Erickson’s work with Rise participants honored

In her work, Mary Ann Erickson helps people with intellectual and development disabilities as well as mental illness become successful in the work place. She helps them navigate the public transit system and resolve conflicts with managers and co-workers.

Mary Ann Erickson, right, poses with Karen Larson and Hunter Sargent, the Arc Minnesota Awards Committee co-chairpersons, after receiving the Irving Martin Professional of the Year award Nov. 16. Photo submitted
Mary Ann Erickson, right, poses with Karen Larson and Hunter Sargent, the Arc Minnesota Awards Committee co-chairpersons, after receiving the Irving Martin Professional of the Year award Nov. 16. Photo submitted

While it is part of her job, it is a life changer to them and Erickson’s dedication was rewarded Nov. 16 with the Irving Martin Professional of the Year Award from The Arc Minnesota, non-profit organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

“The Irving Martin Professional of the Year Award honors an individual employed in community services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities who has demonstrated sensitivity and the ability to provide an outstanding quality of service, which results in increased independence for the people being served. Erickson is employed by Spring Lake Park company Rise, Inc.,” said Mike Gude of Arc in a press release.

“She works with persons with disabilities who have been hired for jobs in the community. Over the past 24 years, she has worked with employees in virtually every industry.”

Erickson has a well deserved reputation, Gude said.

She has done so much to further the things that make up the Arc mission and helps people that want to work into the community, he said.

Erickson does a lot to help the Rise program participants, who are in their 20s to 50s, be successful as well as advocate for them when necessary, Gude said.

Arc wanted to recognize Erickson’s constant commitment and her incredible achievements, Gude said.

For one man, Erickson’s willingness to go above and beyond meant he got to keep the job he loved.

One of Erickson’s program participants, a contract worker at a local franchise of a national restaurant chain, was going to be fired because the national chain had changed its rules on allowing contracted workers.

“I thought it was just wrong,” Erickson said.

Doing a little reach into the national chain’s mission, Erickson discovered keeping the man on would fall in line with the chain’s mission statement and took the information to the general manager.

The chain’s goals included having a positive impact on the local communities and Erickson told the manager that the community valued the hiring of individuals with disabilities, said Gude.

The man was able to keep his job and became a permanent employee.

In a year-end Rise survey of the businesses, guardians, social workers and program participants, Erickson gets high marks.

They just rave about her commitment, caring and willingness to go above and beyond, said Beth DePoint, Rise public relations director.

“Mary Ann’s efforts are life changing for the people she works with. She changes lives,” she said.

She uses her creativity to approach each individual situation. There is no cookie cutter approach, DePoint said.

Erickson is able to help her participants find the right job to fit their interests and skills and works with them to maintain the job for long periods of time, she said.

“It changes a person’s life when they have a job they are good at, enjoy and they are respected for. I think that is the exciting thing,” DePoint said.

While Erickson is humble about this, “when you step back and look at the big picture it is exciting to see,” she said.

Erickson is a member of a team, but she is a really strong member, DePoint said.

“She takes it about 16 steps further than a lot of other people might have,” she said.

For her, it is just part of the job, Erickson said.

“You go to work and do your job and you really don’t think of the impact on the number of people,” she said.

“It makes me feel proud being able to help people achieve their employment goals.”

She is part of a team and she has had some wonderful employers to work with over the 24 years she has been with Rise and they have been really supportive, Erickson said.

It was hard to pick a winner for the award, but examples of how Erickson has helped her program participants made her stand out from the other high quality nominees, Gude said.

“It was how she goes to bat for her people and advocating for them,” he said.

Sometimes her job is like being the plate spinner in the circus, Erickson said.

She watches to see which participant needs a little help and then moves onto the next one, she said.

For more information, go to more information on Arc Minnesota, go to

Information on Rise can be found on its website,

Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]