A Voyage Like No Other

by Rosemary Fish

As my friend Tony Baisley, Hammer’s Director of Communication, advises, “Write about what you know.” Okay, since that’s pretty straightforward, I’ll go right to the topic I know best: being the parent of a daughter with special needs.

By way of introduction, my daughter Leslie is a pretty, 35-year-old woman with cognitive deficits, a controlled (well, mostly) seizure disorder and a bilateral hearing loss. Additionally, she has battled significant emotional issues during the last few years.

Baby PhotoAs anyone who has traveled this unique road will tell you, this particular journey is one of incredible highs and, frankly, often near-crushing lows. But as a “veteran” of over three decades now, I can attest I am definitely more resilient, and, hopefully, a better human being because of the experience. And I’ve learned quite a lot, both good and bad, along the way.

So, when Tony asked me to write this blog, after my initial hesitation (fruitless, when dealing with Tony), my thoughts went back in time. My husband once told me that many years ago when we first heard the then-18-months-old Leslie’s diagnosis from the pediatric neurologist, he thought, “I’ll never smile again.”

I remember it vividly, going to the library and frantically trying to find a book, an article, some research – anything to give us hope. Sadly, the pickings were slim back then. But after finally getting our footing, good fortune started to smile, and I began to find support groups and organizations, such as the wonderful PACER, and the fog became less dense.

Fish WeddingNow, so many years later, when I think about my husband’s words, I’m here to tell you – and Marvin joins me – despite a mis-step here and there, we are an extremely happy, albeit toughened, family. The reasons for this are many; we’ve witnessed how much Leslie has progressed; we’ve done “combat” with the system and survived; and then there is plain-old good luck in finding a helping hand when we were down on the mat.

So, if my 35-year younger (and terrified) self could ask this current (wiser but rickety) self: “What was the key?” I’d have to reply, “Sometimes, it’s just hanging in there and finding the right resources.” And, hopefully, someone who is just beginning their journey can know it’s not only navigable, but also more rewarding and illuminating than you can initially imagine.

Leslie-1082And as I continue further on this path, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out one crucial element that has emerged to make a colossal difference in the quality of Leslie’s life. And that, of course, is the extraordinary and indefatigable Hammer Residences. Leslie’s acceptance six years ago into one of their group homes was one of the happiest moments of my life.

And at this point in her life, the Sumac House is the perfect place for Leslie. With the help of an excellent and well-directed staff and the most fun-loving and adorable housemates anywhere, she has blossomed in a myriad of ways I would never have thought possible. (Also, I might add, there is now growth and maturity present that wasn’t in evidence when she lived at home.)

So, for all of you, no matter where you are on this journey, know that you’re on the ride of your life.  Buckle up, batten down, and though the twists and turns may leave you dizzy at times, the ride will never be dull.

In closing this ramblin’ Rosemary tome, these lines from my favorite poem Ithaca,”  seem to sum it up best…Ithaca Poem
To see more of Leslie and the Fish family’s voyage, click here.


Why I Volunteer

By Bill Perrine, Hammer Volunteer

My name is Bill Perrine and I am entering my eighth year as a volunteer for Hammer Residences. Back when Hammer was considering a major event to build its awareness and fundraising efforts, my friend Lisa Anderson called me to ask if I could put my event management background to good use. Throughout my life I had volunteered occasionally for one-off events. But, Lisa’s call got me thinking that it was time to do something more regularly.

Bill and Trevor Studanski at Reach for Ralph 2013.

Bill and Trevor Studanski at Reach for Ralph 2013.

Once I started I was hooked on the notion of helping any way I could. I am not a skilled social professional and have only limited experience with individuals who have disabilities. I was at one time, however, very close to getting my own crash course.

When my son Max was four months old, his mother and I noticed one night that he was not well. He was not responding to any of the known home remedies we tried. He had a sustained, elevated fever and a “wounded lamb” murmur that was agonizing to hear.

Bill and Max 3At 5:00am the next morning, we decided to rush him to an otherwise empty emergency room – which ended up being very impactful. The doctor performed an exam and found nothing unusual, but this only troubled him more. Based on the prolonged symptoms and what I believe to this day was one of those treasured physician gut feelings, the doctor ordered an immediate spinal tap. Watching the procedure and then hearing the diagnosis were gut wrenching…Four-month-old Max had contracted pneumococcal meningitis.

Max was put on intravenous meds immediately and was hospitalized for 10 days. Because he was diagnosed so quickly (thanks in part to the unusually empty ER) and treated properly, Max made a full recovery and has had no related effects.

During this ordeal, I was preparing for the possibility of hearing loss, brain damage or some other developmental disability. Despite the fact that nothing surfaced, I still feel a connection to those with disabilities. It genuinely warms my heart to see someone with a disability out in the community with those who support them.

So, contributing in some way to advance Hammer’s mission is a byproduct of my experience with Max. Our lives could have turned out much differently. I truly value Hammer and am in awe of how much they have grown over the years. It is my honor to contribute to such an amazing organization, and I cannot wait to make dreams come true at next week’s Reach for Ralph!

Invite cover

Family Key to Success

By Jeff Warner, Warner’s Stellian

History books omit the names of many important people. Despite their significant impact, their part of the story remains unwritten.

Warners'-Stellian-Logo copyIn Warners’ Stellian’s story, such a man existed. Gerald Tuckner married dad’s sister Marie. Jerry was a favorite uncle to us Warner kids. He was always smiling and always funny – just like our dad. Uncle Jerry was father to a bunch of our cousins (including Hammer Board President Barbara Tuckner) and had a pool in his backyard! We spent many summer days in that Tuckner pool, mixing it up with our cousins – usually with Janet smack in the middle of all the fun. (Janet Tuckner has been supported by Hammer for 33 years.)

As adults, dad shared some things about Jerry that increased our respect and gratitude toward him. Dad struggled to find a meaningful job after returning home from the Korean conflict. In 1954, Jerry told dad about a bookkeeping position at Stellian Appliance, a little store in the township of Falcon Heights.

Despite dad’s lack of experience, Jerry convinced him to take the job lending his accounting skills to ensure dad succeeded. In 1971, when the owner had become more difficult to work for, Jerry advised dad to offer his resignation suspecting that the owner might offer the business to dad rather than accept his resignation.

And that is exactly what happened. Once again, it was Jerry who leveraged his connection with a local bank to secure the loan needed to buy Stellian. There is no way he would have gotten that loan without Jerry, dad says.

Thanks to Jerry’s encouragement and counsel on those two events, the Warner family is now celebrating its 60th anniversary in the appliance business. Without Jerry, there would be no Warners’ Stellian.

Jim Warner Jr. and wife, Sandy; Jim Warner, Sr. and wife, Nonie; Carla Warner in costume at last year's Reach for Ralph event!

Jim Warner Jr. and wife, Sandy; Jim Warner, Sr. and wife, Nonie; Carla Warner in costume at Reach for Ralph last year!

Coldwell Banker Burnet Foundation Supports Worthy Housing Causes

By: Leonard MacKinnon, Coldwell Banker Burnet Foundation

Coldwell Banker Burnet’s Eden Prairie office collected the most pillows in the company’s annual pillow drive to benefit Bridging.

Coldwell Banker Burnet’s Eden Prairie office collected the most pillows in the company’s annual pillow drive to benefit Bridging.

Coldwell Banker Burnet has been helping people buy and sell homes in the Twin Cities, Rochester, St. Cloud, MN and Western Wisconsin for more than 40 years. During that time we have come to understand the importance of giving back to the community. From our independent sales associates to individual employees to executive team members, we have made giving back a tradition. Whether organizing meaningful charitable events, volunteering at local nonprofits, or executing donation drives, the commitment and devotion to making a difference in the community is phenomenal and something we are proud of doing.

In addition to individual giving by our sales associates and employees, the Coldwell Banker Burnet Foundation was created as the official company-wide vehicle for charitable outreach. Our mission is to support the housing-related needs of people at all stages of life in the communities we serve. As local real estate experts, we feel it makes sense to give back and support those who help others with housing-related matters.

Coldwell Banker Burnet offices regularly volunteer their time for the Ronald McDonald Houses’ Cooks for Kids program. (L-R) Joan Brandes, Mike La Velle, Jeff Vandercook, Scott Seeley, Dave Rech

Coldwell Banker Burnet offices regularly volunteer their time for the Ronald McDonald Houses’ Cooks for Kids program. (L-R) Joan Brandes, Mike La Velle, Jeff Vandercook, Scott Seeley, Dave Rech

As you can imagine, our independent sales associates and employees live and work in many communities. Each of our offices identifies a local nonprofit of their choice where they direct their charitable support. These organizations include: Al Loehr Veterans Apartments, Bridging, Uncommon Bond, Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, Grace Place, Hammer Residences, Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners, The Link/Lincoln Place, Mary’s Wish, Restart, Inc., Ronald McDonald House Charities-Upper Midwest, Ronald McDonald House Rochester, Sojourner, Spare Key, and Valley Outreach. Whether it is helping with basic housing necessities, or providing a supportive home for families of seriously-ill children, the Foundation is committed to help those in need.

Given Coldwell Banker Burnet’s charitable focus, it is no wonder why we have chosen to partner with Hammer Residences. We believe it is a perfect alignment of missions in a community we know very well. And, our CEO Joe Reis is a longtime Hammer Board member and personal volunteer. Hammer provides adults and children with disabilities the opportunity to live life to its fullest, and, whenever needed, the Coldwell Banker Burnet Foundation is there to help them accomplish this in places these deserving individuals can call home.

The Blue Streak Team from Coldwell Banker Burnet's Apple Valley office participated in the annual "Bedrace for Bridging" event.

The Blue Streak Team from Coldwell Banker Burnet’s Apple Valley office participated in the annual “Bedrace for Bridging” event.

Coldwell Banker Burnet, is a leading residential real estate brokerage serving Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. The company, headquartered in Edina, MN and founded in 1973, operates 24 offices and is affiliated with 1,700 independent sales associates throughout the market. For more information, please visit www.CBBurnet.com or call 952-820-HOME (4663). Coldwell Banker Burnet is part of NRT LLC, the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage company. Real estate agents affiliated with Coldwell Banker Burnet are independent contractor sales associates, not employees of Coldwell Banker Burnet.

Growing Up with Hammer

By Wendy Paulson, Human Resources Specialist

TWP_5Year_Top100_Minneapolis_2014_HCongratulations Hammer Residences, on being recognized as a Star Tribune Top 100 Workplace for five years in a row! On June 15, the Star Tribune published “Top Workplaces 2014”—a list of the best places to work in Minnesota. Only 14 Minnesota companies have been named all five years. Employee’s responses indicate our organization has a clear sense of direction, good communication, innovative practices and that employees feel valued.

It was my honor to send that announcement again! When I returned to Hammer in 2010, I saw a tiny announcement in the paper about this new award. I was certain it would be a strong recruiting tool and the recognition would strengthen Hammer’s reputation. Who wouldn’t want to work at a Top Workplace?!

Now, when I interview applicants, they frequently mention that our status as a Top Workplace impressed them. Our other top source for candidates … staff referrals. We love telling our friends and family about Hammer. In fact, we have many married couples and employee’s family members who all work here. I always explain what makes Hammer special, when recruiting. I describe about our history, mission, excellent training, community partnerships and benefits. Eventually, I apologize for sounding corny when describing our culture as “the Hammer family.” But, the loyalty, mutual respect and true appreciation displayed throughout our organization are more akin to one’s home than workplace! I guess I did grow up here …

ice rinkThe first time I visited Hammer School was Halloween 1968. Volunteers from my church threw a party, and I recruited some sixth grade classmates. I was Peter Pan and my cardboard-tinfoil sword was the most coveted accessory. Later that winter, we froze a skating rink in the front yard of the big house and, as a passionate figure skater, I came every week to lace skates. I stayed in touch through the years.

Even as a volunteer, Hammer encouraged me to share my interests and talents. My creativity and initiative were never limited. One summer, my best friend and I built a library to shelve all the books. Then, when I was studying music therapy, I completed my independent study at Hammer. Working as a summer staff in the boy’s dormitory, we camped a lot and I taught swimming lessons in the backyard pool. After graduating with my teaching license in 1979, I came straight back to Hammer to start my career.

Once again, self-expression was valued, and I helped fulfill the mission in my own unique ways. I kept a guitar in the office when I worked direct support. I later found that I loved recruiting and training. We all wore a lot of hats in those days! In the early ‘80s, Opportunity Workshop (now Opportunity Partners) was the only workplace option. It was not a good fit for those who did not like light assembly work. So, we talked about how we could create a supported work program. I volunteered to locate jobs, educate and persuade employers, and train several of the individuals we supported. I washed dishes at Leeann Chin alongside Art. I worked the dining room at Cargill with Lynn and chopped the salad bar with Alden. Once they were trained, I visited weekly. Two years later, supported work programs were opening and barriers were falling. Employment options for individuals we support have evolved in wonderful ways. Take, for example, Jacqi’s story:  http://www.twelve.tv/news/newsitem.aspx?newsid=324&newsitemid=24517

Times were changing for my young family too, and I left Hammer. I taught for other fine employers for twenty years. However, I couldn’t leave completely – I worked on small projects and came back to teach CPR every year. Then in January 2010, I called to ask if I could return full-time. I was warmly welcomed back and even given an adjusted hire date that acknowledged my years of service for benefits. Many of my colleagues from the ‘80s are still here, and I have known many of the people we support since they were kids. I feel as if I have never left.


Group w Plaque








As it has so many times, this wonderful and unique organization met me where I was. Like bookends beginning and ending my career, my time at Hammer has been a blessing. Nobody tried to squeeze me into a job description; I have remade myself again and again as I continue to “grow up.”

The Gift of Communication, a Game of Baseball and Other Learnings

by Tony Baisley, Director of Communication

I’m not usually a baseball fan. Sure, I jump on the bandwagon every 10-20 years when the Twins produce a successful season. (I confess, as a high schooler I joined the ecstatic fans around me – even waving a ‘Homer Hanky’ – as players paraded through downtown St. Paul celebrating their second World Series victory.) Yet here I was in Toronto recently for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) World Conference attending a Blue Jays vs. Twins’ game. It was pure chance that the Twins were in town. And I only went to be with my new friends: three Americans, a Canadian even an exotic Aussie.

IABC Twins vs Blue Jays game

I attended the conference to learn; to keep inspiring myself to bring my very best to my role as Director of Communication at Hammer. As the field of communication continues to evolve at breakneck pace, it is vital to keep current with best practices, and to keep learning. The world conference allows communicators in diverse fields (and different cultures) to come together and learn from the best. And sometimes that learning took place introducing yourself to someone new between sessions or while enjoying Canadian micro brews – after hours, of course. It was also interesting to reconvene each evening to exchange “headlines” from the day’s learnings. We would share what we liked, what we considered effective strategies and whose message we thought inauthentic. (Ask me about the time I was too-loudly criticizing one mega brand CEO’s use of a corporate video and he was right behind me!) Oftentimes, I was introduced to a perspective I hadn’t considered or I came around to see the presentation in a different light.

NYCHOne morning, I took part in seminar called “The Gift of Communication.” It was an elective track that allowed global communicators to “give back” to Toronto area charities and nonprofits. They shared their organizations’ particular communication challenges, and we tried to help. I chose the North York Community House, who works primarily with newcomers to Canada to help build skills and experience so that individuals can succeed and thrive. (Sound familiar?) North York also works with “residents of underserved neighborhoods to build their leadership skills…” In light of shrinking federal support, the agency wanted to raise its profile to increase their donor base. They had identified media coverage and an increased social media presence as tactics to pursue. Two fellow colleagues and I engaged North York’s representatives in an on-the-spot brainstorm that dove a bit deeper. We helped them question the structure of the communication role they want to hire as well as making the case to also consider hiring a seasoned fundraiser with proven relationship-building skills. Thankfully, while they came hoping for ideas to implement their new brand, they were open to more fundamental observations, even a perceived lack of diversity in their newly finished logo. Gratitude abounded – on both sides – and we promised to help fine-tune job descriptions and to stay in touch to offer further counsel and support. In truth, I’m excited to read their stories of success and support their important work!

TWP_5Year_Top100_Minneapolis_2014_VAs often happens when I travel, I fell in love…with the city and all that it offered during my brief stay. I left a bit weary and in need of my regular routine, but so much richer for the people, the experiences, and the validation that we indeed do so much right and well at Hammer. Just this week, it was announced that for the fifth year running, we have been named by the Star Tribune as a “Top 100 Workplace” in Minnesota. It’s important to note that this honor was voted on by us, by the community of people who come into work every day energized and inspired to make a difference. Just more validation that I am where I should be, happy to be a strategic communicator, contributing to something greater than myself at Hammer Residences.

By the way, the baseball game was fun; in fact, it was probably the only time I have ever stayed for a full game! And the Twins won 4-0! :)

Celebrating the Successes in Advocacy

By Terriann Matejcek, Director of Advocacy & Volunteer Resources

5 percent campaignOften our work and our world are moving so fast that we forget to take time to celebrate. We forget to step back, take a breath and say “Wow. That really was something!”

On Tuesday, June 10, legislators, family members, self-advocates, friends and supporters of the disability community got to do just that. The crowd convened on the lawn of the state capitol to celebrate the success of the 5% Campaign together. People supported one simple, clear request – a five percent increase in pay and benefits for direct service professionals serving vulnerable populations. As Steve Larson, Senior Policy Director at the Arc of Minnesota said in his blog” He goes on to describe how the effort was painstakingly planned and executed. Bringing together all who were willing and able, using every available means (like social media, letter writing campaigns, rallies at the capitol, etc.) to spread the message and request really worked!

ARRM Rally  There have been many opinions as to why the 5% Campaign was a success (i.e., “There was a surplus!”). However, I choose to believe differently. We came together as one voice. We knew what needed to be done. So, we rose to the occasion.

If you have not yet done so, please take a minute to look at some of the photos and news stories from this celebration at the capitol. Our work is far from done, but this truly merits our recognition. So, pause and take a moment to look at the faces and signs in those photos. Then, sigh, and say “Wow, that was really something!”

Terriann Blog

Risky Business

by Lisbeth Vest Armstrong, Chief Program Officer

Did you ever consider the disability field  a high risk career option? It’s true. While it is such a fun and fulfilling profession – we  get to hang out with, and support, such incredibly sensitive and creative people – there is a price to pay for wearing your heart on your sleeve.

LaurieRecently, as we were celebrating the life of our friend Laurie who had passed away, I was again overcome by the realization of this “risky business.” I looked around the room, taking in all the faces devastated by another loss. Someone for whom we cared deeply  was gone from our midst, again, taken too soon. There is great risk in caring for so many lovable people over their lifetimes. We learn to love them and then our hearts break when they are gone. Laurie’s passing is another painful reality check. In this industry, far too often, we lose the individuals we support. We risk breaking our hearts over and over again when we enter into these vital and fulfilling relationships.

When Laurie died she was surrounded by her family. It wasn’t her biological family; it was her Hammer family. You see, we become family with the men and women with whom we are here to share our lives. When they pass away, we’ve lost a family member. The grief can be immense. Yet we all know there are others in our care in need of our love, guidance and compassion, regardless of our breaking heart.

So many of those we support struggle with disabilities and illnesses that shorten their lives. It is our job to help them make the good days they do have as fulfilling as possible. In doing so, we “fall in love” over and over again. When we enter into a relationship with them, I wonder if each of us realizes how much they will enhance our own life?

Libeth and Lynn

Over the 30+ years I have been doing this work, my heart has broken numerous times. I often think I can’t make it through another loss; I can’t withstand heartbreak again. Then I recognize the many deep friendships that remain and once again I am inspired by the tremendous gifts still in my life. I think of my friend Lynn, whom we support, and who I met when I was just 16 years old. All told, we have been a part of each other’s lives for over 40 years. Our friendship has enriched us both. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I would take that risk any day.

While this work is indeed risky business, those risks pale in comparison to the benefits we reap.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:27, 1850

Running for Fun?!

By Mallory Clark, Assistant Program Manager

Last fall Brandon Eddy, RN and I were brainstorming creative ways for people to exercise and have fun at the same time. We came up with the idea of encouraging the individuals we serve to challenge themselves and participate in a 5K. As we searched the internet, Brandon found Randy’s Run. This race looked perfect…It was right in Eden Prairie and was even a way for our group to help out a local cause. The big trick though was trying to generate motivation, especially when the individuals at Lake Place had probably never even thought of participating in a 5K.

photo 1I needed help from all angles! So, I sent out an email to all the parents explaining the idea Brandon and I had. We asked if they would be interested in participating in a 5K as well as meeting weekly for a walking group to prepare for this race. I had tremendous feedback. Parents jumped right on board and we met every Saturday to walk for at least an hour. As the months went on, we increased our distance. The progress was pretty miraculous to see. In the beginning, individuals at Lake Place would say: “How long are we walking for? When can we stop?” Towards the end we were walking for more than an hour with less and less second guessing. The best part about the walking groups was that everyone came together and had a great time with healthy living (our underlying, driving force).


On Monday May 26th, Memorial Day, Lake Place came strong with 29 people ready to start walking for Randy’s Run! There was a lot of energy and excitement. People ran more than I have ever seen them run. This race was not about time but about finishing and pushing through when it felt tough. We all finished at staggered times, but everyone stuck around to cheer the others across that finish line. Many were tired/exhausted as they finished; however, no one had a frown on their face. Everyone was so proud of what they had accomplished. As one lady from Lake Place crossed the line and was having some water, she lied down on the grass reciting to herself “I did it, I actually did it!”

After such a fantastic race we replenished our bodies with a well deserved BBQ. This experience was one of the most memorable days I have had at Lake Place, and I think it is true for others. That night after the BBQ, I received an email from a parent stating: “Randy’s Run was the perfect way to start the day. The picnic was fabulous. We really can’t remember when we have had a better time connecting with the residents and their families.”

This was such a success that there is talk of doing it again next year!

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What Do Volkswagen Beetles, Bruegger’s Bagels, and Tuesday Mornings Have in Common?

By Maggie Starr-Knox, Assistant Program Manager

From my time at the Hammer Day Supports program, I have my fair share of stories to tell (not nearly as many as our buddy Brad). One that sticks out in my mind is our weekly trip to Bruegger’s. It is something everyone looks forward to doing.

BrueggersEvery Tuesday our Hammer Day Supports crew goes off to Bruegger’s Bagels right down the road in nearby Wayzata. Our dear Mr. James McKune enjoys the drive over as much as the treat he buys at Bruegger’s. You see, it is prime time for him to spot a “Slug Bug” (V.W. Beetle). James doesn’t much care about slugging anyone, but he thoroughly enjoys the game of spotting a one before the rest of us.

It starts as soon as we get in the van. The game continues even when we are in the restaurant. James will perch himself in a perfect window seat ready to catch a glimpse of the next “Slug Bug.” Staff will be helping another individual getting situated or we may just be deep in conversation when suddenly James exclaims: “I got you!” This of course means he has spotted an elusive Beetle. He immediately follows this up by telling us that he will find the next one before any of us. We tease back that this time we are definitely going to get one on him.  He flashes his big smile at that thought.  He returns to his window seat with his eyes peeled and a smile still on his face.


James has truly gotten all of us into search mode. I got so excited once when I saw one on our drive to Bruegger’s, that I nearly missed turning into the parking lot. We don’t keep a tally going; it’s all just for fun. We only have one rule – if you spot a “Slug Bug,” someone else needs to verify that it was indeed a Beetle, not some look-alike car. So this gets all heads turning in our group to verify the sighting.

It is silly and fun!  Even when I am driving alone, I find myself spotting the “Slug Bugs” on the road. But of course that doesn’t count, because no one is there to verify my sighting.  I do smile to myself though.

It may be a simple thing, but our little group truly enjoys our Tuesday morning Bruegger’s outings, “Slug Bugs” and all. Thank you James for helping all of us enjoy those simple, everyday moments in life!