Advocacy Made Simple – You Can Make a Difference!

By Terriann Matejcek, Director of Advocacy and Volunteer Resources

On your TV, computer or smartphone, you may come across images of malnourished puppies, impoverished children who should be in school, someone with a disability being bullied or any number of other social injustices. What is your reaction? Are you compelled to act?

When I was a kid, I always found myself cheering for the losing team or the underdog. If I saw a stray cat, I felt it was my responsibility to find it shelter or at least give it some food and water. If I was out at recess and a kid was being left out, I felt compelled to ask him to play. I did not find it hard; I just felt it was the right thing to do.


As I grew older I heard this quote by Miamonides: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” After letting it sink it, I realized how much sense it made. But, that’s much more complicated than handing someone a tuna sandwich!

In high school, I began sending a small amount of money from my paycheck to an animal rights group. I wanted to help, and I thought this was a simple enough way for me to make an impact on a cause important to me. Then one day my friend asked: “Do you know anything about that group? Couldn’t that just be some guy down the road taking your money and spending it at the race track?” I suddenly realized I should be more careful when making donations.

Slowly, I began to feel intimidated by activism. I began to see advocacy as either the work of saints who dedicate their lives to changing global issues or angry activists with signs and a wish to be arrested or hurt for the cause. I became paralyzed with the complexity, enormity and even danger of what I thought advocacy was. It did not feel right to be immobilized in this way.

SwimmyI became mobilized again when I read Swimmy, a children’s book by Leo Lionni. The story is about a fish, alone and in danger amongst many larger fish. He eventually finds his school and swimming together, they are all safer. Such a simple, easy to understand story!

Yes, advocacy can be simple, and it can be easy if it is done in a collaborative, organized fashion. Something as simple as voting is considered advocacy – you vote on laws and/or for candidates that share your beliefs. All you have to do is show up.

At Hammer we work closely with other organizations and coalitions to advocate for the people we serve and for our profession.  We know that collaboration is key and that every letter, every vote, every contribution no matter how simple, makes a difference.

I was able to re-motivate and remobilize; now it is your turn. This coming Tuesday, November 4th, you have the ability to advocate by exercising your right to vote. By participating in this simple activity, you can make a difference!

For more information before you vote, check out Minnesota’s official voter resources website here.

The Death of “Assistive” Technology

By Sean Henderson, Person-Centered Technology Manager

Sean HendersonThe first time I saw an iPhone was at a concert sometime in 2007. The owner lifted the phone to take a picture, turned it horizontally, and, like magic, the screen rotated! I was completely awestruck! I started pondering why a person would need all of those features and applications. I already have an alarm clock, a note pad, a (cheap) digital camera, and my Nokia brick cellphone…What would I need a smartphone for? It took me nearly three years to put away my disdain for the average smartphone user and jump on the bandwagon, and I haven’t looked back since. I didn’t know what I was missing.

In my opinion, this can be said for nearly every technological advancement we’ve made as a species. We had no idea what we were missing until some crazy guy had the audacity, and perhaps the stupidity, to jump on the back of horse. The same could be said for the person that decided to make a self-propelled death-trap with wheels which feeds off of an incredibly toxic and highly flammable liquid used to create tiny controlled explosions inside a metal box as the propellant. Today, cars and trucks are common enough that we barely even consider them a kind of technology. They dominate roadways because we depend on their assistance in getting us to the places we need or want to go. And that, friends, is what the technological bell curve of acceptance looks like.

tech bell curveThe crazy people (or innovators as they’re sometimes called) invent new technology and use it. Early adopters wait until a few major glitches are fixed then buy in. The early and late majority buy in to “keep up with the Joneses” once the price falls. Finally, the laggards buy in when it’s absolutely necessary and/or their previous options become obsolete. These folks would be my eccentric uncle who refused to buy a cell phone until his job made him get one because his landline was shut down, or my father who still considers WiFi radio waves damaging to his health.

In our world of providing people with disabilities the opportunity to experience life to its fullest, technology for the people we support was, and still is, difficult to find. In the past, the innovators were the software designers who could make a talking computer for their brother to speak through, or a father who wired up a big button to turn on the television for his daughter. Instead of these technologies reaching out to many, it stops at that one person. Why? Well, technology used for people with disabilities frequently requires a high degree of customization for the specified individual and isn’t necessarily for the general disabled population. Here, we witness the birth of assistive technology, which I think of as a single advancement made for a single individual.

30 years later, with the mass acceptance of the internet and devices like tablets and computers, we can use a single advancement for multiple people. We can use one thing to help someone remember to take medications, keep them connected to loved ones, ensure safety and security through GPS, talk through communication devices, and even play Angry Birds when bored. This turns the notion of assistive technology on its head; we have started to make technology for everyone.


I say we keep pushing forward with this idea. Let’s continue forward together with the goal of making all technology accessible by everyone! Isn’t all technology assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative by nature? I don’t call my iPad assistive technology. So, why call it assistive when a person with a disability uses one? We’ve shed the terms “consumers” and “residents” because we know that people are just people, whether abled or disabled. In the same way, let’s shed the “assistive” label in technology. This is not the death of technology used to assist us, but the demise of a term that has the potential to divide us.

Home Is Where the Kitchen Is

By former Hammer DSP Elspeth Lucas

Kitchen 3

The current kitchen at Merrimac

When I was growing up, I spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen- climbing the doorjambs, looking for the cookie jar, and repetitively asking my mother what she was making for dinner. In high school, my best friend’s family life revolved around the kitchen in their home. Cooking was done there, cleaning was done there, cat birthing was done there- but most importantly, communing was done there. It was in that kitchen that I learned to truly love and enjoy the company of others and what each person had to offer.

This hasn’t changed as I’ve grown older. It has even carried through to my professional life. Every Hammer home has a kitchen, some big and some small, some red and some white, but the common denominator is the communal meal that takes place once everyone has returned from their busy day. Cooking the family meal, preparing the dinner table and catching up on the day’s events has become a ritual in almost all of our home and apartment programs, a routine that everyone can participate in and enjoy.

Merrimac ladies

Currently, counters are not low enough and the cabinets are too high, but thus far the ladies have been able to adapt.

Unfortunately, that routine can be interrupted simply by the layout of the kitchen. When I had the pleasure of working at the Merrimac home in Plymouth with four fantastic ladies I grew to love and respect, that kitchen was designed for what I would call ‘slim giants.’ It was definitely not designed for the access and mobility of the women who call Merrimac home, and who experience a range of differing capabilities – from using wheelchairs to being vision-impaired. While not ideal, we made it work.


Over this past summer, two Hammer homes have been the subject of a $140,000 grant received from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. This grant was used to install an elevator at our Lakeside home in Minnetonka and now, we are getting the much-needed kitchen remodel at Merrimac.

The Lakeside elevator greatly improved safety and independence for the individuals served in this home in light of recent illness and aging. The Merrimac kitchen remodel will allow all the ladies to get in the kitchen at once to make healthy meals they can then sit down and enjoy together. I’m so thrilled to know they will now have a space they can make memories in, and one in which I can sit down to visit with them!

Kitchen 1

One last look at the entire kitchen/dining room before the welcomed and needed remodel!

Making a House (or Apartment) a Home

By Tim Eshelman, Director of Environmental Services

Tim E back in the day 2In my 24 years at Hammer in the maintenance department, I have watched many of those we support grow up – many who have become like a family to me. It’s an honor for me to provide those we support with a place they are proud to call home, a home for a lifetime.

As those we support and their homes age, we’re doing more home improvement projects than ever before to provide a safe home environment in our 36 homes and 10 apartment programs. Some of these projects are in the budget; others are added because of a crisis. Financial gifts to the Home Improvement Fund are budget relieving and make it possible for us to react quickly.

The rainiest spring ever caused wet basements and water damage. Retaining walls were built in a few homes with water issues to (hopefully!) prevent future flooding.

At our Kentucky home in Plymouth, there were some unexpected health developments that caused us to do a full home remodel, quickly, for the safety of those in the home. An elevator was added to allow access to both levels of the home, roll in shower and wall mounted sinks were installed to accommodate wheelchairs in the bathroom, and more than 750 square feet of space was added to give the home a more open, accessible floor plan, allowing easy access to everyone in the home. All this remodeling was done while those who live in the home were at work, an average of five and a half hours a day with minimal disruption.

tim e construction

Sometimes a full home remodel like Kentucky is not structurally possible, and that’s when we have to look at purchasing a new home. This summer we replaced a split level home in Minnetonka (Sumac) with a home in Eden Prairie to better fit the four women who live in the home. It has a more open floor plan and can accommodate the installation of an elevator, if needed. Like any new home, we had to make changes there too, installing new doors for our keyless entry system and bringing the deck up to code.

This year we have installed gutter guards and replaced carpet with vinyl flooring (for increased accessibility/mobility of wheelchairs and easier maintenance). We have replaced drafty windows, leaky roofs, and older vinyl siding with maintenance free, insulated steel siding.

Tim E at KentuckySoon we will be doing two kitchen remodels to improve accessibility and safety for those who live and work in the home. We will be making a couple bathrooms more accessible by installing a roll-in shower, a freedom tub and a wall hanging sink. There will of course be an unexpected project or two that will come up and throw a wrench into our plans.

And that’s okay, because with your support, we will take care of it.

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?

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  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.