Gene, Ryan and Tom at Orono Woodlands.

Valentine’s month has brought lots of heart, fun and valuable partnerships to Living Well.

Team Douglas playing Virtual Bingo.

Orono Woodlands had a Valentines Day breakfast and CEO, Tom Gillespie stopped by for some food and laughs. Then later that day, Team Douglas played virtual BINGO with Team Orono Woodlands. Program Manager at Douglas, Kristina Backman, says, “With staffing we couldn’t get there in person, so April invited us to do a virtual bingo game. I stopped over on Wednesday, we split the cards and planned the afternoon.” Her favorite part of the game was seeing how excited the people were. “Curt had so much fun and was smiling ear to ear. And Nancy wanted to eat all the candy hearts,” Kristina said with a smile. Both houses try to get the crews together every other month or so, to see each other and play games or make crafts.

Gene and PM April Stevens at Orono Woodlands.

April Stevens, Program Manager at Orono Woodlands, says, “I loved the anticipation of what the candy hearts would say as they placed them on the cards. And it was great seeing them all with smiles on their faces. Just being together on a holiday is a big thing for some of the people we serve. They love to feel loved and to be a part of a special day, just like you and I would.” April was also delighted that the staff seemed to have a good time as well, playing games and eating chocolate afterward.

Curt and Nancy, center, having fun at Douglas.

Collaboration between the houses is key, and managers working together is where the magic lies within the Living Well family. We are so grateful to Kristina and April for making the bingo party happen. It truly was a great time for all.

GAPS School Students at Thompson with Star Lane in attendance as well.

Earlier in the week students from GAP School came to our Thompson house for a Valentine making party. GAP School, located in the West Side neighborhood of Saint Paul, serves approximately 200 youth and young adults annually through education and enrichment; training that leads to employment; and social and emotional supports. Students at GAP School work to complete their high school diploma, and all graduates leave the program with a workforce readiness certificate in construction or healthcare. Currently at least three students from the program work at Living Well. On March 27th the school is hosting staff and people served for a bingo night at their campus. It is a win-win partnership. Their students learn about careers in the field of disability services, and our people get access to incredible events as well as inclusive get togethers with students invested in the care of others.

On February 8th and 15th, students from the dental program at the U of M Center of Community Engagement and Learning visited our Kennelly and Casey homes. The program seeks opportunities for students to increase awareness about disability services and it is part of the curriculum to volunteer in community.

Dental Students at Casey Court.

One of the students, Courtney Carlson, said, “It was a great experience, and I am looking forward to more visits! I thought the staff meeting went very well. We provided oral care instructions with a set of fake teeth, provided surveys, and answered any questions they had on oral care. We got an understanding of what products are currently being used for each resident and we made personal recommendations. Your staff seemed very interested in learning and we loved learning from them.”

The timing for this project is critical, as the Minnesota Department of Health has recognized the Twin Cities as a Dental Health Professional Shortage Area with an average of one general dental practice for every 4,270 residents. And studies have shown people with disabilities experience tooth decay, periodontal disease, malocclusion, and oral trauma and injury at a higher rate than adults without a disability. With long wait times for appointments, sometimes taking up to two years to see a dentist, and many dentists not taking Medicare, proper dental hygiene between visits is important and impactful.

Jess, Hailie, Jessica, Nicole and Brenda.

Last but not least, two more great things were having Hailie from Inndale start her first week of helping Jessica Maurer, Development Assistant, with meal masters meal prep. She joined Nicole and Brenda with Customized Services, and Jess and Lucy McCullagh, with Marissa and Isabel Pate in making freezer meals for our houses. And Program Manager Kelsey Schoeberl and Angie from Paul’s Place spoke at the Board Meeting along with Heather Heier, Communications and Events Manager, telling everyone how much fun they had at Camp Menogyn (watch a little video of the trip here).

Heather, Angie and Kelsey.

We are so happy to have amazing partners on all sides of our mission to provide exceptional services to people living with disabilities.

GAPS students with Mike and Marsha.

To our staff, who make get-togethers a priority, we are beyond grateful. For younger students interested in creating careers for themselves while caring for others, we are inspired by your tender hearts and enthusiasm. And to college students committing themselves to helping others while also filling a societal need, kudos for seeing the importance of sharing your skills with the community.

Valentine’s Day is for hearts, and ours were indeed warmed this month.



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