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.

My Life As a DSP

By Patience Zelee, Assistant Program Manager

ADVOCACY 063My name is Patience Zelee. I am a single parent of a six year old, and I have worked full-time as an Assistant Program Manager/Direct Support Professional (DSP) at Hammer Residences for seven years. I came to the U.S. from Liberia, West Africa, in 1998. I am also a full-time student.

When I first applied for a job with Hammer, I told myself I would work here long enough to get back on my feet – 6 months tops. But within those six months, I fell in love with my job. Now, I cannot imagine myself working anywhere else. I have come to think of the individuals that I serve as my second family. I love joking around with my second family, going to movies or dances with them, having WII parties and many other things. But, it is not all fun and games. As a DSP, I also cook, clean, order and administer medications, drive to and from medical appointments and help with bathing, grooming and budgeting. I am trained to use a lift van, a Hoyer lift, stair lift (to transfer individuals up and down the stairs), bed baths and seizure protocol for one of the individuals that I serve. It is both rewarding and exhausting work.

DSCI0143Because of the wage structure, most of us who work in this field need to pick up extra shifts or have a second job in order to make ends meet. For those of us who are single parents, we sometimes go days without seeing our children. It’s unbearable for me not to see my daughter for days at a time because I have to work so much. It’s hard for me and her not to see be with each other as much as we would like, but that is how it has to be if we want to keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table.

A simple pay increase, of even 5%, would make a difference in all of our lives. I would not have to work so much, and I would be able to spend time with my daughter. It would also decrease DSP turnover, which would greatly benefit those I support.

Still, I continue to do this job because I want to make a difference in people’s lives. I believe it is one of the best things a person can do in their life. It matters to me and the people I serve.

So, please, help support a 5% rate increase for Direct Support Professionals in 2015 to better the lives of my daughter, my second family and myself.

Patience 1

Hammer Conversations: A Look Behind the Camera

By Gerick Engle, Video Producer at EideCom

I was first introduced to Hammer Residences in early 2014. At that time, I had been working part-time for EideCom assisting on video shoots and doing some filming. So, I was thrilled when I was offered me a full-time position as a Video Producer. The excitement of finally having a job in my field of study and being able to work on my craft full-time was amazing. Needless to say, when our Director of Accounts, Ben Peterson, told me about our project with Hammer, I was very excited and had a lot of questions.

10384211_10152304325216076_3550801433329631154_nAfter receiving an email outlining the Hammer Conversations project, I did some research on Hammer and the developmental disability services industry. My excitement was still strong, but I was also a bit worried, wondering if I was up to the task. I had limited experience with individuals living with disabilities. I distinctly remember an occasion at Buca di Beppo when I said hi to a young girl with a disability in the booth next to mine. She had been staring over at our table and I just wanted to be friendly. I inadvertently scared her and she ended up crying until she left with her family. It wasn’t the most positive of memories, and was really all I had to go on regarding what my project with Hammer might be like. However, it became obvious to me that I had been given a great opportunity. I would be able to help give individuals who are misunderstood and underrepresented a voice to tell their stories.

After some planning, Don, our Director of Photography and I packed up and left for Hammer Residences central office in Wayzata. We unloaded and met up with Tony Baisley, the Director of Communication who showed us where we would be conducting two of the interviews. The first man that we met was the ever-popular James McKune. He has lived with Hammer since 1948 and is their longest-served individual. He was very interested in the large film lights we had set up and, as expected, was a bit shy in front of Don and me. Tony had planned for this and had printed a large number of photos of James to help spark conversation and in turn tell the story. James’ guardian and longtime Hammer employee was also a part of the interview, sitting next to James to ask questions and spark conversation.

IMG954828Personally, the interview was one of a kind. The filming went on for over an hour, yet the main subject of the interview spoke less than a hundred words. As the conversation began, I remember thinking that this was going to be impossible to edit. Luckily, the power of old memories got the better of James, and I saw the story start to tell itself. An image of James and a red truck makes James chuckle as he recollects the scenario in which the picture was taken. Later, in editing, I would really start to get to know James as the same authentic smile appeared in almost all of the photos he looked at with Sue.

Hammer had become James’ family. Almost his entire life had been with Hammer and some staff knew him almost better than he knew himself. He told us about the friends he had made and he started to cry when he was shown the photograph of a recently deceased friend, Jim Finney. He cried again, only this time tears of joy, when he thumbed through several pictures of his friend and housemate, Gretchen, whispering, “she’s pretty.” My eyes certainly watered up a few times during the editing of these parts.

I love this part of my job. Working with companies like Hammer Residences, American Heart Association and The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation gives me an intimate look into the lives of people who have challenges most of us can barely understand but who live incredibly full lives. My time spent as a filmmaker has forced me to think from different perspectives and I am often humbled by the people I capture on video.

Clockwise: The Martinka family, Leslie Fish and James McKune were the featured individuals in Hammer Conversations 2014.

Clockwise: The Martinka family, Leslie Fish and James McKune – 2014′s featured individuals in Hammer Conversations.

We shot two other videos for this first installment of Hammer Conversations. One was of a mother and daughter who talked about life before moving to Hammer and how great it was that they were now part of the “Hammer Family.” The other was of a family of a Hammer Travel employee. The daughter, Joy, has Down syndrome, and it was a unique experience to see each family member’s perspective on Joy’s future and the endless possibilities all those living with a disability have through Hammer’s support.

As 2014 came to an end, I was deeply honored when I was asked, once again, to direct the Hammer Conversation videos for 2015. In fact, we are set to begin filming next week, and I cannot wait. With another year of experience and practice, I can do an even better job at telling the stories of these fellow Minnesotans. What I will continue to learn from this experience is that it is always worth the extra effort to tell someone’s story, especially the really good ones.

Hammer believes that all people deserve to be treated with love and given the same benefits and opportunities as everyone else. They encourage the people they support to live independently, find love, work, and follow their hopes and dreams. If you ever get the chance to connect with anyone from Hammer, I suggest you seize the opportunity!

Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan: An Update

By Devin Harrington, Communication Specialist

This past December, at the Department of Education, the Olmstead Implementation Office (OIO) held its bimonthly meeting. Subcabinet members and Dr. Darlene Zangara, Executive Director of the OIO, presented updates, the highlights of the bimonthly report, and plans for the coming year.

Amy loading the dishwasherThe primary focus was to ensure everything was set to present the most updated, 250+ page report to the designated court monitor. Subcabinet members emphasized the importance of inter-agency coordination, community engagement, and accountability. Dr. Zangara shared charts highlighting the progress of moving people with disabilities away from remaining institutions. Testimonies of three individuals that Hammer has supported in moves to independent, apartment settings were included. They added a personal and human element to the report.

Another topic of conversation was the choosing of a quality of life assessment tool. The OIO and the subcabinet create plans and guidelines they think will work for the state and disability community; however, they acknowledged the importance of gathering baseline information and firsthand input from those who live with disabilities. The proposed tool comes from the Center for Outcome Analysis, but many questions, such as cost, ease of use, and method of data collection, were left on the table. The OIO and subcabinet agreed that an assessment tool should be introduced after these are answered.

Anthony cooking a healthy meal 1 - smallerUpdates on the state’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program and its respective five year transition plan were also shared. With the introduction of 245D and changes to the Disability Waiver Rate System, Minnesota is nearing the end of year one of this five year plan. More input is needed from providers and individuals with disabilities to make sure program changes focus on the individual as opposed to a specified setting. A report was scheduled for submission at the end of 2014, and by 2016 those leading the way hope to move from the planning phase to application.

Two things were very clear to me following this meeting – this will be a long process that will require attention from all of those in the disability services industry, and we still have the opportunity to provide valuable input.

Katie Jo staying active playing Wii gamesMinnesota’s Olmstead Implementation Plan officially began in January of 2012 as a settlement of the Jensen v. MN Department of Human Services case that began in 2009. The US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Minnesota needed to come up with their own Olmstead Plan to provide services to people with disabilities in the “most integrated settings” appropriate to their needs. In 2013 Governor Dayton officially formed a subcabinet for the committee. An initial report was submitted in October of 2013 but was denied by a federal judge for being vague and not measurable. The OIO and subcabinet have continued to edit and better define the state’s plan, but they recognize the work that still needs to be done. The final report for 2014 was submitted on Friday, December 19. The subcabinet’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 9, 2015 from 3:00-5:00pm (location TBD).

Pictured above are the three self-advocates whose testimonies were shared during the meeting. Amy moved to her own apartment last October, Anthony successfully advocated for a move to his own apartment and Katie Jo has made remarkable progress to improve her overall health since moving to an apartment. Click on each individual’s name to read their personal stories.

Tribute Envelopes: Creative Giving to Help Others

By Sue Oreck, Hammer family member

Sue Oreck 1My name is Sue Oreck, and I am the sister of Jeffrey Orenstein who lives at the McGlinch house in Plymouth. Whenever I go over to Jeff’s house, I see the wonderful staff that cares for the six individuals who call McGlinch home. I also see the amount of upkeep that goes into these homes so that they accommodate everyone’s needs. For example, last year, donations were received to help replace all of the flooring in the home and provide new furniture and interior paint. These home improvements have a direct impact on Jeffrey’s quality of life and I’m so thankful for the generosity of so many.

All of these home improvements could not happen without our help. That’s why I think it is so important not only to give a once a year donation but to give throughout the year. The way I am able to do this is with tribute envelopes. Tribute envelopes are a wonderful and creative way to honor friends and relatives while at the same time support Hammer.

Sue Oreck 2I send in tribute envelopes throughout the year for birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy notes and recently to congratulate someone on their new job. Hammer then sends a personalized card to my honoree – the amount of the gift isn’t disclosed. Sending these cards creates awareness for Hammer, and for people with disabilities. Hopefully, those we send cards to will remember Hammer when it is time for them to remember someone’s special event.

Packets of tribute envelopes are available at Hammer, just stop by the central office in Wayzata or give them a call at 952-473-1261.

Hammer holds a special place in my heart and I will continue to help by sending tribute cards. To me, there is no better gift than the gift of helping others!

Are You a Natural?

By Wendy Paulson, Human Resource Specialist

Wendy Blog 1Have you ever been told “you must be special” when you tell someone where you work? They say that because not everyone can work in human services. What is it that inspires us to choose a helping profession or nonprofit work – even if that means a modest income, unusual hours or other sacrifices? When I interview candidates, I ask them what qualities they think are necessary to be successful at this job and why this a good fit for them. They often describe themselves as someone who was sensitive and kind from a young age. Many have been caregivers for family members who needed help due to illness or disability. Their resumes are filled with volunteer activities. This supports my long-time view that people who choose to work at Hammer Residences are what I call “naturals.” That is, they were always more empathetic or altruistic…more likely to befriend the classmate who was teased by others or to be kind to an elderly neighbor. Imagine my delight when I read about research that supports my naturals theory: a study that shows there is a neurological basis behind the truly altruistic – folks who voluntarily help other people at some sacrifice to themselves.

Researchers at Georgetown University examined the brain structures of 19 kidney donors, comparing them with 20 people in a control group. They found that super altruists were better at reading signs of distress on people’s faces, and that a certain part of the brain that processes emotion was larger in theirs than in the control group. Researchers found that a part of the brain associated with processing emotion – the right amygdala – was 8 percent larger on average among the kidney donors. You can read the 12/11/14 article in the Star Tribune by clicking here:  Altruists’ brains uniquely wired

Wendy Blog 2When we say we are a caring community, it’s more than a mission statement; it is an identity statement. One of our best recruiting tools is employee referral. When we hear from a current employee that their friend or relative will be a good fit for our organization, it carries a lot of weight. We tend to recommend others who share our values and work ethic. We have a robust hiring and training program and there is always a need for Direct Support Professionals. Contact us in Human Resources to find more about our opportunities, or to refer a friend. If you are a natural, you will feel right at home as a part of the Hammer Family.

Quality of Life: An Incredible Gift

Bill Bieber and his family have been generous Hammer family members since 1990. With compassion for those we serve and insight about family’s needs, Bill and his family established the Quality of Life Fund in 1993 as a financial resource for the men, women and children with developmental disabilities we support, specifically those who may not have families to help them when they are in financial need. Each year since, Bill has reached out to friends to share our Hammer story about the needs of so many who have very little. Below is an excerpt from Bill’s most recent holiday appeal.

“Since its beginnings in 1923, the mission of Hammer has been to provide adults and children with developmental disabilities the opportunity to experience life to its fullest. The Quality of Life Fund is a financial resource for the individuals supported by Hammer to ensure that everyone served has the means to live full and meaningful lives. The fund is specifically for individuals like Jim Forsythe who have limited financial resources.

Jim ForsytheBefore coming to Hammer, Jim Forsythe, now 52, shared a single room with 12 other men at a state institution in Faribault. For the first time in his life, at age 29, he enjoyed the privacy of his own room. He now lives in a “home” supported by wonderful staff members that help create a stable, calm atmosphere for Jim and the entire household.

The availability of Quality of Life Funds is a lifeline to Jim. He relies on these funds for many basic necessities including clothing and eyeglasses. Because of your generosity, Jim is able to attend a special summer camp designed for people with disabilities. He looks forward to being at camp every year.

Jim’s story is one of many Hammer successes. I am so grateful for the quality of care Hammer provides for all the 274 men, women and children living in their 36 homes and 10 apartment programs in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Many of these special individuals rely on your contributions to the Quality of Life Fund for basic needs and recreational activities just like Jim.

With gratitude for your generosity and kindness, I’m asking you to please consider a generous gift to Hammer’s Quality of Life Fund today to support individuals like Jim Forsythe. Thank you for considering my request today.

Warmest wishes to you and your family the rest of this holiday season,

Bill Bieber & Helen Meyer”

The Quality of Life Fund provides for special medical needs (such as dental work), procedures (such as massage therapy to manage chronic pain) and medical equipment not reimbursable by Medicaid. It is also used to purchase household furnishings and clothing and provides for recreational activities such as YMCA memberships, Courage Center swim passes and Camp True Friends fees. The Quality of Life Fund has a direct, positive impact on the people we support and is funded 100% by private contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.

P. S. If you’d prefer, you can make a secure online gift here.

If you’d prefer, you can call us at 952-473-1261 to make a gift over the phone, or mail your gift. All gifts postmarked by Dec. 31 are tax-deductible for 2014. Thank you!

Keepin’ It Simple

By Regan McGowan, Program Manager

When I went to college, I started and ended with the same question – what do I want to do after school? I earned a degree in business, yet I hadn’t come up with an answer. Hammer has always been a part of my life. My mom has worked for this organization for over 25 years. I had worked here part time on the weekends during my last year of school. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I was beginning to find my answer.

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Regan (in black nad pink) volunteering at Hammer Thanksgiving in 2006

I write this now, post-college as a Program Manager for one of Hammer’s group homes. Everyone has always said that once you start at Hammer, you get pulled in, and now I see why. As its mission, Hammer Residences provides individuals with disabilities opportunities to live life to its fullest. In my role, I get to support four very special ladies as they each pursue living their lives to the fullest. Like any other job, there challenges; for example, not losing your composure when trying to “keep the peace” amongst everyone. Even so, I continue to find that the joys and rewards far outweigh any of the challenges.

Regan and Rockford

During my short time at Hammer, I quickly have learned that the only true disability in life is having a bad attitude. These women I support are four of the sweetest people you will ever meet. They are just like you and me, and I am humbled every time I go to work. The individuals who I am honored to serve may look a bit different than you and I, or have a different thought process, but these women are the most AUTHENTIC people I have ever met. When these ladies are angry or upset, you know it. That said, they are quick to forgive and move forward. On the flip side, when these gals are happy, they radiate joy. The laughter, smiles and jokes that fill my work days make every minute worth it.

Regan and Rockford 2We shouldn’t try to complicate life too much; it should be simple! No two days are the same at our house and the giggles keep coming. We can learn from every single person we meet. Today my question is no longer “what do I want to do after school?” but “who knew that a job didn’t have to feel like work?”

Worth a Thousand Words

By Kim Gharrity, 10-Year Volunteer

photo 3If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then Michael Moschogianis has gifted Hammer volumes-worth of text this past year with his wonderful photography. Retired from having his own portrait studio, Michael was looking for a way to make a creative contribution with his photography when he attended a volunteer fair last year at the Mall of America. He went from booth to booth selectively looking for nonprofit organizations that were of interest to him, offering his services and contact information.

Hammer enthusiastically reached out to him, and the rest they say, is history. Over the past year, Michael has taken pictures at more than a dozen Hammer events including: the Annual Meeting, sports banquets, the Family Day Picnic, and Reach for Ralph. He is most comfortable being given complete latitude to find and portray the story to tell, and when you look at his pictures, you immediately see how well he has been able to capture these moments. His photos convey an experience or event with such incredible warmth and tenderness. Though much of this sensibility can be attributed to Michael’s unique vision as a photographer, he also has a special affinity for the Hammer community. Michael had a younger brother Marc, with Down syndrome. He took loving care of his brother in his home until Marc passed away last winter.

Hammer is one of several social service agencies to which Michael donates his services. Among others, he also takes pictures for Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity and the Hopkins Education Foundation. As rewarding as these are, Hammer remains his favorite! “The things that keep me coming back,” he said, “are the employees, the work they do and the people they support. The staff is thirsty, savvy and sharp as a tack.  The work of the organization speaks for itself. And, the individuals served are the purest people on the planet – no guile, no subtext, absolutely a joy to be around!”

michael m collage

Currently, Michael is working with Communication Specialist Devin Harrington to illustrate personal stories of three individuals Hammer supports in independent living, apartment programs. These stories, along with Michael’s photographs, will go in a larger report for the state of Minnesota’s Olmstead Implementation Plan Office. State legislators, industry experts and a federal judge will be just some of the readers of this report due mid-December.

Well-known portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz once said: “Photography is not something you retire from.” Hammer is very much hoping Michael feels the same way. When asked which of his photographs was his all-time favorite, he playfully replied, “The one I’m going to take tomorrow!”