May I Have This Dance?

By Regan McGowan, Program Manager

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend ARRM’s Annual Conference. In one of the sessions, I listened to a speaker talk about the idea of person-centered thinking. This is a well-known concept at Hammer, but it really hit home with me this particular day. The speaker shared a poem written by Elaine Popovich, a woman living with a disability. Her poem eloquently shares her perspective on the differences between her life and the lives of her staff.

You And I

I am a resident. You reside.
I am admitted. You move in.
I am aggressive. You are assertive.
I have behavior problems. You are rude.
I am non-compliant. You don’t like being told what to do.

When I ask you out for dinner, it’s an outing. When you ask someone out, it’s a date. 

I don’t know how many people have read the progress notes people write about me. I don’t even know what is in there. You didn’t speak to your best friend for a month after they read your journal.

I make mistakes during my check-writing program. Someday I might get a bank account. You forgot to record some withdrawals from your account. The bank called to remind you.

I wanted to talk with the nice looking person behind us at the grocery store. I was told that it was inappropriate to talk to strangers. You met your spouse in the produce department. They couldn’t find the bean sprouts.

I celebrated my birthday yesterday with five other residents and two staff members. I hope my family sends a card. Your family threw you a surprise party. Your brother couldn’t make it from out of state. It sounded wonderful.

My case manager sends a report every month to my guardian. It says everything I did wrong and some things I did right. You are still mad at your sister for calling your mom after you got that speeding ticket.

I am on a special diet because I am five pounds over my ideal body weight. Your doctor gave up telling you. I am learning household skills. You hate housework. I am learning leisure skills. Your shirt says you are a “couch potato.”

After I do my budget program tonight, I might get to go to McDonald’s if I have enough money. You were glad the new French restaurant took your charge card.

My Case Manager, Psychologist, R.N., Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Nutritionist and house staff set goals for me for the next year. You haven’t decided what you want out of life.

Someday I will be discharged – maybe. You will move onward and upward!

I think Elaine’s poem nails the importance of person-centered thinking on the head. As I think about my life and putting person-centered thinking into action, I reflect on my time with a boy named Emerson. This past January, I was able to visit the Mephibosheth Special Needs Home just outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For 10 days, I was able to love and support kids who have varying physical and/or developmental disabilities. During this time I became pals with Emerson. Even though he spoke very little, he was always smiling and full of joy. He also carried around a rag wherever he went as he tended to drool quite a bit due to protruding teeth.

EmersonTo celebrate my team’s last night at the “M House,” we had a nighttime dance party complete with glow sticks. All the children were laughing and screaming, except Emerson who was sitting out on the side. One by one, different team members went over to try and get him out on the dancefloor. Every time he would simply shake his head no. After a few more songs, I walked over to Emerson and looked him in the eyes. We didn’t speak the same language, and quite frankly, I don’t even know if he knew my name. But in that moment, I grabbed his little hand with the drool rag, took it in my hand, put it on the chair and shrugged my shoulders with a smile. With both of his hands free, I gestured for him to take mine. He eagerly grabbed my hands and his grin grew until he was beaming. Needless to say, Emerson and I hit the dance floor for the rest of the party!

Elaine’s poem and Emerson’s smile remain close in my heart and mind as I work with the incredible men and women at Hammer. All Emerson wanted to do was dance like everyone else. The rag he carried his entire life inadvertently defined a part of who he was. By simply helping him put it aside, I could see a noticeable, positive difference in Emerson. What would happen if we really put person-centered thinking into motion, left the “rags” and other labels aside, and were able to dance the night away? It’s not always easy, but it is something I try to do every day with the fantastic men and women we serve who just happen to live with a disability.

Helping Hammer Individuals Reach for the Stars

By Joe Reis, Hammer Board of Directors and CEO of Coldwell Banker Burnet

4:45 am and Karen was ready to go! Matter of fact, I think she had been preparing to go for years. The February cold did not deter her spirit at all. Her dream of going to New York City, seeing a Broadway show and auditioning at the Apollo Theater was about to come true!

Back to the trip in a moment…

Hammer is a special place to my family and me. My wife Kathy and I have been volunteers for 25 years. We were first introduced to the organization and its work for those with developmental disabilities through Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Medina. It was Fr. Arnold Weber and fellow parishioner Tom Silver (one of the more giving men I know) who recruited us with the promise of “fulfillment through giving back.” We agreed to become part of the ministry, assisting those served at Hammer with transportation to Mass, faith sharing and fellowship on Sunday mornings and at various events. Over the years our three daughters also got involved, and I know we have all found fulfillment! We had no idea this ministry would lead to a lifelong relationship with Hammer and its incredible mission.

karen airportOK, back to Karen and her trip. Karen lives in a Hammer-supported apartment in Crystal. She is a talented singer and performer who has appeared in numerous productions at the Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts (which explains her love of Broadway and desire to see New York City). So, at last year’s Reach for Ralph benefit, Kathy and I made a personal commitment to help make Karen’s dream come true. We had the pleasure of providing the ride to the airport that cold morning, the start of Karen’s five day trip. At her side was Kelly Bosch, the manager of Karen’s apartment program and friend – a wonderful young woman dedicated to Karen and others at Hammer and the primary force in helping Karen realize her dream.

The early morning drive was full of conversation about travel logistics, the hotel, the show (Mama Mia), the Apollo, the cold and what to expect in the Big Apple. There was a mix of emotions as we pulled up to the airport and unloaded luggage – lots of excitement, lots of joy, and some apprehension.

Kathy and I were full of excitement too as we talked about Karen, Kelly, Hammer’s work, and the pure joy we had just witnessed. For us, the “why” behind Hammer was evident once again. It’s not about the disability; it’s about the ability, and providing opportunities to lead life to its fullest. And, it’s the people at Hammer that make it all possible – former CEO Tim Nelson, current CEO John Estrem, Chief Program Director Lisbeth Vest Armstrong, Program Managers, Direct Support Professionals, volunteers, fellow Board members, and donors who all do so much to make sure that the mission continues every day. We are so blessed to be a small part of it all.

karen lunchKelly did a wonderful job of documenting the trip and bringing it to life for all of us. Please check out her blog from a few months ago. A week or two after the trip, Kathy and I had a wonderful lunch with Karen, Kelly and Chief Development Officer Ellen Timmermann-Borer. Photos were shared and Karen walked us through her “what I liked best” list from trip. At the top of the list were things like: spa time at the hotel, the ride from the airport to the hotel, auditioning at the Apollo, pizza in bed, dancing in the aisles at Mama Mia and just taking in the New York City sights. Lunch ended with more thank you’s and hugs, and Karen let us know that she would, without a doubt, go back to New York again!

With Reach for Ralph less than one week away, Kathy and I cannot wait to help Hammer “imagine the possibilities” of lives fulfilled for each one of the individuals they support. I am once again honored to represent my company, Coldwell Banker Burnet, as the event’s presenting sponsor. It is a privilege to personally and professionally help an organization that has meant so much to me over the past 25 years.

Taking the “Work” Out of Working Out

By Angela Hickman, Zumba® Instructor and Hammer Volunteer

Angela in full Zumba mode!

Angela in full Zumba mode!

In the spring of 2011, I was the Assistant Program Manager at Zealand, one of Hammer’s apartment programs. A main goal of mine was incorporating health and fitness into the lives of those we were supporting. Many individuals were making great progress by choosing healthier foods and exercising more, but one person in particular was struggling to embrace the idea of exercise.

Then one day, we were hanging out in the community apartment and Joe S., the resident goofball and Michael Jackson enthusiast, decided to bring up one of his favorite CDs. As soon as he turned on the music, everyone got up to dance. All of a sudden, it dawned on me – if you make exercise about having fun and center it on an activity people enjoy, it no longer seems like exercise!

ZUMBA_014I had recently participated in my first Zumba® class a few weeks before this impromptu dance party, and I wondered what it would take for me to become a Zumba® Instructor. After some research, I found out it was quite simple. There was a certification training coming to Minnesota in a couple weeks, so I signed myself up! Then, I reached out to Katie Bottiger, the Director of Advocacy & Volunteer Resources at the time, to propose that Hammer offer a FREE Zumba® Fitness class to residents, with me as the instructor. I was so excited when I found out Hammer supported my idea! (One of the greatest things about Hammer is how they encourage both their employees and everyone we serve to learn, grow and imagine the possibilities.)

Once I was certified, I took time to choose music, create choreography and practice. I was finally ready for my first class, and for some reason I was extremely nervous! I shouldn’t have been though because it went wonderfully. The individuals we support loved it, and many of the Zealanders were in attendance, including the individual who had been opposed to exercise!

We have now been offering this class for over four years, and it continues to be popular. The room is always packed and buzzing with energy. I have taught other classes at gyms and recreation centers, but teaching at Hammer has always been my favorite. It’s not just because I love the organization’s mission and the people we support. It’s also because the people we support are the best students; they’re energetic, always have a smile on their face, and not afraid to make a mistake. They know it’s not about getting the steps right, it’s about having fun and moving!

Angela volunteering at Reach for Ralph 2014.

Angela volunteering at Reach for Ralph 2014.

I recently transitioned from a Hammer employee to volunteer. I am so happy I am able to continue teaching Zumba® at Hammer. It is one of the most rewarding and uplifting things I get to do in my life, and it offers a fun way for the people we support to get exercise without having to spend any money. And to think, this may not have happened if I hadn’t had the opportunity to imagine the possibilities.

The World of Communication

By Devin Harrington, Communication Specialist

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the International Association of Business Communicator’s (IABC) World Conference in San Francisco. As a member of the Minnesota chapter, I had attended a few local seminars and luncheons that I thought were highly valuable. So, I was eager to see what this large, global format had to offer…Plus, I was excited to spend a few days in California!

gocDay one started with volunteering at The Gift of Communication. In this three and a half hour round table session, conference attendees had an opportunity to meet local nonprofits and share communication strategies and tactics. I met with John and Jill from The Volunteer Center. This 70 year old organization has a great history of connecting nonprofits, business and individuals with mutually beneficial service opportunities. Looking at their future and preparing for potential changes in their service delivery, all at the table agreed that creating an overall communication strategy and finding a dedicated communication professional to help implement the plan would be most helpful.

Throughout the next three days of the conference, I was able to choose from dozens of breakout sessions covering a variety of topics and trends. More often than not, I was filled with a sense of affirmation that much of the communication we do at Hammer is in line with industry trends and the communication profession as a whole. In an age of nonstop communication, it’s not about getting the most messages out through any and all channels possible; it’s about finding the most appropriate channels to spread well-crafted, targeted messages. In the past couple of years, we have gotten more in tune with this at Hammer and, in my opinion, have positioned ourselves well in our community and broader industry.

photo 2A recurring theme in a number of presentations/speeches was the idea of disruption and constant change. Because of advances in technology and the increase in ways people communicate, organizations have to constantly be on their toes. You still need to plan and count on those tried and true practices, but you also need to be ready to adapt and work with your audiences. For a nonprofit like Hammer, this can be challenging given the variety of audiences we need to reach and the finite resources with which we have to do this. In general, we plan and adapt well, but, there is always room for improvement.

An indirect result of having so many communications professionals in one setting was the chance to network and perhaps make a new friend or two. At the 2014 conference in Toronto, my director connected with an Australian PR professional who ran a firm with his wife. It just so happened that his wife and one of their employees would be in San Francisco. It was great meeting them, learning about the communication profession from an Australian point of view and exploring some of the cities establishments and well-known neighborhoods after the days’ breakout and keynote sessions. Now, I have two new Aussie friends and a place to stay in Sydney should I ever venture down under.

iabc aussiesOverall, I enjoyed my first experience at the IABC World Conference and learned a number of things I can now apply to my work. It can be tiring to spend multiple days in a conference setting, but the variety of breakout formats, scope of topics covered and backdrop of San Francisco kept me thoroughly engaged. Not all organizations provide employees with opportunities to grow professionally outside the office, but thankfully, I work at Hammer.

Hammer and the Boy Scouts

By Angela Bernhardt, Director of Major Gifts

The Boy Scouts and Hammer Residences have been partners for many years. In 1970, under the leadership of two Hammer dads, Alden Keiski and Jim Solinger, a Boy Scout troop was formed at Hammer.

image001“In the early 80’s I was a direct care staff in the boy’s dormitory,” said Ellen Timmerman-Borer, Hammer’s Chief Development Officer. “Many of the guys who I worked with were proud to be boy scouts. We hosted regular meetings in the Hammer gym, inviting scouts from other troops to volunteer and assist the Hammer scouts in earning badges and planning camping trips. Some of the dads, like Dick Wesley, and I even spent a weekend with the Hammer troop at Many Point Scout Camp!”

Over the years, local boys have done their Eagle Scout services projects to benefit Hammer. From building yard games for our homes and apartments, to making frames for an art show, to organizing volunteers for the basketball program and more, boy scouts have been supportive of Hammer and fulfilled the scout slogan of “do a good turn daily.” Troop 570 Senior Patrol Leader, Ethan Weiche, is currently doing a service project for Hammer and says of his experience, “Being able to contribute something visibly meaningful to this inspiring organization is very rewarding.”

boy-scout-disability-awareness-badgeThis year, Boy Scout Troop 570 of Plymouth, earned the disabilities awareness merit badge as a troop. The timing was intentional, with the 25th anniversary of the ADA in the news, and having members of their troop with disabilities, the boys determined earning this rare merit badge was important to them.

The disabilities awareness merit badge has several requirements, including learning about the importance of people-first language and proper disability etiquette, visiting an agency that works with people with developmental disabilities (they toured Courage Center) and speaking with a fellow scout who has a disability and learning about his experiences in scouting activities. They also met with an individual who has a disability to learn about his experiences and the activities he likes to do, and finally, the troop learned about myths and misconceptions of people with disabilities.

One of the members of the troop lives with autism. Along with his mother, he spoke to the troop, thanking everyone for being so accepting and following the scout law: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Because of the scouts, he has had the chance to do things he never imagined he would do, like rock climbing, canoeing and camping monthly (even in the winter!).

Alex Luther

Self-advocate Alex Luther and Hammer’s Director of Advocacy and Volunteer Resources Terriann Matejcek spoke to the troop about some stereotypes of living with a disability. The boys had a chance to ask Alex questions and learned he liked parties, games and food. So, they invited him to their holiday party, and to their delight, Alex attended joined in on the festivities. Most recently, Alex was invited to the troop’s Court of Honor BBQ, but he couldn’t make it due to Hammer’s annual fishing trip!

George Wilson, Troop 570 Parent Committee Chair says of the relationship between Hammer and Troop 570, “Through the visits and interaction, both the scouts and their parents have gained a new appreciation for the challenges faced by those with disabilities. We have gained an understanding that while individuals living with disabilities have different challenges, they also have many abilities. It has been a great experience for all of us.”

Hammer’s Day Support Services: 25 Years of Laughter and Tears

By Brad Fenske, Day Supports Coordinator

In the fall of 1989, I was given the unique opportunity to be a part of Hammer’s new Day Support Services. This program was one of the first in the area to look provide care for both retired individuals and those without day placement services. The first retiree I supported was Hammer’s own Ralph Rosenvold. Ralph was loved by all for his spoon and bones playing, organ music, and fun loving personality. Ralph was also the first of many individuals to go directly from Hammer’s Day Support Services to hospice care at his Hammer home.Day Program 3

In addition to Ralph, the program also served many high school kids on break and individuals transitioning from their school years. When school closed for the summer, attendance at Day Support Services filled up with energetic teenagers who always wanted to be on the go. We spent our summers at the State Fair, Como Park, MN Zoo, etc. These individuals also helped cook hot lunches for the group and worked on job skills such as collating and filing. For me, this was a blast. I started at Hammer on the Boys Floor, and now they were all back under my support five days a week.

Back then, Hammer’s Day Support Services was unique because our focus was on getting the individuals we supported to participate in the wider community as often as possible. Most programs in the area were site-based where individuals went and participated in activities without having much interaction with their community. In fact, other organizations started touring our program to see what we were doing and get ideas they could implement at their own programs.Day Program 2

As the years have passed, the group dynamics have drastically changed. We now serve all adults (retirees, individuals on a break or without a job). Dementia, Alzheimer’s and the needs of aging adults have become a huge focus at the Day Program and at Hammer in general. The same young men I worked with on Boys Floor are now coming to my program in the throes of advanced Alzheimer’s and are needing care from someone they still remember and know. Because of our nearly lifelong relationships and smaller group setting, we have helped individuals thrive when they were no longer able to in their former day support program. They participate in their community as much as possible until they are no longer able to do so. After they leave our care, many individuals begin hospice at their home, often for less than a couple months before passing.

It’s so important that we are able to keep these individuals active and enjoying their hobbies and interests until they transition to hospice. It can be a daily challenge to support those we have come to love in their final days, but we consider it a sincere privilege. We have the joy of seeing individuals bowl for the last time, strum a guitar song for the last time, enjoy time with our therapy dog Dottie for the last time, and visit with old staff and friends at Hammer’s main building for the last time. At the same time, we also support these individuals through the confusion, fear and anxiety that comes with dementia and with most daily personal cares.Day Program 1

There have been years where we lose many of our loved individuals in a short period of time. This past year or so alone, we have lost Don, Jim F, Jim L, Laurie, James, and Alfred. Some of these individuals were at the Day Support Services for over 10 years, others for months. All were loved and cared for as you would care for someone truly special and close to you in their final days.

On behalf of the staff at our Day Support Services, I thank all the families who have shared loved ones with us these past 25 years. Even If it was just for an interim period or to spend their last days, each person has touched us deeply and changed our lives. As humans, this shared experience has made us all better. We love more deeply, serve more humbly and live more purposefully. What we do with our lives matters, and I am glad to have spent a good part of my life at Hammer.100_0804

From the Northwoods to Hammer

By Karen Lafferty, Graphic Designer

My connection with Hammer Residences began in the 1990s, before Hammer moved to their current office building. I met with Ellen Timmerman-Borer in hopes of doing graphic design work as an independent contractor. We met a number of times over the next year or two as Ellen made some decisions on working with new graphic designers.

Karen (right) volunteering at Reach for Ralph 2014.

Karen (right) volunteering at Reach for Ralph 2014.

Then, on a beautiful summer day, I was hiking deep in the woods with my husband and two small children on the Superior Trail in Northern Minnesota. It was deserted until we saw another family approaching. As we got closer, the woman called my name: “Karen, is that you?” It took me a second to recognize the voice and face, but sure enough, it was Ellen.

She took our unlikely wilderness meeting as a sign that we should work together, and we have ever since. Over the years I have produced newsletters, annual reports, appeals, and brochures for Hammer. I have volunteered on a number of projects, served on the arts committee and have even painted a few of the big Ralph statues you see around Wayzata.

RFR logo 2015Hammer has truly enriched my life. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everyone I have met and worked with over the years. I am constantly amazed by the care and support each employee provides to improve and enhance the lives of the individuals they serve. I consider it an honor to help share just some of the many amazing stories of this great organization.

Now that summer is here, Reach for Ralph is quickly approaching. This annual benefit is always an exciting event! This year I have been lucky enough to design the invitation and program using the colorful art of Robin Westergreen who lives in an apartment supported by Hammer. It is a joy to meet other Hammer supporters at the event and I cannot wait to see what magic the night will unfold.

I sincerely value my connection to Hammer and plan to stay connected for years to come!

Brand Strength: Have You Got the Goods?

By Tony Baisley, Director of Communication

martin patrick 3I’ve been thinking recently about what makes a brand successful. Is it snappy tag lines? Flashy ad campaigns? Or, simply a great product? Obviously, without the goods (or services), initial interest will eventually wane. Volvo did not become synonymous with safety, nor Nordstrom with customer service, without consistently outperforming their competitors. But the success of a brand is not solely measured in revenue generated. Brands can be near and dear to people’s hearts for myriad reasons. So, a few weeks ago I decided to take our two-person Communication department on an after-hours field trip.

Martin Patrick 3 is a men’s clothing and lifestyle boutique in Minneapolis’ North Loop. Being the denizens of good taste and all manner of beautiful things, they are also a personal favorite of mine. Because they are smart retailers and share a similar appreciation for quality brands, they recently hosted a “Behind the Brands” event featuring some of their own favorites. Although as different as night to day from the professional disability services we provide, I wanted to ask the brains behind these companies what they believed differentiated their brands from the pack.

First we talked to Eddie Wu, owner, of Cook St. Paul. This former ”Denver’s Best Bartender” decided he wanted a different path, so he moved back to town and opened his own restaurant on the east side of St. Paul. Mr. Wu introduced Cooks on the premises of a former restaurant that had served the community for more than 30 years. In other words, he had his work cut out for him. But slowly – and surely – he won over his new neighborhood with a goal to offer a range of traditional American Diner Classics at the highest level of quality. He shared stories of little old ladies stopping in for Gingerbread Pancakes because word on the street (literally) said they were amazing! And his brand is growing – he was recognized as one of the best new restaurants in the Twin Cities 2014.cook

Looking like a rockstar in that way only Californians can pull off, the namesake of Matias Denim quietly talked about his passion for meticulously hand-tailored “evolved denim” as his products were displayed around him. He acknowledged the difficulty competing against bigger brands, who regularly gobble up vast quantities of the raw materials needed for his jeans. He also spoke candidly of an opportunity he could have taken to sell his product in China – a very big stage indeed. He rejected it. He wanted to continue to offer unique and original apparel, not a pair of jeans billions could wear. This independent artisan had a clear sense of his brand, and I was grateful to hear the wisdom and originality of his plan.

matiasMaintaining a healthy curiosity about the world, events like these invigorate and inspire me to think about opportunities for my own organization. Hammer is blessed with a healthy internal culture. I think many would agree that we have a strong, positive brand within our industry and throughout the state (maybe even the U.S.). But, a brand doesn’t maintain its strength on its own. As a nonprofit organization, we cannot always pay professionals the salary they are worth, in my opinion. Hence, there is more turnover in this field than any of us would like admit. Just ask the developmentally disabled we support who count on these individuals for professional care and support. A byproduct of the work we do is developing relationships with those we serve. Therefore, it can be heartbreaking when someone leaves for a better paying job (or to a different industry altogether) because they need to better support themselves or their families. This is reality. Hopefully intangibles like job satisfaction, sense of empowerment, and belonging to the ”Hammer family” figure into the equation somehow. It certainly does for me. Yes, Hammer has the goods but we mustn’t get complacent if we want to continue to compete for the best talent in an industry that handles the most precious of products: human capital.

A World Opened Up

By Jan Hopper, Program Manager

Tristan LukanenTristan has lived at Hammer since 1978 when he was 10 years old. Like all of us, his life has changed as he aged. His family moved to Seattle, and he had to travel to see them (about once a year). These trips became the high point of his year and were his main topic of conversation. He would hardly return from a trip before he started talking about the next trip. This was no surprise, as his family always planned fun activities and travel when he was with them.

In meetings, his mother would talk about how Tristan loves to travel and is such a fun travel buddy. This started his staff thinking, maybe more travel during the year would give Tristan more topics of conversation and more events to look forward to sharing? The hesitation was, Tristan became anxious when alone in a group of people he didn’t know.

TL San Diego 2015 (2)Working with Hammer Travel, we arranged a custom trip for Tristan and two of his house mates – a fall train ride to Chicago for a weekend stay. The trip leader came and spent an evening with Tristan, getting to know him and talking about the trip. The funding for Tristan’s expenses was supplemented by Hammer’s Quality Of Life fund, as he didn’t have enough to afford everything himself. The trip was a huge success! Tristan had a new topic of conversation. He could discuss the trip before (“Do they have nice hotels in Chicago?”), and then tell everyone about it when he got back. We posted photos at the house, and he would point to them to discuss the trip.

Because the Chicago trip went so well, another was scheduled for San Diego earlier this spring. Tristan loves animals so the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park seemed to be perfect places for him to visit. He also loves the ocean and was excited to see it from the shores of California. This time, Tristan went without anyone he knew. The trip leader met with him twice and even went to dinner with him before the trip to make sure he was comfortable. He spent a lot of time talking about how the ocean might look or what animals he might see.

Again the trip was a success! He continues to talk about it, especially the ocean (“It is so big you can’t see the other side.”) and the big cage of birds he could walk through at the zoo. He liked the trip leaders, Lisa and Emily. On the way home from the airport he was telling me all about his trip. Just before we pulled in the driveway he became quiet for a minute. Then, with a smile he asked: “What makes Lisa’s smile so pretty? Is it her eyes?” I agreed that it was probably her eyes.

tristan travel

People that haven’t seen Tristan in a long time are commenting on how much chattier he is and the increase in his eye contact. His mother reports the same thing about her conversations with him on the phone. He is more social and talkative. He has stories to tell and places about which to talk.

Tristan is planning a trip to see his family soon, and he is talking about it…not with the same intensity as in the past. Now he has other things to talk about too – how big the ocean is, the birds at the zoo, the weather in San Diego or the hotels in Chicago. Because of travel, his world has opened up and he is living a fuller life. This was made possible with help from Hammer Travel and the Quality of Life fund that many of our donors generously support.

A Day at the Spa

By Lauren Pehler, Assistant Program Manager


The theme of last year’s Reach for Ralph benefit was “Making Dreams Comes True.” That evening, guests were able to help fund the dreams of a number of people Hammer serves. Robin, an individual I support, had a dream any lady would enjoy – a day at the spa. Her wish was generously granted by two generous donors for a day at New Reflections Spalon in Plymouth.

Robin was ecstatic about scheduling her day of pampering and relaxation. She chose to save it for one of the dog days of winter and had been looking forward to her day of beauty for months. So, on a chilly Wednesday in early March, Robin headed to the spa.


From the moment we entered the spa, the staff at New Reflections went above and beyond to treat Robin like a princess. Having never been to a spa before, Robin’s eyes lit up while we sat the waiting area. “Wow, this is so cool. I love it!” she said when she saw a large fish tank and elegant light fixtures. As you might imagine, I was loving all of this too! What’s better than sitting in the relaxing atmosphere of a spa seeing an individual you serve get so excited?
Robin’s day of beauty treatments included a massage, facial, haircut and manicure. The spa professionals (Sheri, Jaymee and Kimberly) each took extra time with Robin and went out of their way to connect with her, asking about her friends, family and cat. Robin got to choose the scents used for her massage and facial and even sang some favorite songs with her manicurist Sheri. After each service, Robin would come up to me and point to the employee exclaiming: “She’s my friend!” I had never seen Robin beaming with so much joy and happiness! At the end of her spa experience, the woman at the front desk asked what her favorite part of the day was. “The whole thing!” Robin replied enthusiastically.

rw spa2When I told Robin I would be writing about her day at the spa, I asked her if she had anything to say. She overwhelmingly responded: “Thank you very much!” It was clear that Robin wanted me to share her gratitude to the wonderful donors who made her dream come true at Reach for Ralph. It was rewarding to see Robin so happy and appreciative of the experience, As a Hammer employee, I too am grateful for the donors who continually make special opportunities and dreams come true for individuals like Robin.

We hope you join us at this year’s Reach for Ralph on Thursday, July 23!