Let Us Give Thanks … And Eat Pie

By Jan Hopper, Program Manager

Every night, before I go to sleep, I count my blessings. I think there might be a song in there somewhere?  Generally, the list includes my good health, good friends and working with people who make me laugh out loud every day. This simple, routine act truly helps me sleep better.

This time of year the list includes Hammer Thanksgiving and all the people who make it possible. Back in 2003 a group of managers were at a meeting and got to talking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. As the conversation went on, we all realized we had individuals we serve, who for one reason or another, weren’t going to a family celebration. For some they simply had no family left to go to, and for others, their family lived too far away. Something needed to be done.

jan thanksgiving

Some of the first volunteers at our 2005 Thanksgiving. (Jan is hiding in the back, right corner!)

We decided that one big dinner would be more festive than several small ones. So, we loosely put together a potluck style Thanksgiving dinner that was held in the lower level of our central office. It wasn’t very organized, and we made a few last minute trips to the only convenience store open that day. I learned that mushroom soup will stretch gravy, for instance! Even so, we had a blast and everything tasted great.


The word got out and the next year it was opened to everybody living and working at Hammer. Year after year it grew, and many wonderful volunteers started making it a family tradition to spend their Thanksgiving morning peeling potatoes, roasting turkeys (I think we’re up to eight by now), making all the yummy sides and then serving it up to the staff and individuals who attend. In fact, one family has kept this tradition so long that both of the children don’t know Thanksgiving any other way. Luckily, they always make enough so there will be leftovers for us to bring back for supper. I mean, really, what is Thanksgiving without left overs? Since each home brings a pie we also get quite an assortment of desserts to really top off that food coma.


Our company is often referred to as a family, and I think Hammer Thanksgiving might be the biggest, happiest, most fun (read as drama free) family Thanksgiving ever. The lower level of the central office is packed with noisy, happy people. Diets are abandoned and much food is consumed.

My family lives far away so Hammer Thanksgiving is my Thanksgiving. I am thankful for all the people who make it possible. I am also thankful for the delicious food and the fun folks I work with everyday…Oh, and all the different pies, definitely the pies!

Supporting Cathy to a Healthier Lifestyle

By Ashley Baggentoss, Assistant Program Manager

Cathy Otto 3

I’ve only been at Hammer a little over 4 months. But, I’ve already had the opportunity to support the ladies of Sumac through many changes including: a move to a brand new house, welcoming a new housemate, and the introductions of new staff. One of the ladies of Sumac, Cathy, decided to make another particularly big change in her life. She wanted to lose some weight and learn how to create a healthier lifestyle.

After hearing about her cousin’s success with Medifast, Cathy decided to give it a try herself. She gave up some of her favorite foods, especially pizza. Instead Cathy started eating 5 Medifast meals a day along with what they call a “lean and green meal.” She now has some new favorite foods like tomato basil soup, Dutch chocolate shakes, and Peanut Butter Crunch Bars. Sounds pretty good, right?

We have made sure that Sumac family dinners were altered to accommodate Cathy’s lean & green meals. Whether that meant keeping grains like pasta separate, or making sure there was always a salad with lots of veggies, the team helped her make it work. With support from staff and strong personal will power, Cathy was able to avoid many temptations she encountered and stay on track.

Cathy Otto 2

Weekly weigh-ins have been an extra motivation as Cathy has watched the pounds disappear and the inches come off. Since she started in June, Cathy is proud to have lost almost 30 pounds! Shopping for new clothes has left Cathy awestruck that she is down four sizes. She is not only looking amazing but she said she’s feeling “much healthier.” Beyond her incredibly successful weight loss, Cathy’s increased health has also decreased her high blood pressure enough to reduce certain medications.

Cathy has now entered an important transition period where she will work to maintain her current weight through portion control and healthy eating. She can now replace her Medifast meals with foods that previously were cut out. If the past 4 months have been any indication, I know Cathy will continue to do well. Her commitment and dedication have been wonderful, and I am sure others could learn from her example. I’m glad to have been able to accompany and support her on this journey. I look forward to seeing her continued success!

Our Collective Legacy at Hammer

By Ellen Timmerman-Borer, Chief Development Officer

All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.
~ Jim Rohn

Earlier this fall, Hammer hosted a Legacy Writing workshop that has compelled me to reflect on the meaning of legacy. To me, a legacy is something of significance created by positive actions and based on consistent values. At Hammer, we have come together to support people with disabilities with respect and dignity throughout their lifetime. That is our collective legacy. In our 91 years, we have created something significant; legacy abounds.

ellen legacy 3

Today, we have built upon the foundation which Alvina Hammer constructed with her own money, and her own heart. Those we serve have better lives now than when Hammer first opened her school in Minneapolis. Each day we continue to learn and advocate, making everyone’s life a fulfilling life. We continue to educate, legislate and sometimes to fight just like Alvina did, but today we have more partners like you: family, volunteers, donors, community members who believe in a better life for people with disabilities. I believe Hammer’s legacy is not a cause; it is a way of life. It is what you and I do every day. Show up and be open to understanding people’s wants and needs. It’s about building lifelong relationships that matter.

ellen legacy 1

This is Andy. We have known each other for 30 years. He was one of 14 guys who showed me the ropes when I first started at Hammer. A few weeks ago, I stopped at Andy’s new Hammer home to drop off a donation. Andy was talking to his brother who lives in Chicago, his Sunday night ritual.  When he finished his conversation, I greeted him and although he seemed to have lost my name, that seems to happen with age, we made a connection. He smiled, his eyes sparkled and we felt joy. Andy, along with all of those we serve have tugged at my heart strings. They keep me here, feeling blessed to do this work each day.

Andy and those we serve in our homes and through support services need all of us to come together with talent, time and treasure. It is a simple fact of operating our nonprofit business. Let’s continue our legacy together by believing in the abilities of all people. Help us to support people in exactly the ways that they want and need now and into the future.

Join us on November 13 and Give to the Max or go to www.hammer.org/giving to make a gift throughout the year.

Be a part of our collective legacy at Hammer.

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? 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!