Ralph, the inspiration for Hammer’s logo and statues, was a little boy who had a disability few understood in the 1920s. His family trusted Alvina Hammer and her conviction that he should grow up in a loving environment. He was part of the first Hammer school.

As the leaders of two west Metro organizations that help people with disabilities lead fulfilling lives in our community, we share David’s story of independence.

David moved from a group home setting into his own apartment in 2013 at age 39. He has been supported along the way by dedicated staff at Hammer like Pam Janczewski, who provides independent living skills training, and John Larson at Opportunity Partners who helps David with job coaching.

Pam and John also collaborate with David and his family to make sure the goals and dreams for his life are being attained. David loves to go out for pizza, excels at his job at a local grocery store, and has an active social life.

Staff support David to be out in the community with his friends, assist him with cooking, coach him at his job, and support him in his health management -- all to ensure he can live and work as independently as possible. He is an energetic man who happens to have disabilities; however, he does not let that define who he is.

Unfortunately, organizations like ours across the state are facing serious staffing shortages. Today there are more than 8,700 caregiver and staff job vacancies at organizations that provide Home & Community-Based Services throughout Minnesota. Direct support professional or caregiver positions that support people with disabilities like David, is rewarding but challenging. Staff turnover is frequent due to the lower pay of these important and in-demand jobs.

That is why Hammer and Opportunity Partners support the Best Life Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition of more than 130 Minnesota service providers, caregivers, people with disabilities, older adults, family members and community partners advocating for Home & Community-Based Services. The Best Life Alliance is asking lawmakers for a 5 percent rate increase in 2016 that will go toward increases in staff wages and reforms to ensure individualized, quality services that David and others with disabilities need and deserve.

The increase would impact 99,000 caregivers and support professionals who work with 73,000 people with disabilities and 35,000 older adults throughout Minnesota. Programs affected include day and residential disability programs, senior home care and home-delivered meal programs, personal care attendants, job training and coaching for people with disabilities, complex home health care and more.

Minnesota is a great state with a legacy of valuing and advancing community services like these for people with disabilities and older adults. Providers like Hammer and Opportunity Partners are helping lead reforms that support people in making choices, increasing independence and inclusion to live their best life. Achieving these reforms requires a skilled and adequately-compensated workforce.

With the state’s budget surplus, the time to act is now. Help older adults and people with disabilities – including David – live their best life and avoid more costly and less inclusive services in the future. Dedicated employees like Pam and John deserve to live their best life too, with careers that offer wages that reflect the important and challenging work they do every day.

Here is how you can help:

  • Contact your legislator to ask him or her to support the Best Life Alliance and prioritize funding for Home & Community-Based Services for people with disabilities and older adults.
  • Join us for a rally at the St. Paul Armory near the Capitol on March 15 at 10 a.m., where we hope to have 1,000 Best Life Alliance advocates in attendance.
  • Learn more and sign our online petition at bit.ly/BestLifeMN.
  • Follow our efforts on Facebook and Twitter @BestLifeMN.
  • With your support, we will help people with disabilities, older adults and the staff who support them live their best lives.

Armando Camacho is the President & CEO of Opportunity Partners, a nonprofit organization advancing the quality of life for more than 2,000 people with disabilities each year. John Estrem is the CEO of Hammer Residences, a nonprofit organization supporting over 1,150 people with disabilities yearly.


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