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.
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.
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.