Disability employer award presented to school lunch program
The statewide honor recognizes a 30-year relationship between the Park Rapids Area Schools and the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center.
The Park Rapids Area Schools’ food service program received the Outstanding Disability Employer Award on Monday from the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation.
Food service supervisor J.T. Clark accepted the award during the school board meeting, presented by some of the clients of the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) who work in the program.
The DAC nominated the school district for the award, and so appropriately, DAC client Tina Brown presented it.
“It’s truly a great partnership,” Clark said of the DAC clients. “We could not provide the services that we provide without them.”
He called the eight clients that DAC sends over on the average day “a godsend” and a great asset for the community.
Debbie Luther with the DAC said the center keeps a list of 8-10 clients to schedule for shifts in the schools’ cafeterias five days a week, or to fill in when extra help is needed.
“It works out really well,” Luther said. “They’re there for approximately two hours. Our staff support them. J.T.’s staff in the kitchens are phenomenal, working with our clients, and we appreciate it very much.”
Luther said the DAC can trace its partnership with the school lunch program as far back as 30 years, when the school was located off Park Avenue.
“At that time, we started with a smaller group,” she recalled, “but throughout the years they’ve found how valuable we are, how our skills really match the job, and we’ve just gradually increased.”
Clients love their job
Brown, a graduate of Park Rapids High School, serves food in the cafeteria, where she has worked for approximately 14 years.
“I love it,” she said. “I love serving, and I love little kids also.”
Luther said Brown tells her she likes the staff she works with.
DAC client Chris Wheeler washes dishes at both Century School and the high school.
After four years on the job, Wheeler agreed that he likes the people, and the job’s not bad.
DAC staff member Lacey Hanisch, who works at the Salvage Depot, said Wheeler got his duties down so well that he now has a dishwashing job at the Hugo’s deli as well.
“It’s been kind of a stepping stone for him to get out in the community,” Hanisch said.
Client Shayna Braunschweig also washes dishes at the high school, a job she’s had for perhaps 10 years.
“I love it,” she agreed. “I like the staff.” Having a job feels good, she said.
To this Luther added, “It’s that you’re doing something that’s really worthwhile and meaningful, and you’re very busy, and you know that you’re very needed.”
In her own words, Braunschweig said, “I just like the people. I like my job a lot. I like to go there every day.”
“If you’re not there, you’re missed,” Luther told her. “These guys all do a great job.”
More from MOHR
Joining the DAC clients for the presentation was MOHR past president Mike Burke of Ada. Burke explained that the organization represents more than 100 disability employment providers statewide.
“This award is really about the opportunities that it provides for the clients at Hubbard DAC, that relationship that some of you have had for a long time – 30 years,” said Burke. “We’re very proud that we can present this award to you tonight in real appreciation for all the hard work that you do to give persons with disabilities, these employees that you have, that opportunity to be a part of their community and the opportunity to work with your staff.”
Based on stories he had heard, Burke told the school board, “These guys really appreciate your staff. They really appreciate the daily contact with the service staff, with the administration and the support that they’ve been given.”
According to a MOHR press release, the organization recognizes October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
“People with disabilities are engaged and thriving in jobs across our state,” MOHR president Julie Johnson said in the release. “We would encourage more employers to get on board and discover the talent pool they are missing.”
Johnson added that many DAC clients have been hired directly at the school, and some have used their work experience as a springboard to other employment and greater independence.
“It has also been positive modeling for the students,” she said, as they see adults with disabilities working alongside other employees. She also acknowledged the role of the schools’ job coach, setting up a support system to accommodate the specific needs of DAC clients.