can be hard to choose a cause.

You have to ask yourself:

1) What do I care about?

2) What do I want to be doing in my spare time?

3) What brings me fulfillment?

What’s even harder is once you find that cause, sticking with it.

As a volunteer at various organizations throughout the past decade or so, for me the reason I do it has always been about the connection I’ve felt with the people I’m volunteering with.

imageBut Hammer changed the game for me. The connection I feel to both the residents I’ve volunteered with and to the organization itself is a whole new experience that, for fear of sounding cliché, has changed my life.

I first heard about Hammer at a volunteer fair, of all places, when I had just moved to Minnesota. In college I’d volunteered with disabled persons at Passion Works Studio in Athens, Ohio, a small Appalachian town home to Ohio University. I would stop in, clean old newspaper metal and watch the inspiration flow through the hands of true artists – who happened to be paralyzed in a wheelchair or have a cognitive disability – yet far sharper than I could ever be with an artistic mind expressed through a paintbrush.

It was at that point I knew I had found a cause I cared about #1: Check.

When I moved on to my first job out of college, I began volunteering again in my spare time at Opportunity Enterprises located in Valparaiso, IN. Opportunity Enterprises, like Hammer, is dedicated to helping people with disabilities live enriching lives. There I found joy once again being around such an inspiring environment. #2: Check.

imageThese wonderful, inspirational experiences are what motivated me to actually seek out an organization serving people with disabilities. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fit.

Despite the fact that I spent several evenings a month volunteering as an exercise partner to one amazing, funny, caring woman in particular…then a few more nights as a softball coach, communications committee member, marketing member for the Reach for Ralph gala (see how they just stick with you!)…what has stuck with me about Hammer, and keeps me coming back, has been their true appreciation of everyone they come in contact with.

From the individuals Hammer serves to the program managers, to staff at the central office, to the families and the volunteers – all of them, every single one – truly cares. They care about the people. They care about the mission. And that shows – verbally and through the lovely collection of watercolor cards designed by those Hammer supports sent to my house just to say “thanks.” Hammer is really the one I should be thanking.

Tony at Weber ShandwickMy relationship with Hammer has recently evolved to a whole new level, as I’m now the lucky one who gets to work with Hammer and its “lean and mean” communications team. In my professional life, I work in public relations at Weber Shandwick, a global public relations agency. Hammer was chosen as the Minneapolis office of Weber Shandwick’s pro bono client of 2015, which means I get to help tell Hammer’s stories to the Twin Cities and beyond. With this year marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have a lot of ideas and a lot of great stories to tell. To say I’m excited is an understatement.

Hammer brings me fulfillment and I simply can’t wait to share their inspiring stories. Fulfillment: Check.