Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan: An Update

By Devin Harrington, Communication Specialist

This past December, at the Department of Education, the Olmstead Implementation Office (OIO) held its bimonthly meeting. Subcabinet members and Dr. Darlene Zangara, Executive Director of the OIO, presented updates, the highlights of the bimonthly report, and plans for the coming year.

Amy loading the dishwasherThe primary focus was to ensure everything was set to present the most updated, 250+ page report to the designated court monitor. Subcabinet members emphasized the importance of inter-agency coordination, community engagement, and accountability. Dr. Zangara shared charts highlighting the progress of moving people with disabilities away from remaining institutions. Testimonies of three individuals that Hammer has supported in moves to independent, apartment settings were included. They added a personal and human element to the report.

Another topic of conversation was the choosing of a quality of life assessment tool. The OIO and the subcabinet create plans and guidelines they think will work for the state and disability community; however, they acknowledged the importance of gathering baseline information and firsthand input from those who live with disabilities. The proposed tool comes from the Center for Outcome Analysis, but many questions, such as cost, ease of use, and method of data collection, were left on the table. The OIO and subcabinet agreed that an assessment tool should be introduced after these are answered.

Anthony cooking a healthy meal 1 - smallerUpdates on the state’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program and its respective five year transition plan were also shared. With the introduction of 245D and changes to the Disability Waiver Rate System, Minnesota is nearing the end of year one of this five year plan. More input is needed from providers and individuals with disabilities to make sure program changes focus on the individual as opposed to a specified setting. A report was scheduled for submission at the end of 2014, and by 2016 those leading the way hope to move from the planning phase to application.

Two things were very clear to me following this meeting – this will be a long process that will require attention from all of those in the disability services industry, and we still have the opportunity to provide valuable input.

Katie Jo staying active playing Wii gamesMinnesota’s Olmstead Implementation Plan officially began in January of 2012 as a settlement of the Jensen v. MN Department of Human Services case that began in 2009. The US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Minnesota needed to come up with their own Olmstead Plan to provide services to people with disabilities in the “most integrated settings” appropriate to their needs. In 2013 Governor Dayton officially formed a subcabinet for the committee. An initial report was submitted in October of 2013 but was denied by a federal judge for being vague and not measurable. The OIO and subcabinet have continued to edit and better define the state’s plan, but they recognize the work that still needs to be done. The final report for 2014 was submitted on Friday, December 19. The subcabinet’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 9, 2015 from 3:00-5:00pm (location TBD).

Pictured above are the three self-advocates whose testimonies were shared during the meeting. Amy moved to her own apartment last October, Anthony successfully advocated for a move to his own apartment and Katie Jo has made remarkable progress to improve her overall health since moving to an apartment. Click on each individual’s name to read their personal stories.

Tribute Envelopes: Creative Giving to Help Others

By Sue Oreck, Hammer family member

Sue Oreck 1My name is Sue Oreck, and I am the sister of Jeffrey Orenstein who lives at the McGlinch house in Plymouth. Whenever I go over to Jeff’s house, I see the wonderful staff that cares for the six individuals who call McGlinch home. I also see the amount of upkeep that goes into these homes so that they accommodate everyone’s needs. For example, last year, donations were received to help replace all of the flooring in the home and provide new furniture and interior paint. These home improvements have a direct impact on Jeffrey’s quality of life and I’m so thankful for the generosity of so many.

All of these home improvements could not happen without our help. That’s why I think it is so important not only to give a once a year donation but to give throughout the year. The way I am able to do this is with tribute envelopes. Tribute envelopes are a wonderful and creative way to honor friends and relatives while at the same time support Hammer.

Sue Oreck 2I send in tribute envelopes throughout the year for birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy notes and recently to congratulate someone on their new job. Hammer then sends a personalized card to my honoree – the amount of the gift isn’t disclosed. Sending these cards creates awareness for Hammer, and for people with disabilities. Hopefully, those we send cards to will remember Hammer when it is time for them to remember someone’s special event.

Packets of tribute envelopes are available at Hammer, just stop by the central office in Wayzata or give them a call at 952-473-1261.

Hammer holds a special place in my heart and I will continue to help by sending tribute cards. To me, there is no better gift than the gift of helping others!

Are You a Natural?

By Wendy Paulson, Human Resource Specialist

Wendy Blog 1Have you ever been told “you must be special” when you tell someone where you work? They say that because not everyone can work in human services. What is it that inspires us to choose a helping profession or nonprofit work – even if that means a modest income, unusual hours or other sacrifices? When I interview candidates, I ask them what qualities they think are necessary to be successful at this job and why this a good fit for them. They often describe themselves as someone who was sensitive and kind from a young age. Many have been caregivers for family members who needed help due to illness or disability. Their resumes are filled with volunteer activities. This supports my long-time view that people who choose to work at Hammer Residences are what I call “naturals.” That is, they were always more empathetic or altruistic…more likely to befriend the classmate who was teased by others or to be kind to an elderly neighbor. Imagine my delight when I read about research that supports my naturals theory: a study that shows there is a neurological basis behind the truly altruistic – folks who voluntarily help other people at some sacrifice to themselves.

Researchers at Georgetown University examined the brain structures of 19 kidney donors, comparing them with 20 people in a control group. They found that super altruists were better at reading signs of distress on people’s faces, and that a certain part of the brain that processes emotion was larger in theirs than in the control group. Researchers found that a part of the brain associated with processing emotion – the right amygdala – was 8 percent larger on average among the kidney donors. You can read the 12/11/14 article in the Star Tribune by clicking here:  Altruists’ brains uniquely wired

Wendy Blog 2When we say we are a caring community, it’s more than a mission statement; it is an identity statement. One of our best recruiting tools is employee referral. When we hear from a current employee that their friend or relative will be a good fit for our organization, it carries a lot of weight. We tend to recommend others who share our values and work ethic. We have a robust hiring and training program and there is always a need for Direct Support Professionals. Contact us in Human Resources to find more about our opportunities, or to refer a friend. If you are a natural, you will feel right at home as a part of the Hammer Family.

Quality of Life: An Incredible Gift

Bill Bieber and his family have been generous Hammer family members since 1990. With compassion for those we serve and insight about family’s needs, Bill and his family established the Quality of Life Fund in 1993 as a financial resource for the men, women and children with developmental disabilities we support, specifically those who may not have families to help them when they are in financial need. Each year since, Bill has reached out to friends to share our Hammer story about the needs of so many who have very little. Below is an excerpt from Bill’s most recent holiday appeal.

“Since its beginnings in 1923, the mission of Hammer has been to provide adults and children with developmental disabilities the opportunity to experience life to its fullest. The Quality of Life Fund is a financial resource for the individuals supported by Hammer to ensure that everyone served has the means to live full and meaningful lives. The fund is specifically for individuals like Jim Forsythe who have limited financial resources.

Jim ForsytheBefore coming to Hammer, Jim Forsythe, now 52, shared a single room with 12 other men at a state institution in Faribault. For the first time in his life, at age 29, he enjoyed the privacy of his own room. He now lives in a “home” supported by wonderful staff members that help create a stable, calm atmosphere for Jim and the entire household.

The availability of Quality of Life Funds is a lifeline to Jim. He relies on these funds for many basic necessities including clothing and eyeglasses. Because of your generosity, Jim is able to attend a special summer camp designed for people with disabilities. He looks forward to being at camp every year.

Jim’s story is one of many Hammer successes. I am so grateful for the quality of care Hammer provides for all the 274 men, women and children living in their 36 homes and 10 apartment programs in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Many of these special individuals rely on your contributions to the Quality of Life Fund for basic needs and recreational activities just like Jim.

With gratitude for your generosity and kindness, I’m asking you to please consider a generous gift to Hammer’s Quality of Life Fund today to support individuals like Jim Forsythe. Thank you for considering my request today.

Warmest wishes to you and your family the rest of this holiday season,

Bill Bieber & Helen Meyer”

The Quality of Life Fund provides for special medical needs (such as dental work), procedures (such as massage therapy to manage chronic pain) and medical equipment not reimbursable by Medicaid. It is also used to purchase household furnishings and clothing and provides for recreational activities such as YMCA memberships, Courage Center swim passes and Camp True Friends fees. The Quality of Life Fund has a direct, positive impact on the people we support and is funded 100% by private contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.

P. S. If you’d prefer, you can make a secure online gift here.

If you’d prefer, you can call us at 952-473-1261 to make a gift over the phone, or mail your gift. All gifts postmarked by Dec. 31 are tax-deductible for 2014. Thank you!

Keepin’ It Simple

By Regan McGowan, Program Manager

When I went to college, I started and ended with the same question – what do I want to do after school? I earned a degree in business, yet I hadn’t come up with an answer. Hammer has always been a part of my life. My mom has worked for this organization for over 25 years. I had worked here part time on the weekends during my last year of school. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I was beginning to find my answer.

jan thanksgiving

Regan (in black nad pink) volunteering at Hammer Thanksgiving in 2006

I write this now, post-college as a Program Manager for one of Hammer’s group homes. Everyone has always said that once you start at Hammer, you get pulled in, and now I see why. As its mission, Hammer Residences provides individuals with disabilities opportunities to live life to its fullest. In my role, I get to support four very special ladies as they each pursue living their lives to the fullest. Like any other job, there challenges; for example, not losing your composure when trying to “keep the peace” amongst everyone. Even so, I continue to find that the joys and rewards far outweigh any of the challenges.

Regan and Rockford

During my short time at Hammer, I quickly have learned that the only true disability in life is having a bad attitude. These women I support are four of the sweetest people you will ever meet. They are just like you and me, and I am humbled every time I go to work. The individuals who I am honored to serve may look a bit different than you and I, or have a different thought process, but these women are the most AUTHENTIC people I have ever met. When these ladies are angry or upset, you know it. That said, they are quick to forgive and move forward. On the flip side, when these gals are happy, they radiate joy. The laughter, smiles and jokes that fill my work days make every minute worth it.

Regan and Rockford 2We shouldn’t try to complicate life too much; it should be simple! No two days are the same at our house and the giggles keep coming. We can learn from every single person we meet. Today my question is no longer “what do I want to do after school?” but “who knew that a job didn’t have to feel like work?”

Worth a Thousand Words

By Kim Gharrity, 10-Year Volunteer

photo 3If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then Michael Moschogianis has gifted Hammer volumes-worth of text this past year with his wonderful photography. Retired from having his own portrait studio, Michael was looking for a way to make a creative contribution with his photography when he attended a volunteer fair last year at the Mall of America. He went from booth to booth selectively looking for nonprofit organizations that were of interest to him, offering his services and contact information.

Hammer enthusiastically reached out to him, and the rest they say, is history. Over the past year, Michael has taken pictures at more than a dozen Hammer events including: the Annual Meeting, sports banquets, the Family Day Picnic, and Reach for Ralph. He is most comfortable being given complete latitude to find and portray the story to tell, and when you look at his pictures, you immediately see how well he has been able to capture these moments. His photos convey an experience or event with such incredible warmth and tenderness. Though much of this sensibility can be attributed to Michael’s unique vision as a photographer, he also has a special affinity for the Hammer community. Michael had a younger brother Marc, with Down syndrome. He took loving care of his brother in his home until Marc passed away last winter.

Hammer is one of several social service agencies to which Michael donates his services. Among others, he also takes pictures for Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity and the Hopkins Education Foundation. As rewarding as these are, Hammer remains his favorite! “The things that keep me coming back,” he said, “are the employees, the work they do and the people they support. The staff is thirsty, savvy and sharp as a tack.  The work of the organization speaks for itself. And, the individuals served are the purest people on the planet – no guile, no subtext, absolutely a joy to be around!”

michael m collage

Currently, Michael is working with Communication Specialist Devin Harrington to illustrate personal stories of three individuals Hammer supports in independent living, apartment programs. These stories, along with Michael’s photographs, will go in a larger report for the state of Minnesota’s Olmstead Implementation Plan Office. State legislators, industry experts and a federal judge will be just some of the readers of this report due mid-December.

Well-known portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz once said: “Photography is not something you retire from.” Hammer is very much hoping Michael feels the same way. When asked which of his photographs was his all-time favorite, he playfully replied, “The one I’m going to take tomorrow!”

The Art of a Friendship

By Sue Gregor, Past Hammer Board Member and Current Volunteer

Sue with SarahSarah Casey, who lives at Sumac, is an awesome person. She is an upbeat, thoughtful and hardworking woman who always has a smile on her face. She also happens to be a very talented artist.

I first got to know Sarah several years ago when I began volunteering at Hammer. All of the “Sumac ladies” and I would get together and complete art project after art project. Sarah always took a particular interest in whatever we were creating. Over the years, she and I have visited art exhibits and gone out for fun lunches.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful lady. During a pastels class she took at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, I saw her creative process in action. I have gained an even better understanding of how much she enjoys looking at art as well as creating art. I just love watching Sarah think about her art and create.

Throughout the last 2 years, I have had the opportunity of working individually with Sarah at my home. She and I spend hours in my studio working with different mediums and mastering new techniques. We began with water colors, and she did an amazing job handling an often difficult medium. Several of her watercolor paintings have been made into Hammer Holiday Art Cards that can be purchased here.

Sarah Paintings

This year, we switched materials and are currently working with acrylic paints. Sarah’s style is amazing and she has such a free flowing use of her brush. Her sense of color is also very unique. She has very clear, thoughtful ideas about what she wants to create and how it should evolve.

Sue Gregor

Sue at our central office.

Sarah inspires me each time we are together and I feel fortunate that I am lucky to work with such a talented and dedicated artist.

Her work is currently on display at Hammer’s Central office. The next time you are in the building, admire her work.     

Thank You!

By Hammer Residences Employees and Individuals Served

Thank you from the entire Hammer Family!

Your gifts of time, talent and treasure help provide the right support at the right time for the individuals we serve. You make all the difference in enabling full and meaningful lives. Your generosity allows us to continue our 91-year strong mission of providing adults and children with developmental disabilities the opportunity to live life to its fullest.

So, on this day after Thanksgiving, we want to share a short video to show our immense gratitude for all you have done and continue to do!


Let Us Give Thanks … And Eat Pie

By Jan Hopper, Program Manager

Jan has known David for almost 25 years.

Jan has known David for almost 25 years.

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.


Jan and Deb after speaking at a Hammer meeting in the early 2000's.

Jan and Deb after speaking at a Hammer meeting in the early 2000′s.

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.

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.

Jan enjoying time at the MN State Fair with some of the individuals she supports.

Jan at the MN State Fair with individuals she supports.

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 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 their children don’t know Thanksgiving any other way. Luckily, there are always enough leftovers to bring back home 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!

pies and turkey

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!