PM Beth, PM Brenda, Rep Frazier, Caroline, Rep Freiberg, AJ, PM Cindi, PM Erica, Patsy, Doug, RD Adrienne.

This year’s Disability Services Day at the Capitol, held on March 19, was a tremendous success. Spending hours at the Capitol, first rallying in the Rotunda with close to 1300 advocates from across the state, then meeting with individual senators and representatives, brought a new energy to all in attendance. Living Well proudly brought over 100 advocates with us that day, including people who live in our homes or use our services, staff, families, board members, volunteers, including two student groups, and donors.

Program Manager Carrie Jensen with her daughter who is now a Junior DSP at left, and Caroline who lives at 3801.

Dozens of Program Managers were in attendance, sharing stories of why the people they support deserve funding. Our senior leaders advocated for disability services providers to be kept in mind as we enter a budget session in 2025. DSPs who have been employed with us for a few months, and many who have been here for decades, all pitched in making signs, taking meetings with legislators, and sharing the stories of why the work is impactful and essential. The people we serve told representatives why their staff deserve to be seen, and how they live better lives because they are in community with staff who are committed to their wellbeing.

With so many people impacted by disabilities in one space, the needs magically become clear. It is hard to miss us when we show up in masses and ask to be seen. Here are what people had to say when asked about the day and what it meant to them to be there:

In back: Caroline, Heather, Hammed, Tom, Rep Matthews, Dolphine, Sam, Jeffrey, PM Chinatu. In front: PM Adolphus, Brad, and Dan. Upper 55th, Highview, Elgin and Northland together in one meeting.

CEO, Tom Gillespie says, “Building on the momentum of last year, 2024’s Day at the Capitol saw more people and even louder voices advocating for better supports, better access to their communities, and better wages for DSPs. 2024 is not a budget making year, and therefore fewer significant investments are made across the state. That said, there was still tremendous support, important issues were discussed, and legislators were given another opportunity to better understand the needs of people with disabilities. The legislative process can be a long game, with more huddles and losses than wins, but in years like this, we can see the progress from when we started, and we feel good being able to shape where we go in the future.”

RD Adrienne, PM Pray, DSP Kipp, Eric and Paul. Representing Edgewood.

Pray Mahindru, the new Program Manager at Edgewood, has been with Living Well just a month but has been in the industry over a decade. He tells us, “It was very empowering. I have not been a part of anything like this before and it was amazing. I have been in the field 11 plus years and have never been to the Capitol for an event like this. The turnout was eye opening, and I loved being involved in the process. I enjoyed watching the people we support advocate for themselves alongside the staff. Watching them speak up about how staffing shortages affect them was very impactful.”

Kipp Matthews, DSP at Edgewood who has been with Living Well 12 years, went for the first time this year, and says, “The biggest takeaway for me that day was the value of showing staff and the folks we care for, together. It’s one thing for our legislators to be reminded that disabled people exist; and the staff that care for them exist. But it felt more powerful being able to show them the relationships we develop together, and how that’s what they are investing in beyond basic care.”

Paul’s Place: Angie, DSP Abednego and Tom.

Kelsey Schoerbel, Program Manager at Paul’s Place, has been with Living Well for four years, and was also a first timer at the Capitol this year. She says, “It was so cool to see so many people from around Minnesota in once spot advocating for people with disabilities. It is easy to get frustrated when you feel all alone in the fight. To be seen and supported, and the number of people there made it clear that no one is alone in this. I had never done this kind of thing before, and my meeting with Rep. Bianca Virnig went well. She made me feel comfortable as I told her about Paul’s Place and the need for quality care and amazing staff. As a voter and someone in this field it was empowering to meet with an elected official. It felt very casual and that made it easier for all of us to have an authentic conversation.”

Change does not come from just a single day but honoring a single day is impactful for change.” — Adolphus, with Living Well 26 years.

PM Adolphus, Upper 55th, and Doug 3801.

Adolphus Kesseh, Program Manager at Upper 55, has been with Living Well 26 years, and has been at the Capitol many times over the years. He eloquently says, “Change does not come from just a single day but honoring a single day is impactful for change. Over the years, our coming together and bringing our issues face to face with senators and representatives has never been so dire than now. Other industries are thriving from auto to tech and solar, we hear about them every day. On the other hand, DSPs are becoming extinct because of lack of investment. We continue to thank our champions for all their support over the years, but this is the time to do better. Make our profession viable, livable, and competitive. Thank you.”

HR team, Nate at left.

Nate Altman, Recruitment Manager, joined the team 10 months ago and says, “I was really impressed by the number of Living Well staff that showed up and advocated at the Capitol alongside the people they support. From the CEO, Program Managers, Northland staff, and so many DSPs, there were over 100 employees rallying in the rotunda. It was great to see so many people in meetings, some for the first time, chatting with legislators and sharing their stories. I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years and have not seen that level of involvement or enthusiasm before, it was great to witness. All of us in one place advocating for better wages for our staff felt very impactful.”

Carmen Lane: APM Treasure, Kate and PM Alexis

Alexis Santana, Program Manager at Carmen Lane, has been with the company three years. Alexis says, “I absolutely love being part of Day at the Capitol. It’s so fun to see so many people from all of our Living Well homes get together to raise awareness for who we are and what we need. It’s such a fun event to see not only our staff showing up, but the people we serve also being a part of it. It’s a nice way to connect with people, but also to advocate for who we are and what we do and how much any support can make a difference for all of us.”

Program Managers: Beth, Westchester; Mary, Star Lane; April, Orono Woodlands; and Kristina, Douglas.

April Stevens, Program Manager at Orono Woodlands has been at the home 22 years. April says, “The day of advocacy is important because it allows the front-line workers to tell our story face to face with the decision makers. We as a community, those who work in disability services, have been pushed away for far too long and our voices are a little louder when they have faces to them. The people we serve deserve better, we as providers are making awareness, so our lawmakers and decision makers can hear us and can make changes.”

As you can see—we have the very BEST staff on earth. There was no shortage of enthusiasm or passion at the Capitol last week, and we are beyond grateful that that so many people joined us as we advocated on behalf of disability services providers and disability awareness in general.

It takes a village to care for others, and our village is comprised of people dedicated to being in service of others. Living Well will continue to lead the way and care for others with respect, kindness, and dedication. It is our goal to one day tell our supporters that the government has fully funded the work we do at the level the people we support and those we employ deserve. Until then … we will keep advocating.

 

It’s not too late to email support for disability services providers. You can find your legislators contact info here, and send an email or make a call. The session goes through May, so there is time.

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