Fifty years ago, several local parents of disabled children recognized their little ones could use a little extra help. At that time the only option was to institutionalize the children in a Cambridge facility. These parents weren’t about to do that.
Soon, those parents’ grass roots efforts gave birth to the Anoka County Daytime Activity Center, which opened at St. Phillips Lutheran Church in Fridley in 1964. Over time, that daytime activity center grew and evolved and became Achieve Services Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit, state licensed day training and habilitation and supported employment service program serving adults with developmental disabilities.
Today, what started as a day program for 17 children with disabilities has evolved into a job training program helping more than 180 adults with disabilities build skills and careers and gain independence. (Adults-only service began in 1988 after public schools took over programming for children with developmental disabilities.)
“We have an unbelievably dedicated staff here,” said CEO Tom Weaver as staff put final touches on the June 4 Achieve Services 50th anniversary celebration. That celebration included an open house and tours of the facility as well as an evening of fun with bowling, laser tag, and arcade games at Brunswick Zone XL in Blaine.
“Our people here at Achieve don’t just work with our participants, they develop relationships with them and that is so important to good service,” Weaver said. “Our staff works to customize services to our clients. They are really good at getting the most out of our people who have higher needs, and that means they are happier and more productive.”
Evidence of Achieve’s excellence in service is obvious when you see smiling portraits of people who are members of the “25 Year Club,” the “30 Year Club” and the “35 Year Club.”
Program director Carol Donahoe said not only are Achieve’s clients long term, so are the relationships with local businesses which employ those clients.
“They tell us that hiring people with a disability is the best thing they ever did,” Donahoe said. “The employers love the productivity and the attitude our clients come with, and they also see that there is very low turn-over and low tardiness, too.”
Add “personability” to that, and employers have an ideal employee, Donahoe said.
“Personability” is a trait Achieve defines as “the unique blend of personality and ability that every Achieve Services worker brings to the job.”
By focusing on abilities, not disabilities, Achieve staff members strive to increase the independence and quality of life for all individuals in the program.
“Fifty years ago, no one would have imagined what someone with developmental disabilities could become, what they could do, what they could achieve, but they have so much to give and we celebrate that every day,” Weaver said.
Local businesses hire Achieve clients to do a variety of tasks, including store maintenance, clerical work, assembly, scanning documents, recycling and more.
Weaver reports that 59 percent of Achieve clients work in the community; 36 percent are working in the on-site facility. The remaining five percent receive instruction and training in vocational and life skills, therapy services and community activities. Those activities include volunteering at Feed My Starving Children and Meals on Wheels.
Sandy Willows described the importance of Achieve to her daughter Susie, a woman diagnosed with epilepsy at just four months old. As she grew older, she was also diagnosed with a developmental disability.
“Susie started with Achieve when she was three years old. Then, the schools were there for her and after she graduated high school, she came back to Achieve,” Sandy said. “The staff at Achieve is fabulous. They really care. They develop personal relationships with them, they encourage them, support them. We are just so thankful for Achieve.”
Susie expressed her happiness as she talked about her job in Achieve’s on-site production area.
“I do the cards. I like the cards. I put them in the sleeves,” she said, a bright smile stretched across her face. “That’s my job and I like it.”
Achieve training specialist Joe Loskota put music to clients’ abilities when he worked with those clients to produce a CD.
Incorporating clients’ lyrics and using instruments clients suggested to make the music behind those lyrics, Loskota produced “Dance at Your Own Risk,” a CD featuring a collection of fun, upbeat dance, rock, and pop songs. (To buy a copy of that CD, go to AchieveServices.org, click on “Participant Businesses” and choose “Dance at Your Own Risk.”)
“Fifty years ago, no one would have imagined this,” Weaver said.
Another entrepreneurial effort resulted in Achieve clients embarking on a new business venture: Achieve Laundry Detergent.
“It’s manufactured elsewhere and then our clients label and package it. It will be for sale this summer,” Weaver said.
As for the next 50 years, the CEO said staff at Achieve will continue to push services to a higher level and continue to explore the capabilities of their clients.
“We’d like to create an incubator for our clients to start their own businesses with their own ideas and abilities. We hope to become more and more entrepreneurial and less dependent on government funding,” Weaver said, noting that until 2004, Achieve had been a county program.
The non-profit organization now is funded primarily by donations, grants, production income, community based income, and program service fees.
Achieve is located in Suite 105 inside the Anoka County Human Services Building at 1201-89th Ave. NE, Blaine.
To learn more about Achieve Services, Inc. call 763-783-4909 or visit AchieveServices.org.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]