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DAC faces significant changes in industry

Bales of cardboard and clothing sit at the Hubbard County Recycling Center waiting to be transported. In 2015, they moved 6,244,289 pounds of recycled product. The majority of the recycled material was corrugated cardboard.(Nicole Vik/Enterprise)1 / 3
Clients and staff work together along a conveyor to sort recycling at the Hubbard County Recycling Center before it is baled and transported. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise) 2 / 3
Edna Kako works on a rug made of recycled jeans using a loom at the Hubbard County DAC. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise)3 / 3

The Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) serves individuals who are developmentally disabled to help place them in jobs in order to learn new skills and further improve their quality of life.

In addition to their facility on Pleasant Avenue, the DAC owns three retail stores located throughout Park Rapids; The Bearly Used Thrift Store, The Salvage Depot and The Tin Ceiling and they also manage the Hubbard County Recycling Center, all of which provide jobs to the clients.

"There are a lot of changes in our industry coming. Funding is going to be a problem in the next three years with the new Disability Waivers Rate System (DWRS) laws," Laura Johnson, the executive director of the DAC said. The DWRS is the basis for pricing waiver services within four disability waivers. The formulas are used to calculate a rate built on the framework.

"In 2019, Hubbard County DAC and our clients are looking at losing 30 percent of their income that we get from the state currently, which means these retail stores are even more important."

According to Johnson, there will be DACs closing across the country but she is hopeful Hubbard County DAC will not be one of them.

"We have a way to continue to fuel our mission through the generosity of our partners in Park Rapids and surrounding areas," she said. "That's really important and it's going to become even more important."

The DAC is also being pushed to get as many clients as possible out into community employment. "Unfortunately, for a lot of our clients that isn't going to be realistic. We fight to keep these jobs that our clients love coming to everyday," Johnson said, adding that there are 20 businesses that the DAC sends crews to, as well as Park Rapids schools.

"Our community is very good to our organization and I think the government is looking at making these changes because there are those places where people with disabilities aren't being integrated into the community and aren't working up to their potential skill levels," she added. "Overall I feel in our organization our clients are, and it's troubling that when these laws take effect some of our highest functioning clients are the ones that are going to be hurt because they're not quite ready to be independently employed out in the community, and unfortunately I'm not going to have the funding to have a job coach be out there. So unless we find a way to fund that, which is of course my goal, those are the people that are going to be hurt."

Currently, the DAC does manage operations at the recycling center and therefore the government does not consider it community employment. The building itself is owned by Hubbard County but they partner with each other and according to Johnson, it has been a big part of what makes the DAC so successful.

Beginning in 2017, Hubbard County will be implementing a contract with Polk County to take the consumables such as glass and plastic to a facility in Fosston, which will reduce the need for as much client employment as it currently provides.

"It's not necessarily as bad for our clients as it may sound," Johnson said about the change. "There are many other companies within the community that would like to have our people going out on a job crew but right now we don't have enough people so there are definite opportunities."

"There will still be clients working at the recycling center and still be managing the recycling center but we won't have clients on the line," said Rick Zeller, Recycling Center Manager. "As facilities go the building was built in 1992 and the equipment has not been updated. It would have cost the county millions of dollars to update this building and all of the new equipment."

"It's been a good partnership," he said. "We've had good relations with the county."

"We seem to have a much friendlier county relationship than a lot of other organizations because it's been looked at as a partnership," Johnson added.

According to Zeller, the recycling center has been managed by the DAC since 1987.

"It started pretty low tech in the building that is currently the sheriff's office and in 1992 they moved to the current location which is situated at the landfill on Henrietta Avenue," he said. "But things tend to cycle and now there is better technology to recycle and the county has found a better way. We'll be involved for a while longer as long as it's a good fit for the county and our clients because the big thing is providing those jobs."

According to Johnson, most of their clients like to have a schedule and the great thing about being at the recycling center is that they know exactly what they are responsible for everyday; they like being there and they get paid well.

"These clients love coming out here and there's been a lot of stress as we've been working with the county to figure out what was next year going to look like," Johnson said. "But now we've worked it out and I think it's going to be a really good situation for both the county and our clients."

"We have to continue to look at what's the next thing," Zeller said. "A lot of jobs don't last this long some of the clients have been working since the recycling center started."

"The great thing about our clients is that they show up and they're happy to be here and they work," Johnson said.

Most of the DAC clients make minimum wage with wages based on a wage survey gauging their abilities and/or limitations which are measured against that of someone who achieves 100 percent on the survey. By having the clients take the test, they are also able to see the growth in them.

At their retail locations, clients help with daily operations such as sorting donated items, cleaning, pricing items and stocking merchandise.

At Pleasant Avenue facility the clients do a lot of work using reusable items such as handmade rugs and jump rumps made from recycled clothing, or fire starters made from donated candle wax and sawdust.

The clients also shred documents in a secure environment where information is not shared, they make custom wood crafts with the help of staff and they make buttons for local events or sports teams, to name a few of the many things being done at the DAC.