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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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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.
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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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Write On! Lifeworks and Loyola High School

In October of 2010 handwritten letters started passing back and forth between Loyola High School and Lifeworks Mankato. Seventeen Loyola students from Valerie Koch’s class were paired with clients from Lifeworks using letter writing to foster inclusion, assist our clients with reading and writing, but most of all create an opportunity to share friendship.

Julia Bray puts the laptop aside to write a handwritten letter

The idea of having a pen pal dates back to World War II when classrooms of US children were matched with children in other countries. The goal of pen pal programs was to provide a window into different cultures, acknowledge differences, celebrate the similarities, and also encourage literacy. The goal remains the same today.

It has always been a thrill of mine to go to the mail box and find a hand written letter. Don’t get me wrong, I love the immediacy of email and I appreciate spell check, but there is nothing like sitting down to read and reread a hand written letter. Personal correspondence can capture the particular feelings of a time and place as nothing else can. Letters form a personal record of a life lived.

Valerie Koch, the teacher and our partner at Loyola, and I were looking for a way for her students to volunteer given the fact that it had to fit into the school day and the idea of the Write On program was born. Of course there were ground rules established to launch the program; no identifying information was shared like last names, phone numbers, email or home addresses. The information that traveled back and forth was basic, getting to know you types of questions like, what is your favorite color, what kind of music do you like, what is your favorite TV show, or how far have you ever traveled away from home?

Lifeworks client Chrissy Smisek chats with her Loyola High school writing partner

After months of corresponding we gathered in the gym at Loyola for a “meet and greet” party. I quizzed our clients as they walked from the parking lot to the high school and asked them what they thought about the Write On program. Their answers were exactly what I had expected them to say, over and over again I heard,

“It was fun. I liked getting letters, I got to know a new person, she liked movies and Justin Bieber too.”

There were a few awkward moments as pen pals were introduced to each other but soon the smiles were out in full force as the pen pals shared the snacks and reinforced the things that they had learned about each other.

I asked Valerie to poll her students about their experience with us. I asked her to check whether her students had also enjoyed the activity. One student said,

“Yes, it was fun writing and getting to meet my pen pal. It was fun meeting them in person and how they remembered a lot of things from my letters.” Another student answered, “Yes, well, doing volunteer work makes me feel value.”

I was curious to know if the students felt that they had learned anything about people with disabilities. The Loyola students responded,

“They really aren’t different from us.” “They share a lot of interests that I have.” “People with disabilities want people’s care and they want friendship just like I do.”

Finally I wanted to know whether this experience had changed their thoughts about people with disabilities and this answer confirmed that this was a good project.  Loyola students responded,

“It gave me more respect for them.” “I learned that people with disabilities like the same things that I do.”

Valerie and I are gearing up for the fall of 2011, the Write On project will definitely be a repeat. A typed or email letter can never provide the feeling that a hand written note brings. Each letter in an email is a laser copy of each other letter, there is emotional warmth that comes from handwriting. Thank you Loyola High School for volunteering with Lifeworks, enjoy the summer and we will write to you in the fall.

Written by Kath Pengelly, volunteer and advocate coordinator, Lifeworks Services

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