Udac earns national award for transforming the way they serve people of all abilities

[anvplayer video=”5184034″ station=”998130″]

The pandemic gave Udac a chance to change the way they help serve people of all abilities.

“We literally started with a blank sheet of paper,” explained Karen Herman, Executive Director. “Our opportunities are around empowerment. And we listened to the people that we serve, and coming to one building was not first on their list.”

They moved away from center-based programming, which is the traditional way that people with disabilities would interact with friends and others.

Now, folks are becoming more independent in their community, with work and other activities.

That’s why the National APSE has recognized them with the Organizational Best Practice Award. They picked it up in Columbus back in June.

It’s about building a more inclusive workforce.

Ben Giesen is enjoying his job at a senior living complex in Duluth. “I love it. Everybody gets along here,” he said.

He’s been there for about two years. And with the new model of programming, is there without a career coach.

“They’ve taken a step back and let me do it on my own,” he said.

It’s helped build his confidence. “He’s been able to grow, and gain independence,” shared Career and Life Manager Nicole Opland. “We’ve been able to think of new ways to support people, without dependence.”

Ann Dahl, Director of Operations, added, “I think the biggest change is that people are having experiences they’ve never had before. For example, a first job evaluation or first raise. Or they now get vacation days. None of that was happening before. And now, all of the sudden they are having rapidly different outcomes, with different goals.”

Udac is serving over 70 people right now.

Tracy Olson is proud to be part of the organization. “I’m in the process of finding a job that I can do,” she told us.

Ronelle Lathrop is also excited about her cleaning work with Northwood Children’s Services. “I do it on my own. I’m independent.” Her career coach is on hand, but she does it herself.

The plan is to partner with the Duluth School District in the fall. And Essentia Health is working with Udac on an internship program.

Herman is also sharing their model with other partners across the state.