Thursdays at Lifeworks Eagan

Submitted by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator at Lifeworks

We have had the enormous pleasure of hosting students from the Spectrum program at Cretin Derham High School for more than ten years. Each September a new group of students come to spend Thursdays at Lifeworks Eagan. Some of them have previous experience being with people with disabilities, but for many of them this is a first. Each week the students come for one and a half hours. This year there were six in the group.

photo2It is always interesting when the new students start, some are comfortable immediately and others shy and apprehensive about striking up a conversation or joining in an activity. As the months go by you see everyone including us feeling more at ease with one another, welcoming one another as they come through the doors. Then as we near the end of May when the school year begins to wind down, we know it will soon be time to say goodbye and send these young people off to their next life adventure. This is a bittersweet time.

They leave behind memories that we treasure. Some come back either to work with us or volunteer during breaks from school and work, all of them leave a lasting mark. I asked the students to spend a few minutes with me this last week to reflect on their Lifeworks experience.

What was the best part of being with us, I asked.

  • “Connecting with others, becoming familiar with everyone, building relationships and making friends.” These were the responses repeated by all of the students.photo3

Did you have any surprises while you were with us, I wondered.

  • “I was surprised by the amount of technology used by the clients.” “The drive of human nature to communicate and the ease that the staff have at understanding what people are saying even when they don’t use words to speak.” “I started out feeling that this was a mandatory service time for me and instead Thursday became my favorite day of the week because I could come to Lifeworks.”

Finally I asked if this experience has changed the way you think about disabilities.

  • “This was eye opening for me, I learned to never stereotype people.” I was shy at first and felt out of my element but learned that we are all just people.” “I learned to slow down and just enjoy the time here.” 

photoWe wish all of you the best as you begin this next chapter in your lives; it has been a pleasure to spend time with Jimmy, Joe, Henry, Emma, Annalisa and Matthew. We truly enjoyed getting to know you and learning about your lives, hobbies and career goals. Thank you for playing board games with us, doing art work and just hanging out. You will always be welcome at Lifeworks, take care.

Our relationship with Cretin Derham follows a cycle and while we are sad to say goodbye we know there will be another group of wonderful students ready to begin in September. Thank you Cretin Derham for teaching the importance of building community.

If you would like to volunteer at Lifeworks please contact me at or call me 651-365-3720.


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Marbles Everywhere and No One Has Lost Them

submitted by: Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator

A wonderful partnership has formed in Hastings at the Hastings Senior Center. Once a month our Hastings clients gather at the Senior Center to hear about a hobby or collection from one of the very active seniors who attend the Senior Center.

Lifeworks volunteers Bill and Ann Sylvander

Lifeworks volunteers Bill and Ann Sylvander

I had the pleasure of joining the group at the last presentation which was given by Bill Sylvander and his wife Ann, all about marbles. Bill’s marble stash is just one of fourteen passions that Bill collects. All of us listening to him left amazed that there was so much to know about marbles.

Did you know that marbles date back to ancient times? Marbles have been made from glass, clay, steel, plastic or agate. One marble aficionado, claims that he holds in his possession a marble from the tomb of King Tut.

IMG_1614While we primarily think of them being used for games, they have also been used as a voting method and even ship ballast. Bill explained that in years past people used white marbles to vote in favor of a candidate and a black marble to indicate against, hence the term “blackballed.” The term “losing your marbles,” was originally intended to indicate that you had played a game and lost your possessions.

IMG_1617The first marbles in the United States came in the hulls of ships bringing goods to the colonists. They were used as ballast to balance the center of gravity but once the ship landed they were sold to the general public to use as a toy.

Bill first began his collection in 1980. He was at an auction and saw a five gallon jar of marbles. He thought, “I want that”.  Someone else won the bid and Bill came home empty handed but filled with intrigue about marbles. Today he has thousands of marbles and scores of marble paraphernalia. We learned about German Swirls, Cat Eyes, Moonies, Purees, Steelies, Oxbloods, Lutz and the coveted Onionskin.

Partnering with the Senior Center in Hastings has allowed us to learn about the hobbies, collections, and interests of other members of the Hastings community. We have learned about woodcarving, Match Box Cars and hunting. We have been the appreciative audience soaking up new information about things we have never considered. People like Bill and Ann have had a chance to share with others the things that bring them passion.

Bill speaking to clients about marbles

Bill speaking to clients about marbles

Now that Bill shared that he has thirteen other collections we are excited to think about what we might see next month. Chris Runtsch from Lifeworks Hastings has also been invited to be a presenter. Chris, too, is collector and willing to share with others his passion for collecting. In January of 2013, he will take the floor and talk about his Lego collection.

In the meantime I think I might just go home and look through my drawers to see if I still have any marbles. It could be fun to start playing again.

Thank you Bill and Ann Sylvander for sharing your enthusiasm and collection, and thank you Mary O’Brien and Laurie Thrush from the Hastings Senior Center for helping us form this very special partnership.

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Meet Kenna: Finding Balance – school, work, play, and Lifeworks

Lifeworks volunteer Kenna Wieczorek

by: Kath Pengelly, volunteer & advocate coordinator

Kenna Wieczorek is attending Minnesota State University in Mankato with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. This fall she needed twenty service learning hours for Human Relations in a Multi-Cultural Society class. She contacted Lifeworks wondering if we could help her complete the required hours.

Some days she played games, helped with art projects, and set up lunches, and some days she was a listening friend to someone who just wanted to talk. She fulfilled the twenty hour requirement weeks ago but continues to come. I wondered what motivates a busy person like Kenna who is trying to balance school, work, National Honor Society, and family to continue to volunteer.

 Kenna explained to me that Lifeworks has provided her with an eye-opening experience. Prior to her time with us, she has only known one person who has autism. Now she has a completely different outlook regarding the term disability. Kenna had this to say,

“After volunteering with Lifeworks for the past two months my whole perception of people with disabilities has changed. They are so much more than whatever disability they have. They are each so kind and caring and show it in their own way. Interacting with their unique personalities is what I look forward to when I go there. I think what Lifeworks is and what it stands for is a great thing. Giving people the opportunity to feel important by helping them with jobs and giving them the opportunity to socialize and learn throughout the day is so good for them as individuals.”

I asked Kenna if she thinks she will continue to come to Lifeworks after this semester is over even though she is busy. She responded, “Yes, I definitely think so. I keep coming because I enjoy it so much. As long as my crazy schedule allows, I think I will keep volunteering here. I like knowing that I am helping the staff and that I might be brightening some of the clients days when I’m there, it makes me feel good.”

Interns, volunteers, and service learners, both individuals and groups play a vital role in the day-to-day workings of Lifeworks and enhance our ability to assist people with disabilities in creating the lives they want to live. Each opportunity is unique! Join us like Kenna did for a minimum of 20 hours and maybe you will stay with us too.

Please call Kath Pengelly at 651-365-3720 or email me at

Kenna volunteering with Lifeworks Mankato clients

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The EMT’s Are Here – And No One Dialed 911

Submitted by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator at Lifeworks

There have been a lot of folks in uniforms at the Eagan center these past two months. During September and October, we have had the pleasure of hosting a total of twenty seven EMT students from Inver Hills Community College.

This wonderful partnership provided an opportunity for the students to meet and interact with a diverse population and it has given our clients and staff a chance to spend time with medical personal in a non emergency setting.

Inver Hills Community College EMT student volunteers in uniform

On our first day in early September, the EMT students were treated to a bagpiper parade and jumped right in to help our clients be part of the parade route. Since then the EMT students have helped with art projects, played board games and joined us at bowling. In addition, they have talked to the clients at Eagan about how and when to dial 911, what blood pressure is and facts about hygiene.

This week I checked in with both our staff and the students to ask for feedback. Here’s what I got. The students have enjoyed their time with us, appreciated the chance to learn more about the personal interests of our folks and affirm that we are all unique individuals. Our staff said that the first day that the students came some clients were very anxious and concerned that there was an emergency in the building and now at week eight the response was, ”Oh good, they’re here again. What are we going to do today?”

So our goal of creating a level of comfort between the consumer and the first responder has been met, but more importantly we have had fun together, laughed together and learned from each other. Maybe if there is an emergency in the future and one of these students is the responder the potential anxiety of our clients will be lessened and the knowledge base of the EMT will be expanded.

Thank you to these future Paramedics, their quick thinking, courage and training will take them to many places, we appreciate their willingness to spend time with us.

We also appreciate Tia Radant, Director of Emergency Services Programs, Tina Mininni, Adjunct Faculty and Katie Halcrow, Director of Service Learning for thinking outside the box and making this experience available to us.

The whole group of EMT student volunteers

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Putting the Garden to Bed

Submitted by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator at Lifeworks

In a quiet corner of Theodore Wirth Park sits the one-acre J.D. Rivers’ Children’s Garden. For the past four months, clients from our Brooklyn Park location have participated in this community garden.

From late-May to late-September, volunteers from a variety of groups  plant, weed, water, compost, harvest, prepare, sample and take home the garden produce, such as vegetables, herbs, and a little bit of fruit and flowers. Extra produce is donated to a local food shelf.

At work in the garden

The June air was cool and crisp when I first visited the Lifeworks clients while they tended to the delicate new vegetable plants. Today was a picture perfect sunny fall day as they pulled the last tomatoes from the vines and stripped the leaves of kale from their stalks. Piles of dried and withered plants lay stacked at the end of the rows.

I asked the group what they liked best about volunteering at the garden and the answers came quickly. “Doing garden work.” “Being in the sun.” “Fun.” “Picking the harvest.”

I always like to balance the best and the least favorite part of any activity so I also asked what they liked least. Everyone agreed that the hardest part was watering the plants. This year these plants took a lot of water.

Callie Recknagel, Minneapolis Park and Recreation employee, is one of the staff that supervises our work, teaches us about vegetable gardens, and gives us tastes of the harvest. I asked Callie if we make a contribution to the success of the garden project. She said having us in the garden is definitely helpful. So I guess many hands make light work makes sense.

This is our third year at J.D. Rivers garden. Today’s harvest will go to benefit the Brian Coyle food shelf. Lifeworks clients are proud of their volunteer efforts throughout our organization. Last year they gave almost 8,000 hours of volunteer time to a variety of places like J.D. Rivers.  There is an old Spanish proverb that says,

“More grows in the garden than the gardener sows.”

How very true. We have learned about the plant cycle, we have helped others, and we have made new friends.

I asked one final question to the group, do you want to come back again next year? “Oh, yes,” was the emphatic response. Soon the leaves will fall and the snow will cover the garden beds and Lifeworks clients will join millions of others who dream of the day that they can go back to a garden to start the growing cycle again. Thank you J.D. Rivers Garden for sharing this opportunity with us.

Lifeworks Brooklyn Park clients in the garden

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Allianz and the Great Brooklyn Park Get Together

Submitted by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator

Rogers and Hammerstein said it best, “Our State Fair is a great state fair, don’t miss it, don’t even be late.” A huge thank you goes out to employees from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America for bringing the magic of a great state fair to life at our Brooklyn Park center.

We had most of the necessary state fair ingredients, games of skill and dexterity, art, funny photo opportunities, nail spa, but most important of all – food on a stick! Our food on a stick was a donut hole complete with frosting and sprinkles.

Allianz volunteer painting Lifeworks client Naty Holguin’s fingernails

Allianz currently employs twelve Lifeworks clients in a variety of jobs but wondered how else they could be involved at Lifeworks. I offered up the idea of a party, and they were on board immediately.  Having volunteers take the responsibility of running the various games, photos, crafts and food stations, allowed Lifeworks staff to help our clients enjoy the day to the fullest.

There were smiles all around for the entire day and the fair will be long remembered. A thousand thank yous to the Allianz volunteers

Lifeworks client Judy Carnahan playing the super soaker bottle knock down game

for helping make a memory that will last until the snow flies. Now I wonder if next year I could add a cheese curd stand?

On behalf of all the Brooklyn Park fair goers, thank you! Rogers and Hammerstein go on to sing, “Its dollars to doughnuts at our state fair, it’s the best state fair in the state.” Absolutely!

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Taking a Break With Melanie Horner

Submitted by Kath Pengelly, Lifeworks volunteer and advocate coordinator

Once a week, Tuesdays at noon to be precise, Melanie Horner never misses lunch and we are so glad. Melanie uses her lunch break from Northwestern Mutual in Mendota Heights to volunteer at our Lifeworks Eagan center.

Melanie volunteering on her lunch break at Lifeworks Eagan, working on art crafts

She first came to Lifeworks three years ago to help at a holiday party while she was working for a different employer. This year, she began working for Northwestern Mutual and discovered that she could use her lunch break to volunteer, so she reconnected with us to help during a weekly art class.

I asked Melanie what she liked best about spending Tuesdays with us, and she said she enjoys sharing her personal hobbies and interests with us. She and our clients and staff have a common passion for exploring eclectic crafts. The day that I caught up with her they were using photographs and card stock to make postcards for friendship notes.

“It is so nice to have this to look forward to each week, it is my get away to do good,” she said. She was quick to add, “I have a very flexible boss and he helps to make this possible.” Melanie added, “Jean, the staff that I work with, has great ideas, has everything organized, this is so easy to do during my work day.”

Studies have shown that people who take a break for lunch from work feel rejuvenated when they return, experience less stress and may be more focused on their tasks.

We benefit in so many ways by Melanie’s generosity, having her with us allows extra one to one support for the crafters. Our clients talk about Tuesday,” Melanie is coming”, and smiles are everywhere when she walks in the room. Her gift is more than the hour, it is genuine camaraderie.

How about you? Do you have an hour that you would like to share with others? Please call me at 651-365-3720 or email me at Take a break.

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