Whether here for decades, or just starting out, we want to thank the women who show up day in and day out to make Living Well shine!
March is Women’s History Month, and we would be remiss if we did not celebrate the incredible women who work at Living Well. Women are the backbone of our workforce, making up almost 80% of our staff—and without them we would not be able to get the work done. Period. Without women showing up every day to do both the heavy lifting and soft advocacy that makes Living Well special, it is hard to believe we could have made it to 50! Women are critical to the success of our mission of transforming the lives of people impacted by disabilities through the delivery of exceptional services.
Women are equally bold and brave yet also empathetic and kind. Many bring strong Emotional Intelligence, or EQ to the table. And whether those tables be in the board room, executive offices, admin areas, or in the houses working directly with the people we serve, they show up every day and get the work done. In short EQ is the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. EQ is virtually untrainable, and when a strong woman can lead with her heart while utilizing book smarts and emotional intelligence, it is a win for all of us.
We are lucky to have so many incredible humans dedicated to the care and uplifting of others, and we are not one bit surprised so many of them are WOMEN.
Meet a few of the exceptional women who work with us:
Beth Tollefson, Senior Director of Program Services
Beth Tollefson started with Living Well 31 years ago. She began as a DSP, was a shift lead, assistant program manager, then a program manager at Diane Road; worked part time at Kennelly; then when her daughter went off the kindergarten helped set up the Inndale home. She was recently promoted from a Regional Director to the newly created position of Senior Director of Program Services. In this role she oversees the Regional Directors, establishing a point of contact for directors to get info, assistance, and guidance—which was previously handled primarily by the COO. They now work in tandem to tackle the important projects behind the scenes. Tollefson makes sure things are running as smooth as possible by helping with training and resources and providing advocacy both Internal and external. She is also involved with HR training and retention and legislative advocacy at the state and federal levels. She has a vast understanding of regulations and new bills and is on the board at ARRM. Beth is on top of new licensing standards and works with employees to help make policies fit the standards. Labor law, ICF or federal regulations and licensing, positive behavior support training, pretty much nothing is outside of her purview.
Kathy Anderson, Volunteer Program Manager
Kathy Anderson started with living well in June of 1992 where she worked as a DSP and eventually the Program Manager (PM) at our Kennelly home. She managed both Kennelly and Thompson for a while then she helped open the West Emerson home and served as PM there, after that she was the PM at 3801 West Broadway. She then worked in a similar role in the newly developed Customized Services Department where she set up care for people who needed services in their own homes versus Living Well Homes. She helped build that department and facilitated the growth of that arm of our business. In 2017 she became the Volunteer Program Manager. Now officing at the corporate office, she handles all volunteer programming including establishing the Meal Master program that helps both staff and people served. She did such a great job building the program, even throughout the challenges of a global pandemic, that in 2021 she received an award for Excellence in Volunteerism Leadership During Covid-19 from MAVA (Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement).
In 2021 alone, she led the way for volunteers to:
-Prepare 3,456 pans of freezer meals, providing 34,560 servings of food! This helps staff commit more time to individualized care and supplies nutritious meals for all!
-Complete 140 deliveries to our homes per month, for 1,680 trips last year! This saves staff time and is appreciated beyond measure.
-Beautify 32 homes via gardening and yard clean up. The homes shine from the outside after each visit!
Jennifer Gardner-Johnson, Revenue Analyst
Jennifer started as a DSP in college, hopping around to different companies in that position. She eventually landed at Lifeworks, a day training and rehabilitation program serving people with disabilities. After finishing college with a degree in speech communications, she stayed on to do accounts receivable at Lifeworks. Jennifer then started at Living Well 15 years ago in the role of Accounts Receivable, back when we were still Dakota’s Communities. She is now our Revenue Analyst. She reports that both roles morphed and split over the years providing her with lots of valuable experience and opportunities to learn on the job. Without her, and the entire finance department, no one would get paid. We are delighted to have her on board!
Jena Joseph, Human Resources Assistant
Jena Joseph recently took the position of Human Resources Assistant in the HR department, but prior to that she was a DSP at our Casey Court home. She has been employed by Living Well since 2011, with a small break since October. Jenna enjoys the relationships she has built with the people who live in the homes and the staff who continuously help her grow her skills. As a single working mom of 5-year-old twin girls Jenna adores the opportunity to bring her kids to the homes to be a part of their community. Her kids do not see disability first, they see their friends—which is what we can all strive for when seeking to teach inclusion. Joseph wanted to be part of the “good” again, so jumped at the chance to apply when the role opened. She adores this community and felt she had something to offer that had not previously been on the table. She is perfect for the job and plans to stay forever.
Josephine Kamara, Sixxy Sivongxay and Kayla Zirkler
As the newest female employees who were on site today for orientation, we are super excited to welcome Josephine Kamara, Sixxy Sivongxay and Kayla Zirkler to the Living Well team! Kayla is just starting her career in the field and is excited to get to started at the home in Long Lake. She previously worked as a receptionist at a salon and as a library student worker. She is excited to help people out, get involved in the community and meet some people, while making friends and doing some cool stuff. She is excited to be a part of the team. When in college she was interested in learning ASL, and she credits that as the beginning of her desire to be of service to others.
Sixxy holds a BS in general biology with years in customer service and the helping/medical profession. She has been a live-in caregiver for a cancer patient and was previously the APM in a group home with four men with various disabilities, behaviors, and interests. Sixxy has been in the industry for over 10 years, starting as a DSP throughout college. She truly enjoys what she does and is passionate about helping others. It is her hope to contribute to assisting the individuals we serve in building the life that they deserve to reach their utmost potential.
Josephine comes to us with a retail and restaurant background. She is looking forward to helping people out and advocating for their needs. As a child she always put others first, which makes her perfect for this job! All three are full of energy and we are looking forward to watching them grow their careers.
Thank you to all the women who dedicate themselves to the care of others…
Written by Heather Heier, Communications and Events Manager
This was written by a woman, too. I do not usually chime in personally but feel compelled to say that a big part of the reason I took this job was because of the team of women I would be working with. I have the great honor to have a career where I get to the tell the stories of the people who call Living Well home (or use our services), their families, our staff, and the importance of disability advocacy. Not everyone can say they love their job, but I can truly say that I do. Recently a friend told me she has never heard me say, not once, that I was dreading going to work. And she’s right! To me, there is a culture of caring here that matters in a deep and profound way. Nobody who chooses to work in a nonprofit does so to get rich, but many of us do it because it enriches our souls to do important work. Which is just another way to say we choose to show up for others because it feels like a great way to live. There is balance in life, and there are great people to spend your professional lives with—I am lucky to be here.