Udac grateful for support of Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation as they continue building a more inclusive workforce
A partnership between Duluth-based nonprofit Udac and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation has helped Udac transform how it serves adults with employment barriers, many of whom
want to be involved in the community, learn about post-secondary education and be employed.
A $75,000 grant from the Community Foundation helped Udac develop partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits and schools to create more jobs for Udac’s clients.
Udac rebuilt the entire organization to support individuals– empowering clients to use public transportation, advocate for themselves, develop careers and build self-reliance to achieve their community living goals.
In less than two years, Udac has more than doubled its number of business partners, opening doors at
the Duluth International Airport, Essentia Health, Loll Designs and several dozen others. More than 50
individuals are employed across the Northland, and the number is growing.
Udac’s new model recently received national recognition with an Organizational Best Practices Award
from the National Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE).
“The Community Foundation was the first to believe in our vision to transform—that it was possible—
and willing to support it with a meaningful gift,” Udac Executive Director Karen Herman said.
One Udac client spent 20 years in a sheltered workshop, where his work, transportation and time in the
community was always supervised. His first step toward self-reliance was taking community
transportation to work. After 18 months spent developing his talents, he now works independently at
“This is what I always wanted for my son, and I never thought it would happen,” his mother said. “This
program is needed. More people need to learn about it so they can be part of it.”
Another client with Down Syndrome and limited verbal skills has achieved success and independence.
Since high school graduation, his work, transportation and community time also had been supervised.
After working with a Career and Life Coach at Udac to eliminate barriers and build opportunities, he is
employed four days a week and takes a cab, unsupervised, to work. He loves his newfound independence.
The new approach has benefits for employers, too. Preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics showed that, in May, the most recent month for which statistics are available, unemployment
stood at 3.7 percent in the Twin Ports region, one of the Northland’s lowest unemployment rates in a decade.
“The key here is we have a workforce shortage,” said Chad Nurminen, Support Services Director at
Essentia Health. “The Udac program is connecting those who want to work with people like myself who
have positions to fill.”
Nurminen says it’s been rewarding for his staff and that Udac’s clients are having a positive impact at Essentia. “It’s been a great thing for everyone involved.”
“This is timely, beautiful work,” Foundation President and CEO Shaun Floerke said. “Meeting community
employment needs and expanding services to include all people benefits everyone.”
Herman said, “This is community inclusion in the broadest sense and represents collaboration across
many sectors. The model elevates comprehensive community involvement and removes systemic
barriers to community living. It defines pathways of community living for all. The APSE Organizational
Best Practice award acknowledges the tremendous effort of the Udac team, community partners and
most importantly the people successfully achieving community living.”