Monthly Archives: December 2009

Highlighting Our Volunteers

 

Students from Apple Valley High School's AVID Program

 

submitted by Kath Pengelly, staffing and recruiting coordinator, Lifeworks Human Resources

On a warm day in early August, Theresa Kuhn, a teacher from the Apple Valley High School called to inquire about a community service opportunity for students in the AVID program at her school. We discussed options for a service event that could engage up to 20 students and settled on a holiday party at Lifeworks Burnsville on December 4, 2009.

I was curious to learn more about this AVID program and emailed Theresa back and forth over the remaining summer weeks and learned that AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It is a program for students who are in the academic middle. AVID places them in courses that help them become competitive and offer them greater choices for college.

At its core, AVID operates on the Socratic Method. Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher and teacher, believed that enabling students to think for themselves was more important than simply providing them with the correct answers. After reading more I wondered who I would meet the day of the party.

Students from the AVID Program

Lifeworks Burnsville Program Manager Lori Schluttenhofer and her team leads, Derek, Teckla, and Lori helped plan a holiday party that had a variety of activities either stationed in a particular spot at the Center or could travel on a cart room-to-room. Students were assigned in groups of two to the activities with instructions of what to do.

Prior to the start of the party we met with the students and talked about dignity and respect for people with disabilities and that the expectation of the party was fun. I asked the group if they had worked with people with disabilities before and everyone indicated this would be their first time. Our clients had no disappointments at the end of the day. Each student accepted their assignment with genuine sincerity and it was hard to believe that they had not done this before.

AVID students at the nail painting station at the Lifeworks Burnsville holiday party

I asked one student what they learned during the time spent with us and she said, “We are all just people, this was fun.” As they were leaving to go back to the school two students asked if they could start a pen pal program with the Lifeworks Burnsville clients and I said, “Sure, contact me about that.” Before the day was over there was an e-mail for me requesting a planning meeting at the Apple Valley High School to discuss how this new partnership can continue.

Lori and I have already had one meeting to discuss the pen pal program and we hope to have it launched the week of January 11, 2010.

I was so proud of our Lifeworks Burnsville staff the day of the party; yes we provided a great day for our clients, but we also helped to educate 20 new advocates for people with disabilities. You never know what opportunity awaits you when the phone rings. Thank you Theresa Kuhn for calling Lifeworks.

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More than a vacation

Photos of the Denmark travels

submitted by Mary Lenertz, director of Lifeworks Service Innovation

In October 2009, a group of clients and staff from Lifeworks traveled together to Denmark. Their itinerary included standard tourist fare, including Kronborg Castle (made famous in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) and Stroget, Europe’s largest pedestrian shopping street.

But the trip was more than a vacation. It was a cultural exchange that provided an opportunity to learn about services for people with disabilities in Denmark.

“One of the greatest aspects of the trip was the ability to witness a different culture though the lens of disability services,” says Adrian Freeman, training coordinator, Lifeworks Service Innovation, who served as the trip’s blogger, photographer and videographer. “On most trips people can travel around to see historic sites and eat delicious foods. We were able to do those things, but we were also able to see a specialized part of Denmark. It made the trip much more than a simple vacation. It made it life-changing and inspirational.”

The Denmark connection

For more than 15 years, Lifeworks has had a learning exchange with a company in Denmark called VASAC, which provides services to people with disabilities. Staff and clients from both agencies have visited each other’s programs 21 times since 1994. This particular trip was inspired by an invitation from VASAC for Lifeworks to attend the Grand Prix of Handicapped Bands, a Danish music festival featuring 10 bands comprised of people with disabilities.

This is the fourth time Lifeworks has invited people with disabilities to travel to Denmark. Most of the travelers on this trip had never been outside of the United States and were excited for the opportunity to go to Europe. Many clients described the journey as the trip of a lifetime. Families of clients liked knowing that their loved ones were traveling with Lifeworks staff that they knew and trusted.

And they’re off!

Prior to departure, the travelers got together several times to get to know each other, get comfortable with the staff, and learn about Danish language and culture. This preparation helped make everyone involved more comfortable. As families dropped off their loved ones at the airport, there was an air of excitement and not worry.

The Denmark travelers outside the Danish Parliament

Once in Denmark, the Lifeworks group took advantage of many preplanned tours and activities, visiting famous Danish landmarks. A highlight for the group was visiting Kronborg Castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Another highlight was watching the changing of the guards at Fredensborg Slot Palace, where the Crown Prince of Denmark lives with his family. The group also toured Copenhagen by canal boat and shopped on Stroget, the famous walking street. A favorite experience for many in the group was riding a ferry from Kronborg Castle to Sweden. Many of the travelers were of Swedish descent and were thrilled to visit the land of their ancestors for even a few hours.

In addition to traditional tourist activities, the Lifeworks group toured programs for people with disabilities, which provided an opportunity to interact with the locals. The group toured six VASAC programs. Each was unique, with its own way of blending into the community. The programs included a secondhand shop, a coffee shop at a museum, a café in a library, a graphic design and embroidery shop, a candle making shop, and a variety of center-based work. VASAC was most proud to show Lifeworks their community employment sites, as they were developed after VASAC staff came to Minnesota and toured Lifeworks.

Visiting a VASAC job site

Visiting a VASAC job site

A resounding success

Back in Minnesota, all the travelers agreed the trip was wonderful and they would go back again. Perhaps the highest compliment came from Aaron Valdez, a client who had gone on the trip only because his mother kept telling him that it was a trip of a lifetime. Aaron told staff “It was a great trip” — high praise from an individual not known for this type of expression.

The group will reunite in January to share photos and foster the new friendships that blossomed more than 4,000 miles from home.

To learn more, visit the trip’s blog at lifeworksdenmark.blogspot.com.

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Reflections on Being Sick in Denmark

   

Being Sick In Denmark  

Adrian Freemansubmitted by Adrian Freeman, training coordinator, Lifeworks Service Innovation  

In the last few months, Lifeworks has spent a good amount of social media space discussing our recent trip to Denmark.  We have a “Lifeworks Goes to Denmark” blog, numerous Facebook entries, Tweets, website announcements, and just about every digital communication paradigm you can think of.  Just announcing the trip has been exciting, not to mention the actual trip itself.  If you want all the details you can check them out at our blog.  All that stuff is worth an eyeball but, I thought that in this blog entry, I could be a little more personal.  A little more reflective.  I would like to talk about the day Jeff Perlman and I stayed back from the rest of the group and had a Danish Sunday at home.  

Jeff in Denmark

Jeff during our travels in Denmark

Just a little history first.  In October of 2009, a group of 26 people traveled to Denmark from Lifeworks.  We had 15 Lifeworks clients, one Lifeworks client’s roommate, six Lifeworks staff, one personal attendant, one assistant band director, one service innovation director, and one Lifeworks president.  Say that seven times really fast, it would take all day.  We spent seven glorious days traveling overseas and touring a beautiful country.  We saw legendary sites such as Hamlet’s castle.  We toured many program locations that serve adults with developmental disabilities just like Lifeworks.  We saw a Battle of the Bands, and we had the time of our lives.  Again for greater detail, check out the blog.  

Now, on to the personal reflection.  One gentleman that was rooming with me was Jeff Pearlman.  You may have heard of him.  He was awarded a personal achievement award from Lifeworks in 2008, he has run numerous marathons, he works independently at Whole Foods through Lifeworks, and he is an all around great guy.  He is a little bit of a Lifeworks legend.  Check out a video of him on our YouTube page if you like.   

Anyhow, Jeff caught something called Mysterious Travel Abroad Sickness.  It happens to the best of us, and is assured to happen to at least one unsuspecting traveler in any group.  This is when someone who is traveling to a distant country gets mysteriously ill for no apparent reason and just as mysteriously better in about 24-36 hours.  On this trip Jeff was the victim.  It manifested in the middle of the night with great vigor and much clamor.  I won’t go into any unnecessary details, but there was no doubt as to the fact that the Mysterious Travel Abroad Sickness had struck.  

Jeff in the sunshine

Jeff getting some sunshine therapy while sick in Denmark

The next morning, the group was getting set for one of the trip’s grand adventures.  Going to Kornberg castle and Sweden!  Jeff was a true trooper, and he and I decided to stay back for the day.  Jeff was worried about getting other people sick and possibly getting sick on various artifacts in the castle.  So, the gang was off without us.  We were initially bummed, and it did turn out to be many travelers’ favorite day (check the other blog), but we also ended up having a wonderful day as well.  Maybe it was the best day for Jeff and me.  

Denmark Sights

What we saw on our sick day

When I returned to the states, I was wondering what made the day so special.  I was pretty sure it was not the professional badminton we watched on TV, but that was pretty cool.  I don’t think it was the “Mere Smag” Pâté we had extra portions of.  I am not sure if it was even our journey down to the scenic North Sea, even though I will never forget the sight.  I think, in the end, it was all of those things put together.   We were able to experience something that most people never get to experience.  We got to have a typical Danish Sunday.  I mean, we did what probably a lot of Danes did that day.  We slept in.  We watched the local team trounce the rival at an esteemed sporting event.  We watched football (soccer) highlights.  We ate leftovers.  We went for a stroll in the neighborhood.  We had weighty conversations about life.  We did all those little things that add up to magic.  It was like Mysterious Travel Abroad Sickness was sent to us on purpose.  It gave us a true blessing.  Since Jeff went through all the trials of being sick he might have a different opinion.  You will have to ask him.

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