When Worlds Collide

By: Regan McGowan, Program Manager at Rockford Hammer Home

Last January I had the chance to visit the Mephibosheth Special Needs Home just outside of Port-au-Prince Haiti. I wrote about my 10-day experience of loving on the kids who have varying physical and/or developmental disabilities. As soon as I stepped home in the Minneapolis Airport last year, I knew that I was going back to see those kids. Throughout the year I brainstormed ways my life and relationships with Hammer could somehow tie into my next January 2016 trip to Haiti.

After touching base with Dio and his wife who run the home, I was able to get an idea for the most desired items that they could use. This past fall, I sent out an email to all Hammer programs and managers informing them that I was going to return to the Mephibosheth Home, or M House. I also let the Hammer family know the specific items that the M House was looking for: shoes, sheets, and new underwear.

CH donationShortly after finalizing the trip back to Haiti, I shared the news with the Rockford ladies as I continue to manage the home. I told them what we were going to be collecting, and that I was going to go visit some of the same kids that they saw pictures of. The ladies asked a few questions and pretty soon we were back into the routine of the night. Not even 5 minutes later, Carla walks out of her room with a handful of shoes. As she let them flop out of her hands onto the counter, she asked me, “Regan, do you think the kids in Haiti could use these?” A huge smile spread across my face as I knew that yes, this was how Hammer and the M House kids could tie together.

Hammer donationI did indeed return to Haiti at the beginning of this year. I flew down with a group of 10 others with our five army bags full of donations from Hammer. A few days into our trip, we were able to display all of the donations for Dio and his wife. The kids at the M House were smiling and swarming the table as we set out all the shoes, new underwear, and sheets. It was a very special occasion as one by one, the kids came in and carefully picked out thepair of shoes that they wanted. They would then try them on as the rest of the room applauded, cheering them on in the excitement of their precious new gift!

Even though Carla and all the others who donated were not able to see the kids pick out their new goodies, it was amazing to feel my worlds collide. Seeing Carla’s compassionate heart and giving to others in need without any hesitation reminds me that it is possible to help others no matter what your situation may be. I was humbled by the experience and am very grateful for all of those who helped toward the cause!


The kids checking out the new selection.

Girl with red shoes

Dada showing off her new kicks.

Mama Dio explaining to the kids where the donations came from

Mama Dio explaining to the kids where the donations came from.

Sara's shoes

Sara trying on her new shoes.


Baseball Brings Us Together

by Brian C Kelly, Individualized Community Services Manager at Hammer

Back in the summer of 2013 Karen Trygstad from the Hammer training department, saw me in my St. Louis Park baseball gear on the way to practice and it lead to us meeting and connecting over our love of the game. Karen’s two sons played at Wayzata High School and one currently plays at UND while the other is currently a grad assistant. After working at Hammer for a short period of time, Karen had an idea that she brought to her husband Brian, who serves on the Wayzata baseball board.  What if Wayzata Baseball put on a clinic for the people we support at Hammer? Karen connected with me and the recreation department about the idea and we were on board 100%. Brian brought it to the Wayzata baseball board and it was received with an overwhelming, yes! Karen then asked her son’s former coach to run the event with Wayzata high school and youth players. That former coach happened to be Scott Leius from the 1991 Minnesota Twins World Series team!

The event was scheduled, but nobody knew what was about to take place.  A group of hardcore baseball fans that Hammer supports showed up to the Wayzata dome on 12/28/13 and they were met by Scott and a ton of Wayzata players that were nervous, yet excited. Scott and the Wayzata boys brought the energy and fun and all nerves quickly turned to laughter, conversation, and connections through their mutual love of the game.

Fast forward three years and the third annual Hammer Holiday Homerun is in the books. Multiple people we support have been regulars each year, one of them is Michael. Michael lives with his parents in Brooklyn Center and has been supported by Hammer for about 5 years. This event has become a highlight of Michael’s year, and mine because I get to see the joy it brings to him. His relationship with Scott has grown each year and it’s something Michael truly cherishes. This year, Michael had the opportunity to work with Wayzata alumni, Paul Voelker who is currently playing at the AA level with the Detroit Tigers organization. Paul taught Michael how to grip and throw a fastball, curveball, and Michael’s favorite, a knuckleball!

Baseball Michael

Scott, Paul, and the Wayzata baseball program have continued to break down barriers that separate people with and without disabilities at this event. Baseball gives us so many life lessons and I’ve learned and taught a lot of them. This event is no exception as life lessons are so evidently being learned by the people we support and the people running the clinic.

My favorite quote is “Live life like a 3-1 count”.  For those of you that don’t know the game, I’ll explain. When you’re a hitter and the count is three balls and one strike, you’re in control of the at-bat, the pitcher has to throw a strike or you get on base with a walk, it’s your time to take a big swing.

I challenge you all to live life like a 3-1 count and take a big swing when the opportunity to do something positive presents itself!

Celebrating Who We Are Through Active Engagement

By: Kevan Nitzberg
Parent Member on the Hammer Board
Public Advocacy Committee Member

As a teacher at the high school level I know how sports can help to build community, self-worth, and leadership for the participants as well as the fans. My wife and I have seen how important sports have been to our son Travis, as he went through school as a participant in adapted softball. We also saw his passion while cheering on the various football and basketball teams we attend with him when he was a student at Buffalo High School and a fervent fan of the Buffalo Bisons. Now as an adult Travis and his housemates at Hammer have been taking part in the Special Olympic events.

special-olympicsSpecial Olympics Minnesota was founded in 1973 as part of the parent organization. It got its start back in the 1950s and 1960s, as a result of the efforts of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started a summer day camp for children with intellectual challenges that grew to become the foundation for the Special Olympics. In Minnesota there are more than 7,800 Special Olympics athletes currently taking part in the 92 competitions that Special Olympics Minnesota hosts, with a supporting staff of over 7,000 volunteer coaches.

Beyond the actual opportunities to engage in sports, there are a variety of programs that Special Olympics provides. They include the Athlete Leadership Programs, Healthy Athletes, Healthy Communities, Young Athletes Programs, R-Word Campaign, Youth Activation Committee, Special Olympics Unified Sports, and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Learn more about the Special Olympics:

bowling1Special Olympics events have played a big role in our son’s life, as well as about 200 people that Hammer serves who are involved in Special Olympics Minnesota. Our son’s most recent involvement in Special Olympics was a bowling event that took place at the Brunswick Zone in Brooklyn Center.

Whether able to throw the ball independently or using assistive devices to help with the trajectory of the ball on its way down the alley, each participant was excited, engaged and rooted for one another over the weeks that the games took place. On the final Sunday of the games each of the players received medals based on their cumulative scores, and every player was honored at the individual team ceremonies.

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The culminating event was a lasagna dinner at Richfield High School held for all the bowlers, the staff, and the families of the athletes.  Afterwards, the Richfield Lions, who help to support Special Olympics Minnesota, had a special Color Guard presentation in the Richfield High School auditorium followed by a very entertaining magic show and a dance.

One of the things that was most evident throughout the entire event was the incredible amount of socialization that took place among the bowlers in particular, regardless of what team they belonged to or what level of award that they received. There was an amazing sense of camaraderie and belonging that evening and that was truly heartwarming.


A Hobby Turns Into a Gift of Warmth

People with disabilities have a great deal of talent that can sometimes go unrecognized. Sometimes, all it takes is a keen eye and thinking outside the box to make something that seems ordinary, into something extraordinary.

The Ask 
Jan Hopper, manager at one of the Hammer homes, recently asked for a volunteer to help with a slightly unusual request. She needed help unraveling a large amount of knitting, done by a gentleman (he prefers to remain anonymous) who is served by Hammer. This individual has a round loom that he uses to make long knitted tubes. His sister would then unravel the knitted pieces and roll them back into yarn balls so her brother could continue to knit on his loom.

More than Yarn
After hearing the story, Nan Bigot, from the Hammer Finance Dept., took a look at the knitted tubes and noted that they could easily be turned into hats! All that was needed was to finish the edges and add a pom-pom on the top! And the rest is history. Instead of unraveling the knitted tubes, Nan and her daughter have been finishing his work into knitted hats.  

All hats

To date, forty-five hats have been completed and donated to Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP) in Wayzata, MN. IOCP provides both emergency and long-term solutions around food and clothing, housing, employment, child care, transportation, and healthcare for people living in western Hennepin county suburbs.

Hammer will continue to donate these completed hats to people in need through IOCP. With a little teamwork, a hobby turned into a dignified way of giving back to the community.


Field of Dreams

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Woody and the Nitzberg families got together to fill a need that was not being met in the Wayzata area. That need was to provide kids with special needs the opportunity to get involved in sports. 

baseball and bat







After meeting with Parker’s Lake personnel regarding the start of a weekly adaptive softball team, we began a multi-community-based group that met on the field across from the lake and below the picnic area. Parents brought their kids for what became an institution on that field for a number of years. The players ranged from elementary to junior high school students with very diverse challenges.

Everyone Who Showed Up Got to Play
As the “coach and starting pitcher,” I either gently lobbed the wiffle ball we used to the awaiting batter or set it upon the t-ball stand as needed. Whether in braces or wheelchairs (motorized or manually operated), visually impaired or sighted, understanding how to navigate the bases or not, everyone who showed up got to play ball, at whatever level was appropriate for them. Each one sported the hats and T-shirts the Woodys were able to supply them thanks to the sponsorships provided by various local businesses.

Parents and older siblings (including my wife, Laurie, and occasionally our daughter, Corly) served as base coaches helping students make it to first-base (a major achievement for many), or on to successive bases. Once in a great while, someone managed to make it all the way to home plate! Whether a base hit, a double, a triple, or that elusive home-run, the enthusiastic onlookers in the bleachers all clapped and cheered the players on, irrespective of whose kid was up or how far they managed to make it. There were no losers only winners in that weekly game which, in retrospect, was these kids’ very own “Field of Dreams”.

Our son, Travis, was one of the active members of this group of enthusiastic athletes, along with Leslie Fish and Nathan Schofield, who are all now together again, in a manner of speaking, as the people who are served by Hammer. The accomplishments they were able to achieve on that “softball” team decades ago have continued to grow. The game of baseball connected them during their youth. Today these young adults have another connection, bringing them together full circle, successfully navigating a different set of bases as adult members on a much larger team.

They work on a hobby farm in called eQuality – Pathways to Potential.  On the farm, a thriving Community Supported Agriculture operation, these young adults help supply many of our Hammer homes with fresh produce during the growing season.

Written by Kevan Nitzberg, Parent and Hammer Board Member, Public Advocacy Committee Member. Spotlight story from Winter 2015 Discoveries. Read more stories from Discoveries here: http://issuu.com/hammerresidence/docs/2015winterdiscoveries

“Hammer Declares 2016 the Year of the Smile!”


Hammer has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation. The grant funds will be used to purchase electric toothbrushes, power flossers, and anti-cavity rinses to fight germs that cause gum disease help the people we serve, attain good oral health. It will also provide the necessary education, services, and the tools to maintain great smiles!

“Damaging oral habits can be a problem for individuals with developmental disabilities, partnered with limited funds for dental visits per calendar year.” said Cathie Wood, Director of Health Services at Hammer. “The individuals we serve may also have mobility or cognitive challenges, and electric toothbrushes and flossers will help simplify their oral health routine.”

Electric ToothbrushThe products and services purchased with the grant include blue tooth enabled toothbrushes will allow us to track the progress of each persons’ daily oral health routine, partnered with regular dental visits and any additional emergency dental work needed.


Hammer declared 2016 the Year of the Smile because we believe each person we serve should have access to the resources to achieve a healthy and bright smile that that comes from consistent daily oral health. The combination of efforts will result in a healthier mouth, to help them to eat well, avoid tooth pain and tooth loss and the confidence to feel good about themselves so they smile more!

For more information on how Hammer helps people with developmental disabilities live life to the fullest, visit hammer.org

About Hammer Residences, Inc. Since opening its doors in 1923, Hammer has helped thousands of adults and children with developmental disabilities experience life to its fullest. Founder Alvina Hammer believed that individuals with disabilities had the right to lead full lives in a loving atmosphere where they would feel secure and develop self-confidence. Hammer was one of only two Minnesota organizations at that time to offer people with disabilities the opportunity to thrive in a school and home setting. Today, Hammer Residences, Inc. provides residential and customized support services, including In-Home Support; Support Planning; Case Management; and Healthcare Coordination (SNBC) to more than 1,400 people throughout the state.

About the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation. Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation supports Delta Dental of Minnesota’s mission of improving the oral health of the people in Minnesota.  The Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation supports initiatives that promote access to oral health for the underserved, especially in rural areas and for people living with low incomes across the state.

LT-LogoSometimes, a simple act of kindness is all it takes to brighten someone’s day! The sheer goodwill of people can be both comforting and humbling. Last Saturday at Black Oaks, one of the individuals living there suggested going to lunch at Lion’s Tap Family Restaurant in Eden Prairie. What the group didn’t know was that the outing would have them all in smiles by the time they left the restaurant. Here is their story, written by Program Manager, Brenda Witt from Black Oaks. 


Last Saturday at Black Oaks one of the individuals suggested going to lunch at Lion’s Tap Family Restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  It was so busy, we had to wait in line nearly thirty minutes for a table.  When it was time for us to sit at an open table, it was awkward for our party of six, (one in a wheelchair and one using a walker) to get through the crowded area.

We were directed towards one table before the waitress saw our predicament and offered us a different table.  We agreed the second table option would work better for us, and moved. The gal in the wheelchair was transferred to a chair for her to sit tall enough to eat her meal at the table. This gal has recently been leaning her body to the left, and as she was sitting, she didn’t look comfortable.  We put on our thinking caps and came up with the idea of using the other individual’s walker to prop her up and provide extra support. It worked perfectly; the individual was comfortable, and so were we!

The staff also worked as a team to configure seating at the table. They decided to place two of the individuals on opposite sides of the table because we could see they were possibly getting on each others nerves. It can sometimes seem to take forever to get a table. The gal using the walker was a real trooper, standing still while waiting, and the other individual did not understand why we had to wait so long.

Everyone settled in. 

Of course, at the beginning of ordering we expressed needing separate bills.  When nearing the end of our meal, we spoke with our waitress about how we would like to pay our bills. We had a mix of cash and credit and could put the two staff’s meals together.  The waitress stopped the conversation and started to cry.

Her tears were that of joy!  

She informed us that another patron had already paid the bill.  We asked who paid, but she said she had promised the person she would wait to tell us, until after they had left the building.

We finished our meals, reflecting on the great service we had at the establishment, and the enormous act of kindness from the anonymous bill-payer. Everyone was happy, humble and satisfied. We all thoroughly enjoyed the food and each other’s company.

After we had finished, we wanted to gather a big tip to share the wealth! Because we were working with cash and multiple people’s money, we needed change for two of the gals. When we requested this, the waitress asked why, and let us know if we were trying to give a tip, it was completely unnecessary.  We said that we wanted to, but she said no, the person who paid our bill had also already given her a very nice tip.

May good-will banter and thanks went back and forth as we accepted the gracious gift.  We a wonderful experience at lunch and went on to have a great day.

Overcoming Needle Anxiety with In-Home Flu Shots

Written by Adley Lemke, Hammer volunteer and 3rd year pharmacy student at the University of Minnesota & Melissa Hutchins, Program Manager, Zealand apartments. To learn more about Hammer’s people-centered approach visit www.hammer.org

Introducing Patient Centered Care
Adley: Needle anxiety has always been a fear that resonated with me, because I too suffer. During some small talk about school and pharmacy course work, Melissa casually mentioned she wished Zealand residents could get their flu shots at the apartment building because a few were very afraid of needles. Immediately, delivering an in-home flu shot service became my mission!

A few of members of my fraternity, Kappa Epsilon (KE), mentioned they had a desire to administer flu vaccines but no opportunities to do so. After explaining my idea, they joined in with an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm. The only challenge then was to find a pharmacist and pharmacy willing to supply the vaccine and oversee the delivery. This was not so difficult an obstacle as the first pharmacy I cold called, the New Hope Walgreen’s, had a wonderful manager, Michelle Lemke. Michelle, as it turns out has been traveling to group homes and nursing home providing the flu vaccine in patient’s homes for years. She was absolutely thrilled by the idea of taking on students to share this passion for truly patient-centered care while preventing influenza.
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This enthusiasm was as contagious as the flu: Zachary, Southcrest and Queensland all asked if their residents could also get their flu shots in-house from our team. With only administrative logistics to take care of we were ready and eager to protect Hammer residents from this year’s strain of influenza!

Solving the Problem
Melissa: I was very excited when Adley approached me about his fraternity doing a service project with Zealand.  We support individuals here who are absolutely fine with shots, a couple who are nervous about shots, and some who struggle with a lot of anxiety about receiving shots.  We want everyone to be healthy and prevent illness, but at the same time, we would like to keep anxiety levels down and support people as best as we can when they are nervous.  The idea that the individuals could be in the familiar and safe setting of their own home seemed like a great plan.  I also liked the idea of students getting an opportunity to get to know the individuals we serve.  I think this will be beneficial for them as future professional pharmacists, as they will have more knowledge and understanding of the people they will be serving.

A Successful Learning Experience
Adley: As we approached October 15th some of my fraternity members and I started to get a little nervous. In pharmacy practice the only people that come to get the flu shot rarely have anxiety associated with the immunization. Strategies for reducing anxiety are not really taught in our curriculum.

In order to prepare, I called in the help of Dr. Anne Philbrick, who is the course director teaching immunization to the Pharmacy, Dental and Nursing School at the University of Minnesota. She hosted a session on strategies to manage needle anxiety and way to deliver vaccines to scared patients. There was role-playing, and overall many of the KE members who joined left feeling even more confident in their immunization abilities. This preparation seemed a bit unnecessary after actually giving the shots. Two Zealand residents seemed excited to get their flu shot and had their arms at the ready as soon as the vaccine cooler entered the room. Others were noticeably more nervous. However, I think being in their apartments surrounded by their possessions truly comforted them and made the experience all the more positive.

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As a vaccinator I found the personal environment much more inviting than a sterile clinical space and certainly more relaxing, for both the Hammer residents and me. A few of the residents were even able to distract themselves watching Gilligan’s Island while getting their shot. After learning about strategies to reduce needle anxiety, I could not think of a more ideal environment to get a vaccine then the patient’s living room. It was truly a privilege to get to visit Zealand, Zachary, and Southcrest residents, take additional time to become friends and administer this year’s flu vaccine. Michelle, Lindsey and I are all hoping to come back again next year to poke our new friends!

An Environment of Trust
Melissa: I thought the service was a great success.  We made new friends when the pharmacist and students came over.  They were relaxed and sociable, putting everyone at ease.  Normally, we travel to clinics or pharmacies for these shots which gives people more time to fret and little chance to get to know the person giving the shot.  This year, trust was easily established in their own home with the looser timeline and comfortable setting.

Although I can talk about many of the folks here, and why this was beneficial, I would like to share two examples.  I have never seen one individual handle getting her flu shot so well.  She was able to introduce her cat to her guests, talk about her family and show pictures, and she accepted the shot with more grace than I had hoped for, all while holding a picture of her family to show them how brave she was being.  Another woman, who traditionally refuses to get a flu shot, seemed completely at ease with our new friends coming into her apartment and she chatted about her interests while expressing no reservations about the shot.  I am grateful to Michelle, Adley and Lindsey for providing a beneficial service for us.


Wait, What? The Kindness and Generosity of a Community


By Tim Eshelman, Director of Environmental Services

You know how it is, when you are busy with your life, rushing to get everything you need to do done, and then suddenly something happens to you that makes you stop in your tracks and think: wait a minute, did that really happen?

I want to share with you something that recently happened at Ridgeview, something that made me stop and reflect on the generosity and kindness of our community to those who call Hammer “home”.  This is a story you might not hear about or notice otherwise.

For a while now at Ridgeview there has been a retaining wall in need of repair.  It’s one of those expensive home repairs you know you need to do – and you never quite get to it.  A retaining wall is not a fun house project, and at Ridgeview it wasn’t an emergency house project (yet), but I’ve been keeping my eye on it. That’s the story of the retaining wall at Ridgeview.

Until I got a call from Otten Brothers Garden Center asking if we had a fall landscaping project they could do for Hammer – as a donation!  Boy did we ever!  We talked about Ridgeview, and the need for a new retaining wall and drainage system.  Before I knew it, the folks from Otten Brothers were at the house, making it all happen.  You would not believe how quickly it all came together.  As you can see in the photo above, everyone is pretty excited about the new retaining wall.

I thought you should know this story, and know how grateful I am to have so many partners, including the Otten Brothers in our mission of proving individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity to experience life to its fullest.