CEO Tom Gillespie at left, and COO Rod Carlson at right, at the Employee Recognition event celebrating Danielle Anderson for her 5 years with Living Well.

After almost three years of Covid claustrophobia, Living Well opened up a bit over the past year. And we couldn’t be happier! While we were still very careful—as we take care of some of the most vulnerable people—throughout 2022 Living Well made a point to have fun when possible and revel in the memories of the past 50 years of providing services to people living with disabilities. There was much to celebrate, and we are grateful for the opportunities to bring joy to families and friends. Memories were made and new traditions were born. Here are a few of the highlights:

Beth, Karen and Jenni.

Coffee with the Old Timers: Back in May we gathered with our earliest supporters and long-term staff. With five decades of service there are many people who made it possible, and we wanted to hear their stories and celebrate their dedication. At the event we recreated a photo of Beth Tollefson, Karen Pate and Jenni Zeis. Beth and Jenni have been with us over 30 years each, and Karen is one of the founders, who started Living Well for her daughter Betsy and other children who all deserved amazing care. We also caught up with the Molly’s, the group of Living Well mothers who have been a support group for each other for almost 50 years and were featured in a blog in August. Sipping coffee and eating donuts together created opportunities to hear new stories and share them. Learning more about those mothers was such a beautiful way to show the world what advocacy and support looks like.

Return of Family Fun Day: Then in June we were delighted to bring back Family Fun Day at Como Park. For two years we missed dancing with Elvis and having burgers and cookies at Como. This event is beloved by families as it is a great way to get out and celebrate their loved ones. It is also a logistical quagmire as we have 37 homes, which means 37 accessible vans and only four handicapped parking spots. The staff takes on the Herculean effort of valet parking for hundreds of people, and somehow it all magically works out. The day was perfectly sunny, the temperature was ideal, and the smiles were abundant. And as usual—Elvis stole the show. We will surely do this again, and again and again. A good time was had by all!

Heidi, Kathy and Alora (Dreammaker Volunteers of Year) celebrating their sister, daughter and aunt, Becky.

Transforming Lives Gala: Oh, what a night! After two years of virtual get togethers, this year’s Transforming Lives Gala was a pure delight. The decorations of huge blue swatches of fabric draped from the ceiling were dramatic, the colorful flags were festive, and the celebratory photos and videos were stunning. Hand painted birdhouses set the scene, and the entertainment capped it off beautifully at the end. And best news ever, we raised more money at the 2022 gala than any gala before. This is our flagship event as it is a FRIEND and FUND raiser, and we look forward to seeing you on August 19 for the 2023 Gala!

CEO Tom Gillespie address former board members.

Board Reunion: In October we also invited all former board members from the past 50 years to have lunch and go over the mission and share stories. They told stories of being a startup, discussed the future, and went over the reasons why we all do what we do, take care of people and advocate for rich and full lives for all.

Showing off the Dakota County Chamber Volunteer of the Year Award at Radisson Blu.

Nonprofit of the Year: What an honor! Living Well was nominated by the Dakota Chamber for Nonprofit of the Year and Emerging Leader of the Year. A few of us went to the Radisson Blue to celebrate the nominations and were ecstatic to learn we WON nonprofit of the year. This award, presented during our 50th anniversary and amid a staffing crisis was a balm for our weary souls. We are super grateful to have been chosen and glad to be a part of dynamic Dakota County.

Having fun a the employee appreciation cookout.

Employee Appreciation Party: We love our staff so much we had two events this year focused solely on the people who show up day after day to make the lives of others better. In May we had an employee appreciation cookout with burgers and an adorable ice cream truck and invited staff and their families to join us. The weather cooperated and new and old staff alike joined the fun. Next year we are hopeful even more people can make it! And then in October we had an employee recognition event where we honored all employees who have been with the company over five years, with special celebrations for those having milestone anniversaries. We love our staff, and hope to find more to help make their jobs easier.

Moving Day! Victoria Road Closes.

Victoria Road: This was perhaps the BIGGEST one this year. After decades of planning and what felt like a million false starts, Living Well closed our Victoria Road location, and finally opened the three houses we bought in 2020. The opening of Cloman, Mears and Selkirk are the perfect cap of a not so perfect but beautiful anyway year. The people who now live in those homes are now in more intimate settings, and we could not be happier!

There was so much more, and we could keep touting the events in perpetuity. But let’s just say that in addition to the above we continued support from senior leadership members and Northland staff to assist with direct care at homes, which was essential as we navigated the staffing issues. And more critical action happened quickly in relation to staffing issues, too. Several employees throughout the organization rose to manager positions and many jobs were filled with the perfect people for the job. Oh, and first day orientation started to take place at the Northland offices building a sense of community with each group. There is more, but we would need to go on forever to list all the accomplishments of 2022.

With the utmost gratitude to you and yours, thank you for your support and advocacy throughout 2022, and always! We are stronger because of YOU and look forward to what 2023 will bring. Onward…