The Minnehaha crew at Carmen.

This was a big week for partnership and volunteering at Living Well, and we are super excited to tell you all about it. In March of each academic year, students from Minnehaha Academy in grades 9 through 11 participate in a weeklong learning experience called CORE Formation Experience. During this week, students are exposed to experiential opportunities. The goal of these in the Community Formation Experience program work together to meet a real need, in the real world, for real people. The students partner with local and global communities through on-site service options or overnight trips. This year teams went as far away as Thailand and spots in Europe, closer to home in the Appalachia, and to our great benefit, right in our backyards!


This week was special because two non-profit organizations worked in tandem to meet their goals. Minnehaha students got to be of service in their community and participate in our mission of providing exceptional services to people with disabilities. And we were able to host students and teachers from Minnehaha Academy who volunteered in four of our homes. For two hours per day from Monday through Thursday they worked with program managers on activities like crafts, snacks, reading stories, games, music and dance parties—with the goal of interacting with and being of service to the people living with disabilities who call Living Well home. It was the ultimate WIN-WIN.

Making Leprechauns.

The Minnehaha crew consisted of three teams. Carmella Whaley, Upper School Science Teacher, with students, Gabe, Lucas, Sam, and Kari, who came the houses all four days and participated in activities and making connections with the people at the homes. Ryan Larson, US Band Director and Tech Coach, with students Max, George, Peter, and Nic, who came to the Northland offices on Tuesday afternoon and made freezer meals that will assist staff at the homes, allowing them easier meal prep. And Nicholas Freeman, Theatre Director, Film & Photography Teacher, with media students Ophelia, Curtis, Griffin, and Sophie, who documented the entire week with video and photos for the school, who dedicated time on Monday and Thursday to interact with the staff and the people we serve.

Carmen Crafting.

Assistant Program Manager at Carmen, Alexis Santana, had a blast and said about her time with the students, “I think it is good for the people we support here, but also for the kids coming in. It gives them a sneak peek at what we do every day.” Going on to say, “I am grateful that the Minnehaha Academy kids came in and socialized. Taking time out of their day to show care and attention makes a huge difference in the day of the people we support.”

Diane Road.

Minnehaha Academy Teacher, Carmela Whaley, thinks partnering with Living Well through Minnehaha’s CFE program was meaningful on so many levels. She said, “The students experienced a volunteer opportunity that they had never considered before, visiting and spending time with adults with disabilities. I witnessed the students grow in empathy and compassion over the course of the week.” Carmela adds, “Watching the amazing staff at Living Well care for the residents was inspiring! We saw a caring community in action, and we were grateful to be a small part of it. The students unanimously agreed that they would love to return to Living Well and spend more time volunteering, and possibly even consider a career path that would build on their experiences here.” As 10th grader Kari Palmer said, “We saw a need that we could help with just by spending time with the residents. It was fun! We definitely received more out of the experience than we gave.”

Kathy helping out at Mary Adele.

Living Well Volunteer Manager, Kathy Anderson, says of the week, “We are grateful for students from Minnehaha returning to volunteering with us as well as expanding their activities this year. From assembling freezer meals to fun interactions with people in our homes, their time with us is impactful in so many ways” Kathy adds, “I like that students pick their area of interest to volunteer, and we can learn together what disability culture means in our communities.”

Mary Adele crew coloring.

Jessa Anderson, Director of Upper School Core Formation Experiences at Minnehaha Academy, says, “It is meaningful for Minnehaha Academy to partner with Living Well because it opens the door for our youth to connect with communities that they may otherwise not get a chance to learn from and engage with. Creating opportunities for this rising generation to grow in empathy, understanding, and compassion is essential to their whole formation and development as we work together toward fostering a loving and caring community for all people.”

Freezer meal team.

Peter Hall, student member of the the food prep team, says, “I felt very good because I am confident I am making a difference in someone else’s life.” And the rest of the crew thought it was great as well. Nic says, “I felt great about today’s activities. Even though it was a lot of work, I was happy and proud for being able to help the disabled and the whole community.” Max added, “It made me feel happy and efficient. I thought we all worked well together and got a lot done with the time we had.” And George said, “This experience brought joy and satisfaction to my heart. It was extremely comforting to pack over 500 meals for a good cause. I know our actions made many people’s day. Our contributions made many lives easier which made me feel good about myself.”

Part of the media team.

Nicholas Freeman, who brought the Media students was happy to be a part of the partnership and says, “At our school, we encourage students to love their neighbor. We believe the best way to do this is through relationships. Only then can we understand one another and in turn deepen our love for them. Getting to know the people at Living Well was an incredible experience that was deep and meaningful.” His team agrees, with Griffin saying, “I think it’s important to capture the moments with the students connecting with the residents. I would love to see a continued relationship between Minnehaha and Living Well that goes beyond just a shortened visit.” And Sophie said, “Being at Living Well felt rewarding and impactful. Photographing the people there and seeing the relationships the students had with them was super cool!”

Jeff and Carmella.

Kathy, who has been with Living Well over 30 years, points out—it’s really all about community! She has led the volunteer program for five years now and says, “The students and people we support are making connections and having conversations. And conversations can look different, it’s not always about talking. I’m so excited when students volunteer because it’s the time of their life when they are figuring out who they are and what important to them. When they are together with the people we support they can learn from each other—it’s a beautiful thing!”

Brett Hoffland from KSTP interviewing Cindy.

It was such a great opportunity for both organizations that Marielle Mohs from WCCO and Brett Hoffland from KSTP stopped by houses to cover the story. Marielle came to Mary Adele on Monday and Brett came out to Carmen on Thursday. We are forever grateful for the incredible coverage as it comes at the perfect time, just before Disabilities Day at the Capitol on March 28, where hundreds of people will be advocating for the passing of bills essential to the continued existence of the services organizations like Living Well want to provide for decades to come but cannot do without funding.

While funding is a critical need to keep homes running, partnerships like the one with Minnehaha Academy are what make a house a home, and what fill everyone with excitement and joy. And for that reason, we cannot say thank you enough to the teams from Minnehaha Academy who saw us and wanted to support our mission. Thank you, a million thank yous!


WCCO Segment:

KSTP Segment:


Interested in helping to advocate for disability services and help the people we support living with disabilities and the people how care for them?  Mark your calendar for Disabilities Day at the Capitol on March 28, 2022. Email to get on the list and sign up to be part of the Living Well groups attending.