Help us congratulate Julie for her three decades of service and this incredible opportunity as a finalist in the ARRM Cares Awards. When she started with Living Well back in 1991 no one could have known how she would become the embodiment of our mission. Now, three decades later, her dedication and commitment to the work she does day in and day out, that is a testament to the person she is—a giver who continually shows up for others and prioritizes connection and caring for others, is being honored by ARRM, an organization dedicated to showcasing caregivers. To say Julie is dedicated to her work does not do justice to her steadfast belief that caring for others is a calling.

More about ARRM, a nonprofit association of more than 200 provider organizations, businesses and advocates dedicated to leading the advancement of home and community-based services supporting people living with disabilities in their pursuit of meaningful lives. Founded in 1970, ARRM continues to lead advocacy and training for positive industry reforms that support Minnesotans with disabilities.

The ARRM Cares Awards were established to recognize professionals from ARRM members who provide direct care and demonstrate a commitment to quality services. ARRM supports and encourages their members to acknowledge their employees’ dedication and service through this award process. All nominees are recognized by ARRM and their employers as the top our field has to offer, while six winners are selected each year who represent outstanding and extraordinary dedication, innovation, and skill. Winners receive a $1,000 award and are celebrated in a special ceremony.

Direct Support Professionals and other caregivers are nominated who represent ideal skills and values, which not only makes them valuable employees but also highly talented and successful in supporting people to reach their goals and dreams. Here are the areas of importance in the nomination process:

Professional Integrity—supporting persons served while maintaining high standards to benefit persons served, co-workers, and the organization.

Networking Supports—advocating to connect persons served with natural support systems

Creative, Innovative, Person-Centered Approaches to Services—personalizing services, demonstrating an ability to develop and implement new approaches and sharing successful results

Here is the nomination, listed by category, proudly submitted by Living Well on Julie’s behalf:

Professional Integrity. Julie has a unique role as a COTA (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant) who also provides direct support. She uses her skills to ensure that people have the right equipment—standers, walkers, wheelchairs, augmentative communication, and adaptive eating equipment to ensure independence. She assesses needs then writes up exercises, range of motion plans, and positioning for other DSPs to implement. Julie works with people to ensure that she understands what their unique needs are and works closely with the person and their team.

What makes the difference is that she does the daily cares such as exercises, bathing, mealtimes, and attending appointments directly so she understands what is needed so that it makes an immense difference in people’s lives. Julie understands when someone needs to be referred to PT, OT, and SLP vs when she can make changes using her own tools to fix, sew, or adapt on her own. Julie advocates strongly for ensuring that people have a high-quality life while doing everything possible to achieve those outcomes. With a positive attitude she jumps to work to do extra items that aren’t asked of her like planning parties, assisting with vacations, and blowing leaves by the door.

Networking Supports. Julie has been with Living Well for 30 years, many in the 1:1 personal advocate role for Jim. Jim holds MN Twins season tickets. Julie ensures that he never misses a game though schedule coordination and even attending games herself. She assisted Jim to achieve his dream vacation of Spring Training in Florida. She is always thinking of ways to enhance his life. Her family has become his second.

Julie is an advocate for enhancing people’s communication skills. She carefully assesses how people use their body (eye gaze, specialized switches) so she can provide input to speech therapists, ensuring people are matched with the right devices.

Her work with Jim is one example. People didn’t recognize how smart he was until she helped him delve into his communication capabilities. She pursued how he could communicate and didn’t stop with modifications until it was set up correctly. She keeps this complicated device working well; updated with messages so he has the right combinations for conversations. She has continued to work towards what could best meet his needs as technology evolves. As soon as he sees her come into his home, he squeals with joy, laughs, and starts using his talker.

Creative, Innovative, Person-Centered Approaches to Services. Julie sees areas for improvement and uses creative solutions to improve people’s quality of life. When K moved into the Carmen home, Julie noted large problems with K’s daily supports. When she noted mold on the shoulder straps of her rusted shower chair, she addressed it. When she noted AFO straps that didn’t hold K’s feet in proper alignment she spent considerable time cleaning, adjusting, and fixing. Within days of K moving in, Julie had brought new spoons and plates to help K be more independent. K was able to start to drink on her own for the first time in many years due to Julie providing her with a new style of straw and cup that fit her needs perfectly. K’s family has been amazed by the huge changes.

Beth Tollefson, Senior Director of Program Services is delighted Julie’s nomination was announced as a finalist. Tollefson says, “Julie makes such an amazing difference in so many people’s lives at Living Well.” Adding, not only does she advocate and ensure the highest standards of care are attained but she makes sure that people have meaningful opportunities. Tollefson says if Julie sees something is needed to make a positive difference in someone’s life, she does all she can to make it happen! Rod Carlson, Living Well COO adds, “Julie is the personification of unqualified love, passion and kindness to others.”

Julie herself has this to say, “After all these years working at Living Well, it is still so rewarding to see the joy on people’s faces when they get opportunities to go out in the community! I am honored to be one of the finalists for the ARRM Cares Award.”

It is clear that Julie uses her talents, passions, and skills to transform many people’s lives and is held in the highest regard by all work and interact with her—co-workers, people supported, and many family members. And this is why Tollefson and Carlson are so grateful the quality of Julie’s work is being acknowledged. As an industry hit hard by the employment shortage, this type of award makes everyone at Living Well swell with pride in knowing how dedicated so many of our 500 employees are!

Best of luck to all the finalists, and a HUGE thank you to everyone who has ever worked in a care position! The work you do has a real-life impact on the quality of life for the people served, and you truly help people with disabilities live richer fuller lives!

Make a career our of caring, like Julie and apply today!