Category Archives: Client Stories

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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Breathe Just Breathe

Submitted by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator at Lifeworks

“Lift your arms, let’s do some breath work. Try to keep your balance and don’t forget to breathe.” That’s Kristen Blinkhorn, our yoga instructor from the Prairie Yoga School in Eden Prairie talking to our Bloomington clients. Every Monday morning Kristen comes, sometimes alone and sometimes with Stephanie Braunwarth to help us stretch and work on balance, but most of all, relax.  

Yoga instructor and Lifeworks volunteer, Kristen Blinkhorn

Kristen responded to a volunteer posting I had placed on a volunteer website, Yoga Instructor Wanted sometime last March. She explained that she and Stephanie were students at Prairie Yoga studying to become instructors. Part of their education is to also bring the practice of yoga to underserved populations. It was the perfect match for us, I thought. 

Kristen and Stephanie have been coming now for seven weeks, and when I asked what surprised them most about the people in their class, Kristen said, “I was very surprised that several in the group have previous knowledge of yoga. I had never considered that they might already be practitioners.” But she quickly went on to say, “I try to teach them one new thing each week, they are so willing to try new poses and work on focus and concentration…Of course, everyone’s favorite pose is shavasana, the relaxation pose at the end of all yoga sessions.” 

Ethel Cartier, our Bloomington Program Supervisor, talked about the benefits of having Kristen and Stephanie volunteer with us. “Everyone looks forward to Monday and doing yoga, it helps our clients with flexibility. They are so appreciative and it has a wonderful calming effect on the group. It is a great way to start the week.”

Lifeworks clients practicing yoga at Lifeworks Bloomington

I also asked the clients in the class what they liked best about doing yoga. Renita was quick to say,” It makes me feel great, for my whole body.” Ryan added, “I think it helps my attitude.” And finally Sarah chimed in, “I like everything.” 

Each class session ends with the instructors facing the class, everyone’s hands flat, palms together at chest level, a small bow and then the word, Namaste.” Namaste, derived from Sanskrit, can be used as a greeting or as a farewell but here I want to use it as a thank you. Thank you Kristen and Stephanie for volunteering with us, your gentle spirits have created memories that will linger forever.   

If you would like to volunteer at Lifeworks, I can guarantee that there is someone who would like to learn about your talents, interests and hobbies. Please call me, Kath Pengelly, at 651-365-3720 or send me an email,

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Lifeworks Social Skills at Anoka Technical College

Lifeworks client Tavarrus Robinson smiling on graduation day

Submitted by Kath Pengelly, Lifeworks volunteer and advocate coordinator 

Do you remember your first days at college, finding your way from classroom to classroom, deciding what the best thing to eat in the cafeteria was or remembering to turn in your assignments on time? In September 2011, Lifeworks began a partnership with Anoka Technical College to offer a similar college experience for clients wanting to work on their social skills. A series of classes were developed to cover a broad variety of topics including: reading and understanding nonverbal cues, addressing a problem, how to politely interrupt and finally, “the business lunch.”

Fast forward to April 2012 – This week I had the pleasure of attending a graduation ceremony for the second group of Lifeworks clients who have completed the eight week long Business Social Skills class. Thirteen Lifeworks clients along with their staff attended this series. 

The Lifeworks classroom sign at Anoka Tech

I watched with curiosity and interest as the instructors led our group through the last session which included a mock interview. “Watch for eye contact, good posture, tone of voice and smiles,” said both Craig Asche and Jean Juelich, the college instructors. At first I was not sure if everyone was listening to the instructions, but it was clear that they were at full attention as I listened to the critiques, “Good eye contact Tavarras.” “Good job on your smile, Judy.” “You look very nice today, Steven.” 

Good reminders to all of us. Practical information that will contribute to success for everyone- make eye contact, be an active listener, and most importantly, smile. I can say without a doubt that everyone’s face wore a smile as each student accepted their certificate of completion from Jean and Craig.  

In the next few weeks, Lifeworks program supervisor, Angi Reisdorf, will be meeting with the Anoka Technical College instructors to plan future classes. We want to foster a culture of lifelong learning for all people. Everyone benefits from continually building their skills and knowledge whether it is through experiences or classes. There is a Chinese Proverb that says,

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

Thank you Anoka Technical College for partnering with Lifeworks, who knows what treasure lies behind those doors.

Left to right: Lifeworks staff Jamie Kauppi and Andrew Felicilda, Lifeworks client Judy Carnahan, and Anoka Tech instructors Craig Asche and Jean Juelich


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Our Band Is Cool

Submitted by Jennie Delisi, music therapist/therapeutic services coordinator

With excitement and some nervousness, the band members of the AT Real-Time Band waited in the lobby of Augsburg College’s Foss Chapel for their turn to present.  They had prepared for weeks:  getting their powerpoint presentation together, practicing their songs, and planning out the event.  Like pros they got to the stage and set up.  This presentation was for the Spring Conference of the Music Therapy Association of Minnesota, and though they have played at conferences before, this was their first time doing a presentation and playing.  They did a fantastic job as they told the history of their band, how much fun they have had, and the surprises they have had along the way.

Clinicians afterward approached the band leader to tell her how inspired they were by seeing the band play and hearing their story directly from them.  They hoped to try having a similar band at their facilities, such as with individuals on ventilators.  They were excited to go back to their facilities and try different ways to use assistive technology to increase people’s independence to create and play music.

Below are the band members’ slides from their presentation.  The band performed Tequila and If I Had A Million Dollars.  A special thank-you on behalf of the band to the group home staff and family members who supported them to get to this event, as well as to Lifeworks staff:  Leah, Kelly, Annie and Jenna.  Stay tuned for an announcement about our next gig, coming soon!

lifeworks A.T. band slideshow

lifeworks A.T. band slideshow

lifeworks A.T. band slideshow

lifeworks A.T. band slideshow

lifeworks A.T. band slideshow

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The Lifeworks 2011 Holiday Choir and Variety Show

Submitted by Adrian Freeman, interactive marketing and communications specialist, Lifeworks

What is the power of 20 red and green holiday clad singers belting out their favorite Christmas carols? How would someone go about grading the energy of the 2011 Holiday Choir and Variety Show? Can such a thing even be measured? We may not have an accurate measurement like horse power or Fahrenheit for such things.  We simply do not have a system to measure holiday cheer with any certainty.  That said, there was magic in the room at St. Luke Presbyterian church on a hazy, warm December morning in the deep and quaint backstreets of Wayzeta.  Holiday cheer was present in abundance, along with a good bit of joy, glee, exuberance, and maybe even a tad of jocundity.  It was electric. If it does indeed need to be measured, let’s just say it scores 101 whiskers on the Santa Beard Scale of Cheer. That means it was good.

Lifeworks Holiday Choir

The Lifeworks Holiday Choir from left to right: Johanna Schmidt, Jenna Horgan, Tavarrus Robinson, Judy Carnahan, Shelli Wickstrom, Jennifer Roache, Johnathan Straub, Alex Kim, Anna Phillips, Lori Schaller, Nicole Laufers, Heather Schullo, Racheal Crandall, Caleb Rasmussen, Angela Balfanz, Aaron Godzala, Sarah Debbins, Charles Duffney, Dustin Kiefer, Lindie Seleen, Andrea Hoopman

The 2011 Holiday Choir and Variety Show was a delight to those who attended and those who participated alike.  The show included holiday favorite songs like “Jingle Bells”, “Joy to the World”, and “Dreidel”, as well as dancing, comedy, a piano solo, artwork, and more.  The large center of worship was filled with family, friends, peers, and nearly the entire Lifeworks finance team, who reveled in the performance with cheers and applause. Heather Schullo, choir singer, said this of the show,

“It brought everyone together, and I think everyone really enjoyed themselves.  We worked really hard and came a long way, it was so much fun!”

Lifeworks Heather Schullo

Heather Schullo looking calm and confident before the performance

This was the general attitude of all the performers concerning the show.  For many it was their way of saying thank you to the community by giving the gift of holiday cheer to others. Some had a special reason for singing in the show.  Lindie Seleen said

“I hope I sang well.  My dad was in the audience, and I was singing for him the whole time.”

The 2011 Holiday Choir and Variety Show was the brain child of Jenna Horgan, music therapist at lifeworks, Service Facilitator Johanna Schmidt, and individuals served at lifeworks Brooklyn Park. This group of talented people with various abilities and expertise devised the Holiday Choir and Variety Show as a way to embrace performance while giving back to the community.  Originally, Jenna had the idea of a choir as a way to enhance services at Lifeworks Brooklyn Park. Singing has always been her thing, and as a musical therapist she understood that a choir could go a long way to further the goals of many people served at Lifeworks.  She approached Lifeworks Brooklyn Park as a potential home base to populate her choir, and there she was directed to Johanna.  Johanna, a long time fan of Lifeworks Brooklyn Park performance in all its forms, had been organizing a holiday variety show for the last few years.  This turned out to be a perfect match.  Jenna was looking for participants for her choir, Johanna had been organizing performers at Lifeworks Brooklyn Park, and those served at Brooklyn Park were chewing at the bit for an opportunity like the Holiday Choir to perform.

Lifeworks Jenna and Johanna

Johanna and Jenna, the Holiday Choir and Variety Show organizers celebrating after a job well done.

Before the show, the choir and performers were both professional and pumped up.  Everyone was decked out in either red or green attire to show that the holiday spirit was alive.  Caleb, an experienced singer, was a model performer sporting an elegant button top colored red Polo sweater and green tie.  Everyone was in their season’s finest, a site to behold.  The mood was jovial, smiles being the preferred expression.  Surprisingly, everyone was calm with only a smattering of tense, anxious energy.  This was because Johanna and Jenna had run a tight practicing ship in preparation.  This was no “get up and sing” improv concert, this was hard work, training, and preparation.  The laid back attitude of the participants was evidence to this point.

Lifeworks Holiday Crowd

The crowd enjoying the Lifeworks Holiday Choir

Kath Pengelly, Lifeworks volunteer/advocate coordinator handed out programs and showed guests to their seats.  With grace and poise she greeted arrivals and marveled at the turnout.  Many Lifeworks locations came out to see the concert.  Even Lifeworks Hasting showed up, braving the hour long winter drive to Wayzeta.  Many parents and family members were happy to attend and catch up with acquaintances before the show.  Judy Lysne, Lifeworks president and CEO was excited to see so many familiar faces and visit with old friends.

Lifeworks Holiday Solo

Jingle Bells performed by the Lifeworks Holiday Choir

The show began in a hush as Jenna quietly took the conducting stand and gestured for her choir to rise. The choir stood, lifting their matching red music folders and sang.  As voices filled the room with song, the audience’s attention was absolute.  Smiles and looks of adoration decorated the face of the watchers and camera flashes twinkled like tiny stars on a Christmas night. Each song progressed with skill and passion.  Many songs included solos by select singers.  After one such shared solo by Caleb and Aaron Godzala, they shook hands to congratulate each other for a job well done.  It was a touching moment.  The variety aspect of the show was a refreshing change of pace, adding a sense of adventure to the morning.  Dustin tickled the audience’s humor with his holiday jokes, a moving piano solo was performed by Alex Kim, and a special dance and drum performance was particularly tasteful.  Even posters for the show were made specially by Charles Duffney.

Lifeworks Holiday Choir

Soloists Caleb Rasmussen and Aaron Godzala knock it out of the park

The show ended with a standing ovation that obviously touched the performer’s hearts.  As the clapping died away, friends and family nearly barreled over each other in an attempt to reach the choir and congratulate them for a job well done.  The scene was suddenly filled with hugs, high-fives, and handshakes.  Angela VanKeulen met with her friend Judy Carnahan and said “You did such a good job, I had no idea you had such a good voice, but once you got the microphone I could hear it.  It was well done.” Caleb reflected about his experience, and had this to say about the choir,

“Singing is important because it helps other feel  good, and helps me do well in life.”

Now, the choir is continuing their journey.  They are in the process of learning new songs for their next show, soon to be determined.  Keep an eye here on this blog and also on the Lifeworks Facebook page to get information about upcoming shows for the Lifeworks Choir.

Watch a video of the choir performing Dreidal.

See more pictures of the 2011 Lifeworks Holiday Choir and Variety Show on our Flickr page here.

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Now Entering: Base Camp

Base Camp is the brain child of Northern Star Council and Boy Scouts of America connecting the community to interactive and inspiring activities. Base Camp features engaging challenges that focus on experiential learning. These activities reward participants with pride, accomplishment, and character. A few examples of the challenges include a climbing tower, high ropes course, archery range, and even a NASA space shuttle simulator.

Ann Huddleson and Sherry Campeau pumped up after the high ropes course at Base Camp

Part of Lifeworks participation in the Boy Scouts of America Venturing program, a program that is offered to both men and women with disabilities, opened their access to the new Base Camp center.  When Base camp was approached about Lifeworks eagerness to visit the center, the staff at Base Camp were both thrilled and accommodating.  They were excited to focus on the abilities and enthusiasm of those supported by Lifeworks. 

Twenty Lifeworks attendees were supported by six Base Camp specialists on three occasions to participate in the full gamut of Base Camp courses.  The experience was chalk full of learning opportunities.  Some of the courses, like the high ropes course, were intimidating and challenging. The event is built not as entertainment, but as a learning experience.  Lifeworks participants had to overcome their fears and offer encouragement to their teammates. Many participants tried activities and overcame obstacles they thought they would never attempt. It was truly a rewarding memory no one will forget.

Lifeworks participants mentally preparing for Base Camp action!

“I was scared, but in the end I did it!” – Ann Huddleson, Lifeworks client

“It was a real confidence booster.  It gave people the chance to get together and cheer each other on.  It was a big deal to a lot of people” – Sherry Campeau, Lifeworks staff

Soon, Lifeworks hopes to enter the walls of Base Camp again. Next time, who knows what wonderful adventures will await them?

Visit to see what fun adventures are happening at a Lifeworks close to you!

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The Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band Rocked This Cause!

Submitted by: James Houck, Lifeworks marketing assistant

Lead singer Sam Bisanz and keyboardist/backup vocalist Ron Stearns were the first of the band to arrive for the show on November 12, 2011 at the Grain Belt Bottling House in Minneapolis. As performing members of one of many prestigious Minnesota acts in the Rock the Cause lineup, they were given the VIP treatment with backstage wristbands and entry into the auspicious greenroom- the waiting area backstage, stocked with free beverages and

Lifeworks, rock of ages band, rock the cause, disability

Hangin' out in the green room before the show

comfortable furniture; a coveted place where bands gather their mental and creative prowess before taking to the stage. Sam and Ron took their rock star thrones seated across from a couch squeezing in Farewell Milwaukee, an emerging Minneapolis band who just recently had a song released on the Cities 97 Sampler. Jon Ehresmann, McNally Smith College of Music guitar performance student, was also relaxing amidst the chill backstage setting with his band mates. Jon is participating in a newly pioneered work study relationship between McNally Smith and Lifeworks by leading the Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band. 

Not long after Sam and Ron arrived, the other lead singer, Peter Goldberg came in abruptly with a boisterous swagger and jolly grin, sporting a red bandana tied around his head and a deer skin jacket. He made eye contact with Sam, smiled widely, and proclaimed with vigor, “Hey! I want to introduce the Bruce Springsteen Song!” Sam and Peter exchanged excited conversation while watching with wide eyes as musicians like the members of Murzik, Communist Daughter, and Grammy Award winning songwriter Kevin Bowe came in and out of the green room. Ron huddled in close to his band mates with an eager smile, taking in the excitement.

Lifeworks, disability employment, rock the cause, music

Scott Herald, Rock the Cause CEO and Lifeworks director of sales

Scott Herold, director of sales at Lifeworks, and Rock the Cause CEO, came backstage and was warmly greeted by Peter as the man who made all of this possible. Scott hosted the event as the house MC, introducing bands and communicating the core information of the event. With an excited smile, Scott said to the band, “I’m going to introduce you to someone.” As Scott left to retrieve his mystery guest, Sam said quietly with a boyish smirk, “I hope it’s a hot girl.” Perhaps even better than a hot girl, Scott returned a few moments later with Adam Levy, lead singer/songwriter of the Honeydogs! Another surprise visit, this time from Lifeworks president and CEO, Judy Lysne helped to rev up the bands spirits as she warmly supported the crew with kind and enthusiastic words of encouragement.

Lifeworks, disabilities, rock the cause

Lifeworks president and CEO, Judy Lysne, with client Peter Goldberg

As the show time neared, the guys became restless. The gravity of the scale of their performance was clearly evident. They realized that they were about to perform on a big stage complete with lighting effects and a smoke machine, in front of the largest audience of their career. Sam announced to the room that he was beginning to feel nervous. Peter advised, “Just block everything out and focus on the lyrics.” Meanwhile, Ben Lubeck, principal songwriter and lead singer from Farewell Milwaukee, was quietly tuned into the conversation. With a compassionate smile, he said softly, “Yeah, once you get out there and start playing, all that will go away.” Ben’s reassurance seemed to put the guys at ease, while the excitement mounted.

Andy Thornbrough, the other band leader from McNally Smith and drummer for the group, came back to the green room to check in with everyone just as the last member of the band arrived, Brittany Thorsen. Brittany gave Andy an excited handshake with a big smile as she took her rightful seat in the greenroom. Andy visited with the crew briefly and then went back out to the stage area to finish setting up. As Andy left, Sam yelled out after him, “Find me some girls!” It was evident by this time that Sam’s nervousness was beginning to dissipate, and that he was embracing the “rock star” persona. Just before the band took the stage, Sam excitedly stammered, “I’m in a building I’ve never been in before, with a bunch of bands I’ve never heard of…but it all rocks!”

As the Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band took the stage, they were met with abundant crowd applause. Here they were, rehearsed and led by two top notch, professional musicians, performing in the artsy Northeast neighborhood amidst a stage in the historically rich Grain Belt Bottling House, in the company of many amazing, established Minnesota acts, and raising money for people with disabilities and musicians in need. It doesn’t get any more rock star than that!

lifeworks, rock the cause, disability employment, rock of ages band

The Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band performing at Rock the Cause on November 12, 2011

John and Andy expertly conducted the group, keeping the tunes cranking and the flow moving. John filled out the bands harmony on guitar and backup vocals, adding warmth and depth especially on the Eagles, “Take It Easy”.  Andy kept everything tight with his percussion and backup vocals, holding down songs like Alabama’s, “I’m In a Hurry”, while at the same time, sharing a keyboard with Ron!  

Peter and Sam were in full form, bending and gesturing their bodies to reinforce the strong emotional presence of their performance as they shared the expressive front man experience. Sam punched through the sound on Paul Simon’s, “Like a Rock”, and Peter brought home the high notes on Prince’s, “Raspberry Beret”, a crowd favorite.  Ron’s ear to ear grin wavered only as he broke into song, glazing the band’s sound with backup vocals and keyboards, driving the tempo of Springsteen’s, “Dancing In the Dark”. Brittany helped move the percussive section of the band alongside Andy, and like Ron, lit up the stage with her ever present smile. She helped the band swing Bill Haley and Comets, “Rock Around the Clock”, which had the crowd up and dancing.

“Music affects us all on a deep and primal level…it’s in all of us.”

It’s safe to say that the Lifeworks Rock of Ages band stole the show. After their performance, the audience roared with cheers and applause. The Lifeworks Rock of Ages Band and Rock the Cause made history with the first program of its kind. After the show, Jon was asked how he felt about working with the band. He replied, “I’ve learned a lot more than they have. It was a phenomenal experience.” John seemed genuinely touched by participating in the band. In working with the group, he began to see how people with disabilities may have some limitations to deal with, however, “…they are amazing in other ways.” This experience not only allowed John to assist Lifeworks clients, but also helped solidify his belief in expression through music, “Music affects us all on a deep and primal level…it’s in all of us.”






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