Productive Alternatives celebrates 50 yearsProductive Alternatives is celebrating a birthday this year. For 50 years the organization has been making yesterday’s dreams today’s realities.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
Productive Alternatives is celebrating a birthday this year. For 50 years the organization has been making yesterday’s dreams today’s realities.
Productive Alternatives (PA) is a nonprofit agency that provides services to people with disabilities. Its philosophy is that people with disabilities are capable of being working, productive citizens of society, and that going to work and being productive are essential elements of the normal routine of life.
Productive Alternatives (PA) started in 1959 in Fergus Falls as the Lake Region Sheltered Workshop – a day program in which disabled clients helped with farming chores. It moved to a couple different locations over the next few years, and in 1971 it became Lake Region Rehabilitation. The clients assisted in making several different products, including a rain gauge that was sold all over the country.
In the meantime, developmental achievement centers (DAC) also started in Fergus Falls, Elizabeth and Parkers Prairie. DACs serve people with lower level disabilities.
"When the DACs began, they were much like a day care for adults with disabilities," said Judy Hemmerlin, DAC manager for Parkers Prairie and community relations director for the entire agency.
In 1988, Lake Region Rehabilitation and the DACs merged into what is now known as Productive Alternatives. More branch facilities were added, serving the disabled in Moorhead, Brainerd, Alexandria, Perham and Little Falls.
Parkers Prairie Productive Alternatives
Parkers Prairie Productive Alternatives opened in 1974. It is now referred to as a day treatment and habilitation center (DT and H).
"We provide day programming services, socialization, self-help and supported employment opportunities," Hemmerlin explained of the services they provide. "Part of our goal is to provide them with training and teach them work skills in hopes of independence."
The consumers at Parkers Prairie, who have mild to severe mental and physical disabilities, are at the facility from 8:30 a.m to 2 p.m. each day. While the consumers with higher needs take part in many sensory and social activities, those who are able, work at 23 different work sites in the Parkers Prairie community, which Hemmerlin says is “very supportive.” Much of their work is janitorial and groundskeeping.
PA is contracted to maintain all the city facilities, such as cleaning restrooms, park maintenance and groundskeeping. The consumers also do contract work provided by businesses, such as assembly and packaging, which is brought directly to the facility.
The city of Parkers Prairie, District 40 Crafts, Fortwengler Electric, Hair Razors, Hemmerlin Properties, ARvig Communications, Parkers Dental, Prairie Implement, Parkers Auto Body, Trumm Drug, Penrose Oil and Pro Ag employ the consumers.
PA not only provides job coaching, but also direct care – such as bathroom and feeding assistance – to those who are unable to take care of themselves.
Alexandria Productive Alternatives
The Alexandria branch started in 1988. While Parkers Prairie PA is a DT and H, Alexandria PA is a vocational rehabilitation center that works with disabled clients to help find them an independent, competitive job.
“We are completely focused on the vocational aspect of rehabilitating people. We determine what their vocational goal is and work with them on achieving that,” said Lynette Holtberg, branch manager in Alexandria. “We deal with a level of client that is ready to find an independent job – anyone who is appropriate to work in the community.”
The disabilities range from mental health issues, chemical dependencies, mental retardation, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorders, to name a few.
The clients are referred by Social Services or state rehabilitation services. Their needs are assessed and they are assigned to one of six “enclaves” – groups of workers that are sent to work sites in the Alexandria community.
The enclaves, along with a job coach, are contracted at the following businesses: Alexandria Extrusion, Douglas Machine, Donnelly Manufacturing, Village Family Services and Maney International.
On average, there are 25 to 30 clients at Alexandria PA. They typically spend about two years with the agency. About 10 percent eventually go on to earn employment on their own.
“That’s the goal for every one of our clients – to get off our program,” Holtberg said. “[It’s rewarding] to see the look on someone’s face when they get their first job by themselves. Just the pride that they feel in their accomplishments.”
After 50 years of service, the mission of PA remains the same – to develop broader opportunities for people with disabilities to improve their quality of life.
Today, the organization provides a variety of services that have gone beyond the vocational realm, and will continue to strive to help those with disabilities improve their quality of life.
“We are servicing so many numbers of people with large numbers of disabilities,” Hemmerlin concluded. “We’ve come a long way.”
To celebrate 50 years of service, Productive Alternatives will hold the following upcoming events:
• Saturday, August 15 – A softball and volleyball tournament fundraiser will be held at Parkers Prairie City Park softball field, starting at 8 a.m. and running throughout the day.
• Wednesday, September 16 – An open house is set at Fergus Falls PA at 11 a.m.
• Saturday, October 10 – A 50th anniversary gala is set for 6 to 9 p.m. at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria. It will include dinner, a program, music and a silent auction. Bus service is available from Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Little Falls and Moorhead.
• Tuesday, October 27 – A consumer recognition banquet is set at Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria from 6 to 8 p.m.
For information on any of these events, call Judy Hemmerlin at (218) 338-2691.