The new year will be bring changes to Rise, Inc.
The Spring Lake Park agency that connects people with disabilities and community businesses as well as providing housing and programs of self-sufficiency, will be welcoming a new president and saying goodbye to two longtime administrators, President John Barrett and Vice President Don Lavin..
Lynn Noren, who has worked at Rise since 1979, succeeded Barrett as the president as of Jan. 1.
This was a good time to retire, said Barrett, who was been the president for the last 36 years.
Rise needs someone who is willing to make a commitment for a long time as the agency starts its strategic planning and looks to expand its programs, Barrett said.
At the age of 69, that is not something he could commit to, he said.
“This seemed like a good time to make the break,” Barrett said.
Noren will be able to take Rise to the next level, he said.
When he started with Rise in 1971, it had been losing money during four of its five years, Barrett said.
Rise had laid off a third of its staff and shifted the duties of the remaining staff.
There were 10 staff members working with about 70 people with disabilities and all of the programs were in-house, Barrett said.
To help turn things around, Barrett and the board revised the Rise mission statement.
They wanted to integrate people with disabilities into the community, primarily through work, Barrett said.
Rather than focusing on the in-house assembly work that it had been doing, Rise sought out community employers to find work opportunities to fit each person’s abilities and skill level, he said.
“We were looking to get (people with disabilities) into a normal (work) setting,” Noren said.
Over the years, Rise also expanded its program to serve people with more challenging disabilities, Barrett said.
Some of these people need more assistance, are nonverbal or are developmentally disabled, he said.
Today, Rise has 320 staff members and works with an average of 4,300 individuals with disabilities a year.
Rise also partners with area schools to help transition students with disabilities from the school setting, Barrett said.
Rise works with each person to determine their abilities and skills, then matches them to the right job, he said.
It also works with the employers and the individual person to ensure success, Norse said.
Noren will be able to continue that, Barrett said.
The board did an extensive search to pick the best person for the job, he said.
As Noren starts her new job as president, Rise will begin refining its technology and infrastructure system to meet the needs of its partners and start working on a new three-year strategic plan.
“We have to continue to look at the operations and change (to) what people are looking for,” said Noren, who started with Rise as a 19-year-old college intern.
Barrett was the type of manager that allows staff to run with various projects and she wants to continue that, according to Noren.
Over the years, Noren has been a major player in legislative initiatives and has traveled to various parts of the country surveying other programs and bringing their best practices to Rise, said Beth DePoint, Rise director of public relations.
Noren has also held several leadership roles with a number of consortiums in which Rise has membership, she said.
She has worked at the state and national levels to improve services for everyone, DePoint said.
Vice President Don Lavin, who started in 1976, will be retiring Jan. 11.
After 36 years guiding RISE programs, Lavin is off to a new adventure.
He is going to spend more time with his family and travel, Lavin said.
Lavin and his wife are planning a trip to South Africa to visit friends.
Once he returns, Lavin said he would like to continue his work, perhaps working for a state agency or as a consultant at the state and national levels.
While he will miss his colleagues, Lavin said he is looking forward to advancing opportunities for Americans with disabilities without the restrictions of an agency.
“People with disabilities are not given fair opportunities because of the low expectations that are set for them,” he said.
That holds people back and segregates them, Lavin said.
With the right job, right support and technology, anyone can work in a community-based job, he said.
“(Rise) has been successful over the years and we have grown tremendously” by customizing support to people’s and employer’s needs, Lavin said.
Convincing community employers to give people with disabilities a chance in the workplace has been one of Lavin’s passions.
It was a new approach when it was introduced and people were telling him it would not work, Lavin said.
Although he was told he was building castles in the sky, Lavin continued to sell the program.
“Success is intentional if you plan it,” he said.
Because families and people with disabilities had asked local employers for the opportunity, they were able to achieve it, Lavin said.
Once people with disabilities were part of the workforce, the program sold itself, he said.
But they have to have employers willing get beyond the fear of the unknown, for example how to communicate with someone who is deaf, for it work, Lavin said.
A big part of his job as vice president has been program development and finding more effective ways to support employers, he said.
Rise was one of the first programs in the country to implement supportive employment, providing support for the individual and employers to help create sustainable employment, Lavin said.
“According to the Department of Labor, only 21 percent of Americans with disabilities are in the workforce,” Lavin said.
There are millions of Americans with disabilities that are not working and are dependent on the government, he said.
“That is a waste of human talent,” Lavin said.
He wanted to, and continues to want to, support a better quality of life for people with disabilities, give them an opportunity to earn income and connect with the people in their communities, he said.
“I know that these ideas make a difference,” Lavin said.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]