As we go head first into November, we are looking back to a very special October at PossAbilities.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month across the nation. This year’s theme and tagline was “The Right Talent, Right Now”. The campaign celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. An article titled “Why Hiring People with Disabilities Will Improve Your Bottom Line” in the Star Tribune was one of many across the nation that highlighted those skills and talents.
The celebration, of course, was in full force at PossAbilities as well, particularly at our 24th Annual Employment Awards Banquet. The use of the phrase “full force” is literal in this sense as well, “The excitement in the air is hard to miss,” explained Katie Mahaffey, PossAbilities Program Without Walls (PWoW) Program Director. “This 2021 was the largest crowd…It’s positive to see the participants supporting each other and the businesses supporting the participants.”
Four awards were handed out during the event. The John Ellingson Summit Award for a business PossAbilities works with, the Joseph Explorer Guide Award for a co-worker of a participant who’s gone above and beyond, and the Judy and Jim Sloan Explorer Award to two employment participants.
Following a meal provided by the event center and Powers Ventures, Jesse Schreiber spoke of his positive experience as a PossAbilities Follow Along participant, including the impact the organization has had on his life, and his goal of continuing to help his employer, Kwik Trip, grow and succeed. Kwik Trip also happened to be named this year’s Summit Award winner.
“Their managers take time to get to know the individuals they employ,” Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Harrington said of Kwik Trip as she presented them the award. “They support a culture of fairness and one of inclusiveness.”
After giving thanks for the award, Kwik Trip District Leader Joe Stortz said “The last line of our mission statement is ‘to make a difference in someone’s life. I believe, through our retail helper program, we are able to accomplish this. We are honored to be a part of helping others in the community.”
The Joseph Fitzpatrick Guide Award was then presented to Tina Williams of Walmart. “She’s an advocate for individuals with disabilities and has been helpful to PossAbilities and participants we serve with whatever needs present themselves,” said PossAbilities Employment Services Division Director Joel Pralle, who presented the award.
The final two awards given out were the Explorer Awards. These awards are given to participants who have made significant positive strides, not only in their employment and time at PossAbilities, but in life in general.
After recognizing all of the nominees, Nathan Bell, PossAbilities Employment Services Program Coordinator, announced Aaron Reyes as the first winner. “He has a positive attitude, willingness to help, and his improvement is noticed by everyone at PossAbilities,” Bell said of Aaron. Aaron proceeded to tell the crowd he didn’t have a favorite job, he just loved them all.
For the final presentation of the day, Mahaffey invited Walmart’s Chad Bundy up to present. Bundy presented the award to Follow Along participant Chelsey Cummings, his friend and colleague at Walmart. “She is always willing to take on new challenges and she’s someone we can always trust.”
Chelsey later said she’s proud of her nine years and Walmart and always enjoys working with friends and learning new things.
This year’s Employment Awards Banquet was supported by 15 sponsors, including platinum sponsors United Heating and Cooling and Gail and Allen Bishop. A full list of sponsors can be found on the Employment Awards Banquet page.
At PossAbilities, we use the acronym “EPIC”. Engaged, Person-centered, and In Community. Throughout the past couple of weeks we’ve had several activities and outings that fit at least part of that acronym. But maybe none more than the work our STARS participants have done at Oxbow Park.
In late June, parts of southeast Minnesota were hit hard with heavy downpours, some totaling more than seven inches of rain in small window of time. With the rain came rising waters, damaged landscapes, and left a lot of people cleaning up. The damage was so severe, it left Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo having to close to the public for a brief period.
One week later, more rain. More damage. More to clean up. This time, Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo sought the public’s help. They asked for volunteers to help clean up debris and complete other tasks to get things back to normal. That’s where our participants answered the call.
On Tuesday, July 9th, a group of participants from our STARS program spent the day picking up sticks and other debris that had painted the once clean and tidy park land.
“It looked like a tornado went through there,” recalls Brian, one of our STARS participants who helped clean up.
“Our participants are some of the most generous and caring people I know, they all jumped at the chance to help out at Oxbow,” said Aly Judd, PossAbilities STARS Service Coordinator. “They all told me how wonderful it felt to help their community and to keep Oxbow clean, because it’s one of our favorite places.”
But our participants weren’t done there. Less than a week later, a group of three participants was back hard at work, this time cleaning up a picnic area; spraying off tables, pulling out debris that had been lodged in the table tops, cleaning the shelter floor, and other related tasks.
Brian was once again part of the group who volunteered their time. “We cleaned dirt off the tables. The tables were dirty.”
Brian, along with a couple of his friends from STARS, spent time pulling dirt from between the cracks of picnic tables and sprayed surfaces with a hose. “I [was like] the best Ghostbuster,” Brian said, while showing the motion of spraying off the tables. “And it was just like Brian the fireman putting out a fire.”
“There was never a doubt in my head that our participants are very caring and empathetic people,” Judd added. “But seeing them give back so selflessly was heart-warming and inspiring.”
When all was said and done, our participants put in roughly 15-20 hours of volunteer work combined at Oxbow Park. It’s just one of many examples of how our participants contribute to our community.
Volunteer: a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.
Volunteers are crucial to the work of several non-profits and PossAbilities is no exception. Whether it’s social interaction, event preparation/execution, or administrative tasks, the work of our volunteers is critical to help us fulfill our mission and achieve our vision.
In our inaugural Volunteer Spotlight, we’re featuring long-time volunteer, Brooke. Brooke is a nurse at Mayo Clinic and has been volunteering in our Seniors program for nearly two years now. She comes in weekly to spend quality time with the participants. It not only gives both Brooke and our participants positive social interaction, it also builds long-lasting relationships.
You may or may not know this, but our participants in Seniors LOVE to have parties. Brooke has been a big part of making those parties happen and also helped in planning for other aspects of the organization.
Recently, Brooke went above and beyond in her role as a volunteer. She secured a grant for our Seniors program and, because of it, the Seniors building will have a new and improved backyard!
When it comes down to it, Brooke is a true representation of our commitment to participants. She takes a person-centered approach, is engaged in the community, builds strong relationships with staff and participants, and shows professionalism to boot.
Thank you Brooke from everyone at PossAbilities. We are so grateful you’re a part of our organization. Our participants and staff are lucky to have someone like you so deeply committed to our mission and vision.
PossAbilities is coming off of another successful “A Night of PossAbilities” event at the Hilton Rochester-Mayo Clinic Area. A major reason for the success is due to all of our supporters, whether it’s a business, individual, or another non-profit. Through that support, PossAbilities has found a wonderful partner in Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch.
Ironwood Springs, like PossAbilities, has a mission to create opportunities for individuals with disabilities. It recently supported our gala through silent auction donation: a scholarship to one of Ironwood Springs’ 3-day ConnectAbilities Camp. The ConnectAbilities Camp is just one creative way Ironwood Springs is providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities. A representative recently shared this message with PossAbilities to help those who we’re connected with have a better grasp on exactly how those opportunities are created:
“Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch is excited to help with the Night of PossAbilities as we have a shared mission with PossAbilities in serving children and adults with disabilities. Our ConnectAbilities camps provide opportunities for people with disabilities to have outdoor experiences and enjoy a community of people who understand them. We have one-day camps during all seasons and also have summer overnight camps where campers get to try things such as our adaptive zip line, ride or paint horses, or try archery. For the overnight camps, campers stay in our 27-room Miracle Lodge, where all rooms are accessible. We also employ adults with disabilities through the ABC organization as they help clean all of the rooms in our Miracle Lodge.
Ironwood Springs is a 120-acre camp and conference center that provides programs for youth, people with physical or cognitive disabilities, families with autism, and military families. We also rent our facilities for other groups such as Christian retreats and family reunions. We have many activities available such as zip line, shooting ranges, low ropes challenge course, swimming pool and more. We also have a full indoor equine center that offers camps for kids, trail and sleigh rides.”
In the coming months, PossAbilities and Ironwood Springs will continue to explore innovative ways to grow our partnership and, more importantly, live out our missions together to create opportunities for everyone to live their best life. To find out more about Ironwood Springs and how our organizations align, go to ironwoodsprings.com.
Gold Partner: Think Bank
Think Bank has been a long-time partner and supporter of PossAbilities. Think continues its support this year as a Gold Partner for A Night of PossAbilities. To help you get to know our partners a little better and learn more about why they support us, we wanted to share a brief message from Think Bank.
“We believe being good corporate citizens means giving generously to people and organizations like PossAbilities. We’ve partnered with PossAbilities for many years and have employees who have and continue to serve on its Board of Directors. We’re very proud of the work that the dedicated employees of PossAbilities do — day in and day out– to help some of the most deserving folks in our community. We love taking part in A Night of PossAbilities Gala!
We started as the IBM Credit Union back in the 60s and have grown into a mutual bank with our sole purpose on serving our customers because that’s who we’re owned by – not by stockholders. Our approach to banking is straightforward and simple and we work really, really hard to be easy to work with. We also realize that people work really hard for their money so we want to help them get the most out of it. Our bankers spend their days focused on customer care above anything else, and on smiles!”
PossAbilities thanks Think Bank for its long-standing partnership. It’s support like this that helps us continue to create better lives for everyone we’re connected to.
Platinum Partner: ONB Bank
ONB Bank has once again chosen to support PossAbilities as a platinum partner for A Night of PossAbilities in 2019. So we set out to help you get to know ONB a little bit better and learn a little bit about their relationship with our organization as well. Side note, ONB just opened up a new location in Stewartville a couple months ago…yay!
PossAbilities: We’ll start off with the basics. Give us a look into ONB; the organization’s history, mission, what goes on within the walls, etc…
ONB Bank: ONB is the sole member of Olmsted Holding Corporation, a bank holding company headquartered in Rochester since 1996. ONB Bank is owned by nearly 100 local shareholders and managed by a leadership team right here in Rochester and Stewartville. We offer a full array of products and services while maintaining the integrity of a community bank where decisions are made locally.
P: A lot of people definitely look for that local feel when they’re deciding how and where to manage their money. Is that something you’d say sets ONB apart from your competition?
ONB: Absolutely. We’re a community bank that is locally owned, locally managed, and decisions are made locally. Our staff is dedicated to providing friendly, efficient, and personalized service. Our staff is passionate about providing excellent customer service and will take that extra step to come up with a solution when able.
P: Sounds like you’ve definitely prioritized giving a personalized experience, emphasizing that you’re completely local. What is it about the Rochester community and surrounding area that makes it a great place to have your business?
ONB: Simply put, Rochester is a beautiful city. It’s a great place to live, work, and play, complementing neighborhood communities that are all unique in their own way. Rochester and the surrounding area are filled with honest, hard-working, innovative individuals who strive for excellence personally and professionally. Various organizations and businesses take pride in ownership and being successful, and they’re willing to share their knowledge within the community.
P: You echo a lot of the same things we feel about this community; let’s transition to our partnership. Is this your first year supporting PossAbilities? If so, what has the relationship been?
ONB: ONB has been a long-time supporter of PossAbilities. [ONB] President Brad Becker and CFO/VP Terry Sorenson have both served on the PossAbilities board of directors.
P: And we are so thankful for their support and service. What is it that made you choose to support PossAbilities?
ONB: It’s a great organization. It’s important to help people that may not have the same opportunities to help themselves as others do.
P: Thank you for the kind words, we want everyone to have equal opportunity. Do you feel your mission aligns with PossAbilities mission (PossAbilities creates opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to contribute to and connect with the community)?
ONB: Being a locally-owned, community bank, ONB feels it is of the utmost importance to give back to the communities we serve. Our mission is to not just be there for customers, but for the greater Rochester and Stewartville communities as a whole as well. We have the opportunity on a daily basis to go above and beyond simply completing banking transactions, which is why we feel passionately about supporting wonderful organizations like PossAbilities. PossAbilities does so much for its participants and we feel its presence in Olmsted and surrounding counties is crucial. We feel privileged to help this wonderful organization so they can continue with their excellent work.
P: Wow. Thank you again so much for the kind words. ONB definitely sounds like it strives to go above and beyond. What is it that keeps you motivated to keep doing what you’re doing?
ONB: In terms of ONB Bank being motivated in helping non-profit organizations, that will remain strong and a large part of ONB. There are many wonderful non-profits that ONB will continue to assist financially, as well as volunteering and promoting these organizations. Seeing the great things PossAbilities does for children and adults with disabilities to contribute and connect with the community is all the motivation ONB Bank needs to continue helping as we can.
P: It’s so great to hear you say that. We’re humbled to know our mission is motivation for a business to be so generous. How about a few looser, fun questions to close? What is a day in the life of a banker like?
ONB: With all the different positions at ONB, each is taking care of existing customers through phone calls, office meetings, or on-site meetings. ONB Bankers are always striving to come up with the best solutions, whether it be for a dream home purchase or getting a customer’s teenager started out with their first checking account.
P: You too have a huge impact on the community. Some big milestones there. What’s the most fulfilling or memorable customer interaction?
ONB: The “firsts”. Any time we help someone buy their first home, buy their first car, or open up a new account to save money, it’s a rewarding and memorable experience.
P: I can say it is from the customer perspective as well. Before we go, any chance we can get the combination for the safe?
ONB: Highly unlikely, but nice try!
P: Rats! Thanks so much for your time, and congratulations on your new Stewartville location!
Presenting Partner: Steve Gentry Construction
Steve Gentry Construction is our highest-level partner for A Night of PossAbilities in 2019. We recently spoke with the Steve Gentry Construction team who is sharing a little bit more about their company and partnership with PossAbilities.
PossAbilities: Start by giving us a little bit more information about Steve Gentry Construction, like what you do, maybe a motto or mission you have.
Steve Gentry Construction: We’ve been serving Rochester and the surrounding area for more than 20 years. We do roofing, remodeling, new home construction, and some light commercial work. Our company motto is “We Treat Your Home as if it Were Our Own.”
P: That’s a great motto; it actually leads into the next thing I’d like to share with everyone. Along with that motto, what is it that sets you apart from your competition?
SGC: It’s the many different types of construction projects we have the ability to work on; we do so with professionalism, integrity, and attention to detail toward each project we put our hands on.
P: It’s easy to see how a community like Rochester and southeast Minnesota would enjoy working with you. Is it safe to assume the reverse is true? What do you think about this area and having your company here?
SGC: It’s constantly changing and growing. There is always a need for new ideas, new approaches to our trade. There are so many unique ideas that come from this community.
P: We love the unique community as well. Great minds think alike? Let’s transition to our partnership. What’s your history with PossAbilities?
SGC: We first started working with PossAbilities in 2014 to create an office for [fmr. Development Director] Mr. Kenn Roehl. Since then we’ve proposed several different remodels and projects for everyone at PossAbilities. We started supporting “A Night of PossAbilities” in 2015 as a way to give back. It’s truly been a wonderful partnership since we were first invited to work with the organization.
P: That’s great to hear, thank you so much for the kind words. You mentioned “A Night of PossAbilities”. What are you looking forward to at this year’s event?
SGC: Our favorite thing is seeing the benefits and joy PossAbilities brings to its participants, making the event a highlight for our entire year. We enjoy hearing the personal stories of accomplishment and life-changing effects PossAbilities has on those participants; it needs to be seen by all.
P: Again, thanks so much, we truly appreciate your kind words. You may have already covered this a little bit, but what is it that made you want to support our organization?
SGC: It’s just a fantastic organization with wonderful staff; every single person employed by PossAbilities goes out of their way to work with each participant that comes through the door.
P: It’s hard to respond without saying thank you again. We’re blushing. We too feel we have a great partnership with you and we love your organization. So we both enjoy this partnership; how is it that you feel your mission aligns with ours (PossAbilities creates opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to contribute to and connect with the community)?
SGC: Steve Gentry Construction works through many customers to improve their homes and properties. Thus, allowing our homeowners and businesses alike to reach their goals and visions. Eileen (executive director) and the rest of the staff at PossAbilities strives to make sure all the PossAbilities campuses are fit for all to come in. Whether it be the access ramps, bathrooms, office spaces, or the parking lot. They want their workplace to be top notch; this is what we always strive for.
P: We definitely both want the best in all we do. Let’s go into a few fun questions. Do you have any unique or memorable projects that come to mind from the past?
SGC: We’ve worked on so many unique and one-of-a-kind projects. From helping build an accessible ramp into a home, to remodeling a small cabin into a big, beautiful lake home, to building a 9,600 square foot office and warehouse. We’ve been blessed to have such a wide range of projects. The opportunity to help make someone’s home or business exactly what they have always dreamed it could be is something special for us.
P: How about on the job site itself? Is there any equipment or tools that seem to be a favorite for people to use and work with?
SGC: That’d be the Caterpillar Telehandler. It’s a BEAST of a forklift that reaches 42 feet and has a 6,000-pound capacity. (You can see one for yourself here https://www.cat.com/en_US/products/new/equipment/telehandlers.html)
P: That sounds like quite a machine. Besides the Telehandler, what is it that motivates you to continue doing the work you do?
SGC: Every job and job site is different. Having a satisfied home or business owner at the end of the project is an amazing feeling.
P: I bet. Before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like to say?
SGC: Just that we wish PossAbilities all the best, not only on this “A Night of PossAbilities”, but for the entire year and years to come.
Good day readers,
Whether you’re a PossAbilities supporter, staff, family member, or just happened upon this page, we’re happy you’re here. This page will serve as the official PossAbilities Blog page, keeping you in the loop and up to date on everything happening both within our walls and out in the community.
So what exactly is it that you will read about if you follow our blog? What does “All the PossAbilities” mean? Let’s dive into that a little deeper.
- Participant stories. There are so many great things happening at PossAbilities and through its programs. From participants finding gainful employment after being told they wouldn’t be able to work, to long-time PossAbilities employees making the decision to retire but stay with PossAbilities in a different program, there’s a “story-a-day” to tell within our organization. We want to make sure the wonderful stories don’t stay “cooped up”; great stories deserve to be shared!
- Staff stories, updates, and testimonials. We have an incredible staff at PossAbilities who do wonderful things on the daily. I can all but guarantee every staff member here will be too humble to publicize how crucial they are to PossAbilities, but that’s what this blog is for! We want to make sure their great work gets the necessary attention. We will also keep you updated on those coming and going or reaching milestones on their career journey here at PossAbilities.
- Partner/Supporter features. Our supporters are some of the greatest people and businesses in the world. It takes a special heart to be generous, and a unique soul to prioritize individuals at PossAbilities. Like staff, our supporters are all very humble and don’t do it for the publicity. We know that, but we also want others who visit our website and support us can get to know the incredible people in PossAbilities’ extended family.
- Random Nonsense. Ok, so maybe nonsense isn’t the BEST word to use, because nothing about what we do is nonsensical. It’s more of a way to explain that there will be blogs posted that may not fit the above three categories. It could be as simple as a photo of a tour group that comes through with a brief explanation of who they are, or a blog piece about another organization doing great things in the community. After all, we would not be here without other organizations in the community, and this community would not be what it is without a team effort from all of us.
Of course, we’re also very open to ideas from YOU: readers, supporters, participants, families, random webpage surfers who got caught in the PossAbilities e-wave. If you have a blog idea you feel would be appropriate for our website, just give us a holler. You can send your ideas to Bill, email@example.com. Together we can get the proverbial potter’s lathe spinning and start throwing until the mound of clay is a beautiful vase.
So essentially, “All the PossAbilities” means you will hear ALL about PossAbilities and we will also explore ALL of the possibilities for blog subjects and features.
As we continue our blog updates, we hope you return and keep up with all of the happenings here. We’re glad you stopped by.
Individuals with disabilities are thriving, valued, and engaged community members. Our community is vibrant, inclusive, and advocates for all of its members.