“Fishing for an answer” is not an uncommon phrase here in Minnesota and is certainly one way to describe what the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation (MOHR) has been doing since mid-March, with the support of 67 Senators and a few Representatives, in getting Covid-19 guidance from the Commissioner of DHS and emergency funding from the Governor. I recently went on a fishing trip with two-day program colleagues that gave me the opportunity to put the last 5 months into some perspective.
The story takes place on Lake Covidtogama in Northern Minnesota. A place that is often referred to as “God’s Country” for its pristine water, solid shoreline, beautiful forest, and quality lifestyle. The two-day expedition was to catch some Lake Covidtogama “gold” otherwise known as clarity in how to accomplish our missions in serving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) despite bureaucratic irresponsibility (slot limit) and gubernatorial shirking (poop). One colleague has a cabin on Lake Covidtogama and was our fishing guide for the weekend. His name is Bill and I will call him B1. He has decades of experience with a very large boat (program) that has all the technology needed to fish in different depths and conditions. The other colleague is also a Bill and I will call him B2. He has decades of experience in a medium-size boat with all the gear needed to fish in many different lakes and rivers. Myself, I have 22 years of flyfishing experience wandering in small streams.
After talking to some localtors, one a very Able guide, about the fishing regulations, the first day started by trying to catch some “keepers.” All we saw that morning was a huge blip on the fishfinder screen that we dubbed the Fishioner along with a particular Gullernor that was perching on all the other boats. We made many attempts to catch the Fishioner knowing that with her “in hand” it would keep our boat afloat and also kept hoping for a visit from the Gullernor to make sure enough fuel was in our tank. After what seemed like 6 weeks of nibbling on our bait the Fishioner disappeared from the screen and the Gullernor only refueled other boats. We took a lunch break to discuss options, talk to some localtors and boatives, and gathered our collective resolve before heading to a bay known for catching keepers. I thought I had caught the first keeper of the day when suddenly the Fishioner snatched it off my hook. Still, we kept fishing and, although it seemed like weeks went by, B1 and B2 did eventually catch a few keepers. B1 even took us to a remote section of Lake Covidtogama but only B2 caught a keeper. While fishing B1 shared his concerns about having to reorganize his boat, B2 was frustrated that none of his gear was working, and I was just pissed at being skunked by the Fishioner. We called it a day when the Gullernor flew over and pooped on our boat. Back at the cabin we filleted our keepers knowing that it was not enough for a meal, cleaned the boat, and vowed to do MOHR.
With localtors and boatives cheering on the docks, the second day we headed for deeper water hoping to find some bigger fish. After 3 hours of no luck, we went back to the bay and caught a few keepers but were well below 50% of our limit before heading back to the cabin. We noted that at 2 p.m., on both days the Gullernor perched on a rock near us, flapped his wings mightily, screeched something we could not understand, and pooped on our boat as he flew away. We never did see the Gullernor again and guessed he was probably covering his beak while bargaining with some of his favorite boatives. Running out of time, and determined to save our boat, we headed for the deepest water that afternoon. It was almost dark when I hooked something big that we had not seen on the screen. It was powerful, cunning, and very evasive. Still, with B1 maneuvering the boat, B2 on the net, and a lot of support from the localtors we CAUGHT the Fishioner. The localtors and many of the boatives celebrated with us that, having been caught, the Fishioner could no longer avoid being clear on how we could resume our mission in serving people with I/DD and the Gullernor would have to refuel our tank. We were wrong. Even after being pinned down there was no way to avoid the slot limit and the Fishioner had to be released. Adding insult to injury, there was new poop on our boat. Discouraged, we went back to the dock. That night we shared a few adult beverages, were reassured by the localtors, and uplifted by comments from others on how satisfying, safe, healthy, and important our fleet of boats are to people with I/DD having a quality life. We left for home encouraged that with the ongoing support of most of the localtors and boatives, along with the many heart-wrenching stories about our fleet being overlooked by the Fishioner and Gullernor, MOHR would find a way to keep our boats afloat.
The story does have somewhat of a happy ending. MOHR went on a third fishing trip and, with pressure from all 67 localtors and all but 1 of the 130 boatives, got the Gullernor to refuel our fleet. It was too late for two boats that had already sunk and might not be enough for many boats seriously leaking. Still, it was a good day for hundreds of boats that have a better chance to operate. However, the Fishioner is lurking in the deep water and hard to catch; and we need to share how much our boats were missed when the 26,000 people we serve were in isolation so that the localtors and boatives dispute her claim that we are outdated models that need to be retired. Instead, she needs to leave them as an option on the dock for those that want pristine water, a solid shoreline, beautiful forests, and a quality lifestyle of their choice and add whatever new-fangled expensive toys they want to the marina. The people that use our boats have spoken and change is not what they want nor is it required by the dockmaster. Will the Fishioner continue to evade the issue and let a few misguided and outspoken critics sink the boats that 26,000 people with I/DD use to have their best life or use the Olmstead Plan to protect informed choice? Perhaps Judge Frank needs to go fishing?
It was 2006, and Tim had just graduated from high school at the age of 21. Like most recent graduates, he had a decision to make, but for Tim, it was an easy one. After having toured four local day program providers, one stood out from the others. He couldn’t explain it, but one of them called to him in an almost spiritual sense. For Tim, the decision was already made. He was going to Merrick, Inc. Little did he know he was about to embark on a journey of empowerment.
From a very young age, it was apparent to Tim’s mother, Cindie, that he was different from his peers as he struggled in school and experienced frequent outbursts in the classroom. Unfortunately, Tim would repeat kindergarten twice, and Cindie would endure 2 ½ years of overwhelmingly negative school reports before it was ever suggested that he may be autistic. Shortly after his diagnosis, he was transferred to a special school program. Initially, Cindie worried about placing her son in a program alongside children whose disability was more noticeable, but within a month she was convinced. Tim was not only doing better in school, he was excelling in it.
Upon first enrolling at Merrick after high school, Tim chose to work for Merrick’s Utility Services where he performed light assembly tasks, but it was his involvement in Merrick’s Self-Advocacy program that would have the greatest impact. To his amazement, it was not long after joining a Self-Advocacy group that Tim was nominated and elected as president. He had never been president of anything before! In the years that followed, Tim repeatedly found himself speaking at places and in front of people he never thought possible: legislators at the Minnesota State Capitol, members of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, and fourth-grade students at local elementary schools.
After 6 years of employment with Merrick’s Utility Services, Tim was ready for a change. With the guidance and support of Merrick’s employment services team, Tim was soon individually hired part-time by Gordmans where he worked in the stockroom. However, a couple years later, Tim once again experienced restlessness at work and wanted something more challenging to occupy his time. That’s when he first learned about and was soon hired by Beltmann Relocation Group as a digital imaging assistant.
From the beginning, Beltmann and Tim were a perfect match. His love for technology along with the consistency of the job and the amazing coworkers and leadership team helped create an environment that both validated Tim’s strengths and encouraged future growth. Even as the work became scarcer, Beltmann continued to be interested in Tim and hoped he would consider staying with the company albeit in a different position. When asked by a Merrick team member about his professional goals, he expressed a desire to work with phones. Needless to say, it was not long before Tim was devoting less time to digital imaging and devoting more time to answering the phone at Beltmann.
Outside of work, Tim has no shortage of hobbies to occupy his free time. Whether it’s kayaking down the Chicago River, vacationing in Las Vegas, or taking a trip to Duluth, Tim is always up for an adventure as long as it includes his mother, Cindie, and PCA and long-time friend Paul. When not traveling, Tim enjoys participating in a local bowling league, making frequent visits to the Science Museum of Minnesota, and talking afternoon walks with his mother.
As he looks back on his journey thus far, Tim is quick to acknowledge the many people whose guidance and support helped him become the success that he is: his mother, his teachers, his supervisors, and his support staff at Merrick. At the same time, he also acknowledges the part he played in his own success. According to Tim, “The best person to help you is you.” More and more, Tim has come to realize the power of his own words, and is amazed at how far he has come. But the journey is far from over. Tim knows this, but instead of feeling anxiety, he feels calm. Because he knows he will not be traveling alone.
As you know, Merrick, Inc.’s Charity Golf Scramble was originally scheduled for one week from today but was ultimately postponed due to Covid-19. We are pleased to announce that arrangements have been made for the event to take place on Monday, August 17, 2020, at Troy Burne Golf Course.
Please mark this new date on your calendar and look for future updates regarding the event. If you haven’t already, register as a golfer or a sponsor today. The event costs $175 per golfer with sponsorships starting at $100. Thank you for your cooperation.
During the Corona virus peacetime emergency in 2020, Merrick, Inc., closed its support programs for adults with disabilities. This is a message of encouragement from staff to clients as we await their return to our programs.
Individual golfer and sponsor registration is now open for Merrick’s 25th Annual Charity Golf Scramble on Monday, May 18, 2020, at Troy Burne Golf Club in Hudson, WI. Registration is $175 per golfer. Sponsorship levels range from $100 to $5000. Additional information can be found on our event webpage.
We look forward to seeing you out there on the golf course.
In late 2019, it came to my attention that Arc Minnesota was actively building a coalition of stakeholders to develop a 2020 legislative plan to phase out the commensurate wage regulation, known as 14(c), which permits a special minimum wage. After hearing strong opposition from many stakeholders this plan has been shelved for the time being. Still, there are several efforts at the federal level to eliminate the 14(c) regulation, and the Minnesota Disability Services Division (DSD) is moving forward with its plan to redesign Day Training & Habilitation (DT&H) services and impose a 36-month limit on prevocational services (with a possible 12-month extension) for anyone enrolled after 12/31/20.
It is my view that this DSD plan will eliminate the center-based work option for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) even if the 14(c) regulation is retained. To explain my reasoning I wrote a document entitled “Smoke & Fire” that is formatted in the style of a 2015 document entitled “Myths & Realities” written by the RTC on Community Living at the University of Minnesota. My hope is that a reader will better understand the issue if explained in a similar format and structure.
Both documents are attached as a pdf to this editorial and I suggest that the reader print both and read the same section of each before moving onto the next section. In this manner, the contrasting views may be clearer to the reader by the time they finish reading the documents.
At Merrick we have more than 200 clients that earned more than $750,000 last year through our 14(c) center-based work option who either can’t or don’t want to work in a competitive integrated work environment. It is my hope that others will strive to convince DHS to reconsider its DT&H redesign plan and proposed limit on prevocational services so that people with I/DD can make meaningful decisions about how to live, work, and interact with the community as promised in the Olmstead Plan.