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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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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.”

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When you leave someone out, what are you missing?

At the invitation of the University of St. Thomas, Lifeworks and Midwest Special Services (MSS) joined forces to create an art exhibit for America’s largest diversity and inclusion conference, the Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Diversity is Enrichment is an art installation of works presented by Lifeworks and MSS.


The exhibit celebrates diversity and innovation in the workplace highlighted by a collection of human form sculptures created from reclaimed and found materials by artists with disabilities. Using re-purposed and recycled supplies demonstrates diversity and invites the viewer to consider innovative solutions.

The installation places over 35 sculptures in a circle – representing community, interdependence, and reliance on one another. Within the circle, each unique work of art represents the distinctive role of the individual in life and in our community.

Each figure plays an important role in the arrangement – which leads the audience to ask, “When you leave someone out, what are you missing?”


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Where Should We Go for Lunch?

Submitted by: Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator at Lifeworks

Famous Civil Rights Activist, Cesar Chavez, once said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him.” Well every other Wednesday, Theresa and John Dahlberg have definitely extended their friendship to Scott Strohman(Lifeworks client) as they meet for lunch on the second floor of the Securian Building in downtown St. Paul for lunch.  

It isn’t exactly anyone’s house but instead a bustling gathering space on the second floor of a large corporation. A meal is shared, interesting conversation exchanged  and absolutely friendship has occurred. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with Theresa, John, Scott and his job coach, Beth Coppock. Theresa and John have now been volunteering during their lunch time for one and a half years. I asked them, “Why do you do this?” Theresa was quick to respond,

“Scott is so friendly, fun and he amazes John and I with his knowledge of sports and music. This is an easy way for us to volunteer and give back to our community.”  

Scott shares the same enthusiasm about the lunch time meetings. He said, “ It is so nice to have someone to talk to, and meet someone new. John likes sports too. I like having the company of others and finding out what they are like.” 

Theresa added, “Recently I ran into Scott outside of work. We both went to the Winter Carnival on the weekend. What a nice surprise to see him there too.” 

Theresa, Scott and John pictured together

Theresa, Scott & John

I asked if they would recommend this volunteer opportunity to anyone else. “Both John and Theresa answered at the same time, “Yes, this is an easy way to volunteer while you are at work- meet someone twice a month for an hour at a time.”  

Scott’s job coach, Beth Coppock, said that Scott’s job as a Securian Mail Center Messenger requires him to be completely focused on his work. Having a scheduled day and time to meet with Theresa and John is an intentional time to make a friend. Beth went on to say that there are other people served by Lifeworks at Securian who also have Securian volunteers meeting them for lunch but she can certainly use more. 

Having a friend is something we all want. Friendship expands our individual worlds. To have a friend and be a friend brings more meaning to our lives. If you currently work at one of our employers, contact me if you would like to schedule a lunchtime volunteer opportunity. If you would like to come to one of our centers for lunch, conversation and friendship, there are people waiting there too for a lunch time friend. Call me at 651-365-3720 or email me at

Who knows where things will go over lunch? When I left Scott, Theresa and John they were heading toward the food court at the Norwest Center.


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2012 Traveling Art Show

Artists with developmental disabilities created more than 100 works that were juried by Walker Art Center’s Scott Stulen and Courtney Gerber. These twelve works were then chosen for the show. The show will travel around the Twin Cites at various galleries and businesses throughout the year. 

To view beautiful full size pictures and details about the art, visit the Lifeworks Flickr Page.

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2012 Leadership Circle Luncheon

On Thursday, February 2, Lifeworks celebrated the generosity of its donors during the annual Leadership Circle Luncheon. The event, held at the Mendakota Country Club in Mendota Heights, recognizes donors who give $500 or more during the preceding calendar year.

Barbara Baumann welcoming event attendees

Barbara A. Baumann, board chair, second vice president at Securian Financial Group, welcomed the group and shared that Lifeworks raised over $800,000 in 2011. Baumann also highlighted the great and innovative services that Lifeworks initiated, supported, and made better thanks to the generous gifts of Lifeworks donors.

 After Baumann’s introduction, Lifeworks President and CEO Judy Lysne recognized donors individually with Leadership Circle gifts, including exclusively designed clay tiles by artist and friend of Lifeworks, Laura McCaul, and card sets and limited edition mugs featuring artwork by Lifeworks clients.

Leadership Circle gifts: painted turtle tile, mugs, and cards

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Beth Huss: In pursuit of a career, but taking the road less traveled

 Submitted by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator at Lifeworks

In Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, he describes two roads diverged in a yellow wood and which road should he take in pursuit of his goal. Meet Beth Huss, a student at Argosy University, in pursuit of a PsyD in Psychology. Someday Beth will be a Clinical Psychologist helping people help themselves, but for now she balances studies, practicum assignments, and volunteer work. We are grateful she chose to come to Lifeworks rather than a large hospital or clinic to share her time.
Lifeworks, minnesota disability employment, volunteering

Beth Huss, volunteer at Lifeworks Burnsville

Beth began to volunteer at Lifeworks in October of 2010. She was new to the area, she wanted to help others, and because of her studies she wanted to learn more about people with disabilities. She has dependably continued, once a week, three hours per week, meeting people where they are at and providing them with something they hunger for, one to one time. Beth moves quietly from person to person getting to know each one as an individual, their interests, dislikes and communication styles. She knows who likes to have their hand held while the fingernail polish dries, who likes to do the same jigsaw puzzle each week, and which board games are the favorite.

In the last fifteen months, Beth has spent more than 140 hours getting to know people as friends, not someone with a disability. I asked her what made her come back week after week and she told me that she always feels welcome at our Burnsville center. She feels appreciated and enjoys helping others.

Beth’s studies are taking her in a new direction this next semester and she won’t be able to come back to Burnsville for her weekly visits until sometime next summer. I told her we will be waiting and that she is welcome anytime her schedule reopens. There will always be someone who would love to have Beth spend uninterrupted time playing a game, painting their nails, giving a hand lotion massage or doing the same puzzle.

Robert Frost ends his poem with these lines: I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Thank you, Beth Huss, for making a difference in our lives. How about you? You could make all the difference to someone. Do you have time to volunteer; spending time with one person, getting to know what they enjoy, and perhaps making a new friend? Please call me, Kath Pengelly, at 651-365-3720.

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