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.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Volunteers

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Volunteers

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Volunteers

2012 Lifeworks Self-Advocacy Summit: Influencing Change

submitted by James Houck, marketing assistant

Influencing change in the world starts with using your own voice. On a sunny September morning, Lifeworks self-advocates and staff from seven different program locations- Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Burnsville, Eagan, Hastings, Minneapolis and Mankato, began to arrive at Mayflower Community Church in Minneapolis to learn about and rally around self-empowerment and creating positive change in the community.

Individuals with disabilities are greatly impacted by decisions made though our political system. This year’s Lifeworks Self Advocacy Summit, “Influencing Change,” focused on how people with disabilities can use their own voices and personal stories to help politicians understand what kinds of support they need from the government.

Anni Simons at the speaking podium

Keynote speaker, Anni Simons, speaking at the 2012 Lifeworks Self-Advocacy Summit

The keynote speaker, Anni Simons, inspired the group with her message of self-empowerment and call to political action. Anni is a senior policy and program manager for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, an organization that supports access to needed services, empowerment and choice, and quality of care for people with disabilities. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Madison with her B.A. in Social Work, and from the Columbia University School of Social Work in New York City with her M.A. in Social Policy.

Anni’s prominent message was that people with disabilities have the most power to advocate on their own behalf to politicians. She shared that during legislative sessions where voting occurs around issues that impact people with disabilities, politicians are strongly influenced by the personal stories that people share when considering how to vote. Stories of struggle, success, and positive life changes carry the most heartfelt impact and give ammo to convince others in the political arena to support them. Anni articulated this point by saying, “It will be hard for people to involve us in change if we’re not being clear about what we want to see.”

Anni passionately urged everyone in the room to make appointments, write letters, send emails, and make phone calls to their representatives. She asserted that we all have power to make change, but that we must also act on our own behalf to realize that power,

“If we want to make sure that changes happen in a way that we would like, we’re going to have to be involved.”

Aside from sharing personal stories, another way that Anni suggests to get involved is to join work groups. Work groups are formed by the state whenever changes to legislation are proposed. The work groups are mostly populated with citizens whom the proposed changes would affect. During meetings, each member gets to weigh in on the issues in question and share their opinion of how the proposed legislation should or shouldn’t be enacted.

Anni also shared that a big way we can enact change is to vote for politicians who we believe will listen to us and work to pass legislation in our benefit. This involves being educated on the issues and making the effort to get out and vote.

Anni Simons and Lifeworks self-advocate David Spragg deep in conversation at the summit.

When Anni finished speaking, the room erupted with eager cheers and clapping. Lori Horstman, client from Lifeworks Bloomington excitedly proclaimed, “Oh, I liked her! She was a very good speaker!” Lori’s enthusiasm mirrored the collective positivity that was mounting throughout the room. I later had the chance to speak with David Spragg, Lifeworks Brooklyn Park self-advocate, about why being a self-advocate is important to him. He commented, “I would like to see people with disabilities get out of their homes and be a part of their community and see what they can do- be a part of the change rather than just having other people make the changes.” David also proclaimed his own dedication for self-advocating by saying,

“I want to be a part of the change, so it’s not just their voice- it’s my voice too.”

Annie Smith (left) and Kath Pengelly (right), serving lunch

The group then took a break to enjoy a delicious lunch from Jimmy John’s served by warm and friendly Lifeworks staff, Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator, Annie Smith, client services coordinator, and Vicki Gerrits, vice president of service development and family and government relations.

Lifeworks self-advocates designing their art squares to display during trips to the capitol

When finished eating their lunches, clients had the opportunity to participate in an art project. Every client was asked to pick up a pens and markers and draw or write about what’s important to them on a fabric square. The squares will then be sewn together into a giant flag which will be displayed during trips to the capitol by Lifeworks self-advocates when the legislative session starts this January.

Self-advocates from Lifeworks Mankato presented on Temple Grandin and included a model of the “hug machine” that she invented.

After lunch and designing art squares, several Lifeworks self-advocate groups took to the stage to share PowerPoint presentations on their favorite and most inspiring advocates and leaders of change. Lifeworks Brooklyn Park clients educated the group on Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Mother Teresa. Lifeworks Hastings clients shared their interest in Abraham Lincoln and his part in the abolition of slavery. Lifeworks Mankato clients brought to life the story of Temple Grandin by including several posters and even a life-sized model of the deep-pressure device invented by Grandin to help calm hyper-sensitive persons, especially those with Autism.

Following the PowerPoint presentations, there was a rally led by Vicki Gerrits, Anni Simons, and Nathan Voltz, program supervisor at Lifeworks St. Paul. Through motivational words and expressive gestures, including call and response chanting, each speaker enthused the eager group of Lifeworks self-advocates to engage with the political system by voting and sharing their stories of struggle and triumph with their representatives.

As a further point of rallying the group and unifying the conviction to advocate, clients were encouraged to sign a poster board that says, “I commit to influencing change.” By signing the poster board, Lifeworks self-advocates solidified their resolve to advocate on their own behalf and influencing change.

Lifeworks self-advocates lining up to sign the, “I commit to influencing change,” poster board

At the end of the summit, I spoke briefly with Anni. She commented that she really enjoys getting out into the community to share her passion for self-advocacy with others. Part of her job is to attend legislative sessions and stay current with relevant politics, but she is also fueled to make personal connections with the individuals she advocates for. She said that at the end of the day, all of this advocating and political influence boils down to transformation. Decisions made by our legislation directly affect all of us. Anni believes that advocating for yourself and others has a positive, powerful effect on your community,

“It’s all about changing people’s lives.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Client Stories, Volunteers

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Volunteers