The Minnesota State Council on Disability held its 40th Anniversary Annual Awards Event on Thursday, October 17, 2013. MSCOD holds this yearly event to observe October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month and to give recognition to those who have done outstanding work impacting the lives of people with disabilities.
Former State Representative John Kriesel provided the keynote address. Kriesel spoke about the injuries he sustained while deployed in Iraq and how he is now living as a veteran with a disability. He also discussed how he helps other veterans with disabilities find employment in his current role as Director of Veterans Services for Anoka County.
AWARD RECIPIENTS ARE AS FOLLOWS
Minnesota Award—Secretary of State Mark Ritchie
Mark Ritchie was elected as the 21st Secretary of State in Minnesota on November 7, 2006. He has served two consecutive terms. As Secretary of State, Mark’s role is to partner with township, city and county officials to organize elections on behalf of Minnesota’s nearly 4 million eligible voters. Another part of his job is to oversee a range of services for MN businesses, including the archiving of official and corporate documents, and administering Safe and Home. He has also shown great commitment to allow everyone full access to the voting booth, including nonvisual and physical access, in order to be able to vote independently and privately.
Above and Beyond Veteran’s Employment Award—Sue Worlds, Regional Director, Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans
Sue Worlds is the Regional Director of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) in Mankato. She has established a program that is second to none not only Minnesota but nationwide. She has dedicated herself to helping veterans with disabilities by assisting them in returning to the workforce and recognizing the many issues that accompany returning vets from combat. Through her tenacity and dedication at MACV, countless returning veterans with disabilities now have entered the workforce in Southern Minnesota.
Advocacy Award—Aaron Holm, Founder, Wiggle Your Toes
Wiggle Your Toes is a non-profit that is dedicated to helping amputees and their families regain independence and mobility. Aaron Holm is the founder and is himself a bi-lateral, above the knee amputee. As a result of being injured in 2007, and having to navigate the system in order to get his life back together, Aaron started Wiggle Your Toes to serve as a resource for other amputees. The main focus is on three components: heal, recover and flourish. Their organization has helped many people raise money for prosthetics (which insurance doesn’t usually cover), find equipment and home modifications and a wide array of other supports and technical assistance. Wiggle Your Toes was also involved in helping the victims of the bombings in Boston who suffered limb loss.
Access Award—Midwest Outdoors Unlimited
The mission of Midwest Outdoors Unlimited (MOU) is to provide outdoor recreational activities for people with disabilities, including veterans and youth. Ron Welle is the CEO of MOU and he has dedicated his life to helping people who enjoy activities such as hunting and fishing but find it challenging due to having a disability. He has a team of volunteers who help out and provides equipment and gear at all his events to get everyone out into the woods as a participant. Ron is making dreams come true for a number of outdoor enthusiasts who thought they would never be able to enjoy hunting or fishing with their friends and family. MOU has provided outdoor activities throughout Minnesota, Michigan, Montana and Canada.
Employer of the Year (large)—Pitney Bowes
Pitney Bowes is a company that provides services relating to documents, packaging, mailing and shipping. Worldwide, they have about 33,000 employees. The Fridley center is a presort mailing house that commingles mail to provide savings on postage for their customers. Mike Wright, Vice President and General Manager of Pitney Bowes Presort Minneapolis and Scott Bersheid, Operations Manager, have established a hiring process that encourages an environment of inclusion. Their center in Fridley currently has 41 employees who have disclosed as having a disability. The jobs that they have range from presorter, machine operator, metering, hand sort, forklift operator quality assurance and dispatch. The employees with disabilities at the Fridley site are some of the highest performers with little turnover.
Employer of the Year (small)—Azule Staffing
Formed in 2012, Azule Staffing is an agency that provides employment solutions for skilled and talented veterans by placing them with excellent career opportunities. Whether you are an employer looking to hire a skilled hero or you are a veteran ready for your next career, Azule can help. Their corporate goal is that 80% of their placements go to veterans. Owner Mike Wolbrink is passionate about reaching this goal. In the last year, he and his team at Azule have placed over 50 veterans who have disabilities. They also work with spouses and family members of veterans.
Mentorship Award—Bridget Siljander, Executive Director, the Youth Legacy Foundation
Bridget Siljander has almost as much energy to get everything done in her day as she has passion for the work she does for the Youth Legacy Foundation (YLF). The mission of YLF is to engage youth in humanitarian, charitable, and service activities to empower them to lead exemplary lives and create their legacies in the community while making a difference and changing the world. They are a new non-profit engaging youth with disabilities in creative, inspiring and exciting opportunities. Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Helen Keller left legacies with the work that they did during their lifetimes. Bridget believes that the same can happen during the lifetimes of youth with disabilities if given the right support and guidance along the way.
Friend of the Council Award—Kathy Hern, Employment Specialist, Human Development Center, Cloquet
Kathy is an Employment Specialist with the Human Development Center Employment Connection located in Cloquet. Her commitment to finding competitive employment for individuals who have mental illness is unwavering, however, she is an unassuming and quiet in her dedication. She helps those whom others have “given up” on. Having over 20 years of experience in the field, she is a true champion. Kathy has an 85% placement rate and her consumers and employers love and trust her.
Media Award—Dan Voss, Manager, RP Broadcasting
An employer who can recognize the talents and skills that someone with a disability has is worth their weight in gold. However, an employer who hires this individual is practicing good hiring policies that will have a ripple effect among their fellow area employers and community at large. Such is the case when Dan Voss, Manager at RP Broadcasting in Bemidji, hired Bradley at one of his radio stations. Bradley, a music aficionado, met Dan at a local fishing event. Not only did they hit it off, but Dan discovered that Bradley had a great interest in music and was basically a human encyclopedia on the subject. Dan saw this special gift in Bradley and asked him to help organize their music database at one of his stations, Real Country 98.3. There are over 6,000 songs in the database. Bradley completed this task within 8 hours. Since then, Bradley has been given some air time and even a program. The people that enjoy the radio stations of RP Broadcasting are benefiting from Bradley’s experience, thanks to Dan’s decision to hire him. The community has come to understand that despite having a disability, all people have gifts that are worthy of finding employment.