CSA All the Way

By Emily Miller, Community Life Coordinator

emily tomatoesI can’t believe it is already September! These last few months have been extremely busy at Hammer trying to squeeze in all the fun (and food) that summer has to offer. We have had walking and running groups, hiking and biking events, fishing outings, kickball games, a tomato planting party and a canoe excursion! While outdoor fun is always a priority, so is eating fresh local fruits and vegetables. As the Community Life Coordinator it is my job to encourage healthy eating and increase the number of nutritious meals provided to those we serve.

One way we do that is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. I know you’re thinking…what in the world is Community Supported Agriculture? The general idea is that you purchase a share of a farm’s crop, and then you are entitled to a box of fresh produce each week for that year’s growing season (June-September). For the past four years Hammer has partnered with and purchased CSA shares through eQuality Pathways to Potential, a nonprofit day program that assists adults with developmental disabilities in finding and maintaining employment. eQuality Farms is one of their subsidiary programs which pays wages to eight adults with disabilities that work the farm, staff farmer’s markets, and deliver the CSA shares to Hammer!

csa farm

The CSA is a convenient way of getting fresh produce weekly, and each year more and more Hammer sites take advantage of the program. In 2011, Hammer piloted a CSA program with five homes. By 2012 the program grew to include 16 programs. This year, that number has more than doubled with 36 of our 46 programs receiving weekly produce. The influence has also expanded 9 staff members who order personal shares and one family member. These are encouraging numbers, a true indicator of how healthy Hammer as a whole is becoming.

CSA shares come with some of the expected veggies like tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and carrots. However, not all of the produce is so conventional. We have come across kohlrabi, rutabaga, beets, bok choy, spaghetti squash, and eggplant. Many of us entered the season with little or no idea how to prepare these wacky veggies. So, the Community Life team worked hard to provide resources that educated us all on how to identify, prepare, enjoy, and preserve the CSA veggies. Some of these resources included a laminated vegetable identification form, the weekly CSA newsletter, weekly recipes, and a comprehensive Pinterest site with boards dedicated to each vegetable.

Emery 2The Community Life team also organized a monthly Healthy Meal Challenge with a featured vegetable. Our homes and apartments have been competing for Hammer gear and kitchen goodie bags. Entries are judged on the creativity and nutritional content of the recipe as well as involvement of both staff and individuals in the preparation of the meal. July’s contest was for creative use of kohlrabi and there were 8 competitive entries. The winner was Emery with their sautéed kohlrabi, onions, and basil! In August, Broadmoor won with a delicious eggplant parmesan recipe. The September challenge involves any type of squash. I’m looking forward to getting some inspiration from the creative squash recipes that come my way!

Phew, we really have done a lot this summer. I can’t wait to see what the fall and winter seasons have in store for our fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Have fun and eat healthy. You are all wellness champions!

“You Could Alway Apply to Hammer, You Know…”

By Katie Binning, Program Manager

I’ve always felt like I’ve grown up at Hammer. Lisbeth Armstrong (our Chief Program Officer) is a close friend of my parents. I was lucky enough to have her and her husband Mark heavily involved in my life. When “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” came along and sitting in my dad’s home office all day sounded boring as all heck, I went with Lisbeth to Hammer. I have fond memories of the old main building and getting to use typewriters with all different colors of paper. I typed up “words of wisdom” and put them in everyone’s mailboxes. I’m sure my seven-year-old self had a lot of wisdom to share.

Binnings and Lisbeth

Years went by and I became too old for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” So, I began volunteering at Hammer events and assisting the volunteer department with projects. After my first year at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Lisbeth encouraged me to apply at Hammer. There was a kid’s home opening and they would need daytime staff during summer. I spent those next 4 summers with the kids at Emery, and did a whole lot of growing up! I learned so much from my co-workers and the kids we were supporting.

UMDAfter graduating, I began working full-time at Hammer. I felt extremely lucky to have a job immediately after graduating. I was excited to keep learning and pursuing opportunities for leadership training. While my friends searched for work and tried to figure out what they wanted to do, I found myself repeating “you could always apply to Hammer, you know…”

My friends all know how much I love Hammer, and many of them have heard my “why I love Hammer and why you should work for them, too” speech more times than they’d like. Even so, amidst my repetitiveness I actually managed to convince some of my dearest friends to come to Hammer. I can’t begin to express how proud I am to see my friends learn and grow at Hammer and thankful to be able to share this experience with them.

Binning Collage 2Michael Smith, who used to fall asleep in class and beg to copy my notes in college, now manages our Southcrest and Wentworth homes. We continue to compete in the contest of “who is better at everything.” Sean Henderson and I studied abroad together during college. He now serves as Person Centered Technology Manager, one of Hammer’s newest positions, as well as being a Program Manager in Training at Knollway. Marko Kushnir, another friend from college, serves as an Assistant Program Manager at Broadmoor Apartments. Stephen Mueller, a childhood neighbor, serves the men and women at Plymouth Colony Apartments. Logan Willeck, my best friend’s little brother (which pretty much makes him my brother too), recently started at the Emery kid’s home. I had two other friends who worked at Hammer after college who have since gone on to pursue their dreams in other parts of the world.

What are we at now…seven? That’s a pretty good track record. So…have I mentioned you could always apply at Hammer? http://www.hammer.org/careers/

Fences Don’t Make Good Neighbors

By Kathy Lund, Mother of Jessica

Jessica Lund 2

My adult daughter lives with five other individuals in a Hammer home in Golden Valley. They moved there in February, 2008. It is a beautiful, spacious house on a corner lot with a large driveway area for parking.

At the time, the house and yard was screened from its quiet residential neighborhood by a solid wooden fence. Both the front and side street views were blocked by this fence. Some time ago, part of the front section of the fence was knocked over, most likely by a snowplow. Hammer appealed for funds to repair the damage, but it remained.

This past June, a decision was made to remove the side portion of the fence. The effect was remarkable. Suddenly the home had joined the neighborhood! There was a sense of welcome and trust. Neighbors could see the individuals playing basketball or picnicking. It is also safer now because drivers on both streets can view vehicles emerging from the driveway that is very close to the intersection.

old-wood-privacy-fenceThis simple improvement has been tremendous! We never considered the fence particularly obstructive, but once it was gone, the difference was apparent. This object had inadvertently boxed in six amazing men and women. It’s amazing how much a small change can have such an effect. The fence didn’t make a good neighbor; my daughter and her housemates make great neighbors!

We’re All in This Together

By Ginny Kjellesvig

A few years ago I was working at Hammer’s Gardner home. I had been married less than two weeks, and it was my first shift back – Friday through Saturday afternoon. Only one of the ladies, Miss Dawn, was home that weekend. Just as she was getting settled for the evening, I got an urgent call from my husband. He had been let go from his job.

Dawn 2In an instant, I went from marital bliss to total shock. I was scheduled to work alone until noon the next day. I did my very best to remain professional and keep my panic quiet, but I couldn’t stop a few tears from falling. Dawn asked me why my eyes were red and I looked so worried. I told her I was alright … I just had some things on my mind. If I recall correctly, her exact words were: “You’re not fooling me. Tell me what’s really wrong.”

I was busted, so I told her my news. She hugged me and asked if she needed to give someone a piece of her mind. It made me laugh. She then made it her mission to cheer me up, despite my encouragement to focus on having a relaxing weekend. We went to Caribou Coffee, she threw a dance party in the living room, we cooked together, and she sang me a very moving rendition of High School Musical’s “We’re All in This Together.” Let me tell you, I was not a fan of the song until that day.

With those acts of selflessness, Dawn showed me that the care and love in our Hammer family isn’t a one-way street. The people we support are as vital a part of it as the staff. We may be the hands and feet, but they are the heart and soul.

That woman, and her beautiful mind, has a 75% chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Supporting her as she struggles is NOT the way she deserves to be repaid for her love and kindness. She deserves much better. As do the number of other individuals with Down syndrome who face the same challenge.

jim l 2Unfortunately, the extra chromosome these folks possess is responsible for producing an overabundance of the protein that is believed to cause the plaques and tangles in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s. This not only accounts for the Down syndrome community being 6 times more likely to develop the disease than others, it is also the reason for the young age at which it presents itself. And, as of right now, there are no medical treatments to prevent this. (Read more about the correlation between Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome.)

When it comes to supporting those we love and serve in their final days, this has been a particularly taxing year at Hammer. We’ve mourned the losses of Laurie, Dan, Alfred, Heidi, Ken, Don, Jim, Jeremy, and most recently, Jim (pictured above). Six of these nine fought Alzheimer’s. There is no doubt that many of us are feeling the weight of their passing. We’re great at supporting individuals in their final days, but we could definitely do a better job at supporting each other. As caregivers, we also have to make an effort to ask for support when we need it – which is much easier said than done.

Walk to End Alzheimers

Coincidentally, we have an opportunity to give and receive support coming up very soon! Hammer is forming a team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s on September 27th at Target Field. All are welcome to join the team – staff, volunteers, donors, board members, families, and those we support. Contact Ginny Kjellesvig at vcarlson@hammer.org  by Friday September 12th to join. If you don’t want to walk but would still like to show your support, you can sign up to be a volunteer. You can also make a donation to our team by clicking here. Dawn was right, we’re all in this together!


“Don’t Worry, I Got This!”

By Nan Bigot and Patty Hastings, Finance

Every Friday as a treat, some folks from the Finance Department choose a place to grab a quick lunch – usually to go. It’s a nice way to get out of the Hammer Central Office and breathe some fresh air!

Well, on Friday a few weeks ago, Patty Hastings and I chose to go to Burger King. I remember looking forward to the Cinnabon “Cinni-Minis” and Patty was thinking about a Whopper Jr. However, when we pulled up, there was a long line in the drive thru. So we decided to go inside, something we usually do not do … We are an ‘order as quick as you can’ kind of group in the Hammer Finance Department.

Sherman 1A

On our way into the building Patty happened to mention that she this might be the Burger King where Sherman Whitcomb, an individual we serve, works. As soon as we entered, the line inside became as long as the line of cars outside. This created quite a crowd of customers mulling around the self-serve beverage station. I eventually made my way to the drink machine and I placed my cup under the ice dispenser but ugghhh, no ice! I was so frustrated. I really wanted my ice – even more than the pop. I placed my forehead on the machine and kept slamming the cup against the dispenser (because that always helps, right?!).

At that moment I noticed just to my left, a hand with a towel, slowly wiping up a water spill. I followed the hand up to its owner’s face and saw the largest smile and brightest blue eyes staring back at me. It was Sherman, and instantly my spirits raised and I had a smile on my face. He reached for my cup and telling me: “Don’t worry, I got this. What kind of pop do you want?” My relief was so palpable I almost cried. “Coke, with lots of ice please” I said as I smiled back again. He immediately went behind the counter and filled my cup exactly as asked. After, I watched him as he proceeded to fill the cups of every person waiting for their food. Sherman was extremely professional and would politely ask: “Sir/Ma’am may I help you by getting your drink while you wait?” Because of Sherman, not one person left that day being upset about the wait.

Sherman 2When I spoke with Sherman’s Shift Manager, Linda Davis, she told Patty and me that she has come to rely on Sherman because “he always jumps up to help when needed, like filling cups or running orders to cars. Plus he is actually happy when helping, which is hard to find in any staff!”

With Hammer’s assistance Sherman has found a home and job that he loves, and on September 5, he will be joined forever with the love of his life Ashleigh. Yay Sherman!

I remember first meeting him; it was ten years ago. I had been at Hammer for six months and he came to live in one of our programs as a twenty-something young man. Sherman was a little bit shy and he had a tiredness under his eyes. He had a sense of humor then, as he does now. However, this Sherman at Burger King seemed different and in all good ways.

Now his laughs are from the bottom of his belly and full hearted. He exudes brightness, content and happiness. You can see how much his self-confidence has grown. There is no longer a weight holding him down. Instead, the world is his oyster. If you ever get the chance to hang out with him, you will enjoy every minute of it.

I couldn’t help but be extremely proud for him and touched at what I was seeing that Friday. This was the Sherman Whitcomb I had known for ten years. He is clearly living his life to its fullest and he couldn’t be happier with the support he has had from Hammer. His talents are shining through and he is making the world around him a much better place.

Patty and I are so glad we went to the overcrowded Burger King that Friday. Sometimes when things make you the most frustrated all you need is for someone to say “Don’t worry, I got this!”

Sherman 3


Peace of Mind

By Bill and Joanne Culbert

Christie's high school graduation

Christie’s graduation from Irondale High School

We are grandparents and guardians to Christie Hanson who lives at Hammer’s Avana apartment program. Christie is our very special grandchild (we have nine!) and is presently as happy as she has ever been. In fact, Christie keeps reminding us that she never wants to move.

We know Christie quite well, since she lived with us for most of the first twenty years of her life. We had tried a couple of providers when it seemed Christie was ready for a new living situation.

However, we were not very happy and neither was Christie. We had heard the name Hammer Residences as being a really great provider for people with challenges. We looked at the website and were quite impressed by what the organization was all about.

Christie (back row, right) out biking with new friends from Avana

Christie (back row, right) out biking with new friends from Avana

Through prayer, patience and a lot of nagging, we finally were able to meet with folks from Hammer and learn more about the programs available to Christie. It was suggested that Christie would be a good fit in one of the independent living, apartment programs. After some discussion, we all decided this would be the right thing to do. The rest of the experience, as the saying goes, “is history” – good history!

In the seven months Christie has been with Hammer, her growth, thanks to the guidance her staff has provided, has been awesome. We have never been associated with such a fine group of dedicated people. We are so thankful for the wonderful care and support the staff provide those who are served by Hammer every single day. Needless to say, it gives old grandparents like us real peace of mind. We know in our hearts that as Christie grows and her needs change, Hammer will be there with and for her, guiding her growth and needs in the best direction possible.

Culberts Wedding Photo 2

On our wedding day, 60 years ago

Aside from Christie’s successes, we are also very fortunate to be celebrating our 60th wedding anniversary this year. So when our kids asked us what we would like, our response was that they all please make a gift to Hammer. We want to help with the wonderful work they do and show our appreciation to all the Hammer staff for their kindness and understanding they provide to our granddaughter.

It gives us peace of mind and we could not be more grateful.

36 Years and Counting

By Kim Hansen, Director of Human Resources

kim as clown

I’m the clown on the left!

I came to Hammer 36, yes thirty six, years ago as a student intern. I was fresh out of college with a zest for life, new ideas to share and wanting to make a difference in the world. Well, more than three and a half decades later, my zest isn’t as zesty and fresh ideas need a little cold water to revive them once in a while. However, I am still making a difference in my end of the world and continue to enjoy coming to work every day.

I started at Hammer hoping to gain real world experience to go along with my degree in social work. I also knew I wanted to help people live wonderful lives filled with opportunities. Today, I am still here to help the amazing individuals we serve, and I have a lot of fun doing it! Although I am no longer in direct care, my goal is still the same: to provide those we serve opportunities to live their lives to the fullest. As Director of Human Resources, I do this by assuring we hire and retain the best people possible to provide the highest possible quality of care and support.

kim with childOne memory I will never forget is from my very early days at Hammer. A family was moving their son into the dorms and they were so sad to be “giving him away” to us. They started to cry and soon enough we were all crying. I remember telling them that they could come anytime, day or night, to see their son and not to worry because we would take great care of him. Ever since then, I always do my best to remember that each person we serve is someone’s son, daughter or sibling and we must care for them as family.

kim in tux

I’m far right, and 4 out of the 6 of us still work at Hammer.

Over the years, most of what I strive for has remained the same – specifically the pursuit of quality at the highest level and the desire to be number one in our field. I enjoy coming to work each and every day to make this happen. Even through challenging times I still look forward to the work at hand. Making a difference and helping others gets me up day after day (that and being able to laugh and have fun doing what I love).

Kim collage

The people, Hammer employees and those we serve alike, make every day worth it. I have really grown up with a core group of employees. We were hired at about the same time, got married, had children, have grandchildren and one day we will all retire (not all at once). Likewise, I have seen many people we support go from struggling young adults to individuals thriving with the care they need to live fully, independent lives.

I have dedicated my career to Hammer and would do it again gladly. Not everyone gets to have fun coming to work every day for 36 years. Plus, I get to see many deserving individuals have their dreams come true because of the great staff supporting them – staff that I have had a hand in bringing to Hammer. When we, as staff, have fun, the people we support have fun too. And, It’s been 36 years and counting!


Reach for Ralph 2014

RFR ProgramOn Thursday, July 24th over 450 people came together to make dreams come true for the people we serve. Our annual summer benefit was a huge success thanks to a wonderful group of people that made the magic happen. In addition to an army of volunteers the night of the event, a group of 15 dedicated individuals and several Hammer staff members spent the past 6 months planning this event. Our planning committee volunteers were: Sami Achterkrich, Allison Bolgrean, Rebecca Furnival, Cindy Garin, Kim Gillespie, Lindsay Grome, Caroline Harrington, Linda Holmen, Amy Jensen, Bill Perrine, Peggy Sellwood, Peter Sellwood, Karen Trygstad, Peter Tuckner, and Bonnie Young.

Rebecca Furnival was this year’s chairperson. Her creativity and enthusiasm were matched only by her dedication to Hammer. Rebecca is a board member and we proudly serve her sister, Susie.

Volunteering at Hammer is often a family affair and our Reach for Ralph committee was a classic example. This year we had three mother–son teams on the planning committee:

Kim Gillespie has 2 sons, Tom and Kevin, working at Hammer and she generously gave of her time and talents.

Caroline Harrington and her son Devin, our Communication Specialist, were both strong supporters.

Peggy Sellwood and her son Peter Sellwood were also very active on the planning committee.

RFR Crowd ShotThanks also to the staff at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, Auction Harmony, Heavenly Hosts Catering, The Neighborhood Trio and Glen Fladeboe our auctioneer for all of your services.

As Event Coordinator, it was my great pleasure to work with all of these wonderful people.

We were delighted to have family members of Ralph Rosenvold, our event’s namesake and inspiration, in attendance.

During the program we recognized Leslie Fish, James McKune and the Martinka family who were featured in our “Hammer Conversation” videos. Karen Thorud was surprised to receive a trip to New York City, courtesy of Coldwell Banker Burnet, one of our two presenting sponsors. Warner’s Stellian, our other presenting sponsor, and 36 other sponsors also gave generously to help make the evening happen.

RFR Collage

Fundraising events – such as Reach for Ralph – are a wonderful way to build awareness, community support and raise significant funds for Hammer. It’s also a great way to reconnect with many old and dear friends of Hammer. I hope that everyone involved enjoyed the evening as much as I did.

Thank you also to all the Hammer staff members that support our efforts all year long.

It was an evening filled with generosity and tremendous community support. We all were able to make dreams come true for many well-deserving individuals.

Ginger Venable

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!

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