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Park Rapids DAC names interim director

Laura Johnson has assumed the role of interim executive director of the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center, following the recent departure of Matt Kramer.

"I believe in what the DAC does," Johnson said of what has become "a shining example in the state… I’ve got big shoes to fill," she said of Ed Ranson, who pioneered the program that now has several work sites for DAC clients, as well as partnerships with businesses in the community.

Johnson has served as a member of the DAC board of directors for more than a year.  She brings not only a background in business and management, but also firsthand parental experience to the role.

She served as her son Lewis’ advocate, who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. He has just completed his freshman year at Concordia College. Johnson credits the Park Rapids Schools for his success.

Typically, she said, a DAC program director would be chosen for the interim role. "But the board felt the directors should continue to focus on what’s important for clients."

Over 100 clients now complete jobs at the DAC on Pleasant Avenue, the Tin Ceiling, Bearly Used, the Salvage Depot and the Hubbard County Recycling Center.

Hubbard County is unique in having a variety of work options for clients, as well as opportunities to develop skills, Johnson pointed out.

Funding cuts to DACs, which is being discussed at the state level, will hit smaller organizations harder, she explained. Hubbard County has "an internal source of income. The DAC is a stable, vibrant organization."

She expressed some concern regarding implementation of the Minnesota Olmstead Act, which calls for mainstreaming clientele. "We have to look at the needs and abilities of individuals, where they will find success. And be sure they are safe, with healthy, active participation" in the community.

"We have to balance state requirements with clients’ needs, and have the ability to pull them back. We want them to be successful, but to know they can return to the DAC setting," she said.

Johnson cited a "great partnership" with Heartland Homes, as well Stepping Stones Adult Foster Care. The DAC also works with the high school, to transition clients from the classroom to the program.

The DAC director position will be posted in the near future, and Johnson plans to submit her resumè for consideration. "It’s important to find the right candidate." Staff, she said, will have input.

Meanwhile, she’s planning "no big changes. The operation runs well. The big thing is taking care of day-to-day business," she said.

"My job is to provide leadership, continuity and financial viability during the transition," Johnson said.

During her 12 years as a resident of Park Rapids Johnson has worked with developmentally disabled individuals and physically handicapped youth.

She has also been active in the Park Rapids speech and drama departments, "supporting the creativity of children." Husband Clayton Johnson is a registered nurse at CHI St. Joseph’s Health; daughter Coral is a freshman at Park Rapids Area High School.