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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Legal Ledger Capitol Report, Oct. 6, 2008:

Helping people help themselves:
"Innovative" businesses honored for going the
extra mile to hire people with developmental disabilities

by Betsy Sundquist, Staff Writer

The Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities has honored 11 Minnesota businesses for using innovative approaches to employing Minnesotans who are developmentally disabled.

The 11 businesses were among 45 Minnesota employers nominated for the recognition.

"As with all employees, if people want to expand their work and have interest, they are promoted, and new tasks are assigned with training," Meredith Heerey, who manages the Golden Valley Byerly’s, wrote to the council in material submitted in support of the honor and available on the council’s web site.

Heerey has a network of job coaches and agencies that helps her give potential employees with developmental disabilities a "trial experience," and 90 percent of those people end up joining the company, she said. Her developmentally disabled employees work as restaurant cooks, in the store’s deli, stocking, cleaning and bagging.

One of those employees is Earl Munn.

Munn, 42, has worked at the Golden Valley location for five years, doing a little bit of everything, including bagging groceries and busing tables at the store’s restaurant. He previously worked at Merwyn’s, a job he held for 15 years. But when that store closed, Munn took a job with Byerly’s.

Peggy Nelson, a grocery cashier with whom Munn frequently works as a grocery bagger, said during a telephone interview that everybody knows Munn. "Everybody in town knows his name," Nelson said. “I mean everybody.

"When he first started here, everyone who passed through the checkout line knew him right away. He’s really a good guy and a hard worker."

Munn used to walk to work from his home about four miles away. Now that he’s older, he usually opts for the bus.

"I work in the restaurant," Munn said during the telephone interview. "I like seeing all the people every day."

At Coborn’s, a grocery store in Buffalo, manager Rick Flatta has six developmentally disabled employees. He told the council in supporting material that he continually seeks new tasks for them to give them a chance to expand their skills: "I want to give them a chance to prove themselves," he wrote. "Customers seem to appreciate our business supporting people with developmental disabilities."

One of those Coborn’s employees, who works as a bagger and helps stock shelves, was named employee of the month in August.

At Culver’s in Stillwater, owner-managers Steve and Rita Rasmussen work with Mahtomedi High School to employ students, including those with developmental disabilities. "We feel that by example, we are making sure that we do not hold these employees back from their potential," Rita Rasmussen told the council in supporting material.

Minnesota Housing, an agency that finances and promotes affordable housing opportunities for low and moderate income Minnesotans, has employed a developmentally disabled woman since 1992. She performs office tasks and is the "scanning expert," according to her supervisor, Anne Thomson. "When she’s not here, it affects the way the whole department runs," Thomson wrote to the council in supporting material. "She knows all the specifics about how to do some of the detailed printing and packaging of time-sensitive materials."

The governor’s council selected businesses for recognition after identifying Minnesota companies that use "innovative employment practices" in hiring developmentally disabled employees and promoting an inclusive work environment. Profiles were created of the chosen employers and their practices, and, after on-site visits, the 45 nominees were narrowed to the 11 businesses.

The companies were chosen based on direct employment of the developmentally disabled; permanent employment; whether they paid minimum wage or higher; and the opportunity for advancement.

Of those businesses nominated, 30 percent were involved in manufacturing and distribution; 28 percent in services and technology; 17 percent were restaurants; 12 percent were educational or child-care businesses; 7 percent were grocery and retail establishments; 4 percent were government agencies, and 2 percent were automotive service companies.

Lynda Whittemore, of Natural Resource Group, told the council in supporting material that she hired employees with developmental disabilities because it was "a chance to do the right thing." She added: "We are building awareness and supporting the fact that all people want gratifying work."

The 11 businesses honored for innovative approaches toward employing developmentally disabled Minnesotans are:

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.