Earlier this year, Lifeworks announced we would be leaning on our value of “You Lead the Way – We Listen” by embracing a community-based model for our Day Support program in Brooklyn Park. With the lease of our Brooklyn Park facility ending in March 2023, Lifeworks is now taking this opportunity to move towards a future where day services are further ingrained in the community. This includes further progressing our service delivery outside of a Lifeworks facility, locating a new, more appropriately sized building which can act as a hub for our Brooklyn Park program, and establishing new relationships with existing entities in the community.
Throughout the process, we have centered the lived experiences of the people we partner with to envision what is next. After consulting with our Brooklyn Park clients, we learned that 84% of them love community activities. These included visits to a local library, time spent outside at a public park, engaging with others at community centers, volunteering with organizations, and more. Listening to those we partner with made our decision not to renew the lease in Brooklyn Park even more evident. By closing one door, we open another to expand our services into new areas.
Providing services in the community is not something new to Lifeworks. “We’re already doing it,” says Angie Baeten, the program manager at Brooklyn Park. “[Some days] I will walk around the building, and there will be nobody here. We are getting out and doing things that people want to do.” Angie started volunteering at Lifeworks in 2013 and now oversees the Day Support program in Brooklyn Park as a manager. Having spent eight years working at Brooklyn Park, she has built meaningful relationships with people in the program. Building these relationships has allowed Angie to understand better those we support. “They learn that they can open up to you, and they can trust you. You can learn what is really important to them and what they want to get out of services.”
As Lifeworks moved to be out in the community more, it became clear that these activities were important to those participating in them. The staff and the folks they support spent more time in the community and less time inside the Brooklyn Park building. “The building is empty most days. We have two groups that are already fully out in the community,” Angie shared. While the building in Brooklyn Park provides a hub for those in the program, expanding services into the community has allowed Lifeworks to establish partnerships with businesses, other organizations, and community centers.
One such partner is Feed My Starving Children in Coon Rapids. More than 30 Lifeworks clients volunteer at Feed My Starving Children each week, completing tasks such as bag labeling, food packaging, and helping in the warehouse. The staff at Feed My Starving Children are grateful for the impact that the volunteers from Lifeworks have made. Emily, a volunteer program supervisor at Feed My Starving Children, said, “It’s fun to see their sense of fulfillment in doing their part to feed kids around the world. It’s really cool to have them join us on a regular basis so we can get to know their names and call them friends when they come in.”
Eric volunteers at Feed My Starving Children weekly with a group from the Brooklyn Park day program. He says that Feed My Starving Children is one of his favorite places to go out in the community. He feels that volunteering there is important to “help kids from different countries.” Eric enjoys sealing the food bags once the other volunteers fill them.
While many folks from Lifeworks volunteer regularly, they also enjoy other activities around the Twin Cities. In September, Lifeworks took trips to the Base Camp at Fort Snelling and the Como Zoo. Community outings like these provide opportunities for greater community access and inclusion for people with disabilities. As we look ahead to the future of community-based services, Lifeworks is excited to offer more options for folks to build relationships, learn new skills, and volunteer in our community.
Angie mentioned that she recently received a phone call from someone who met folks from one of the Lifeworks volunteer groups at Feed My Starving Children. “The community is getting to know the people that we’re bringing out there, and they’re liking their involvement and wanting them out there.” This serves as a prime example of putting inclusion into practice. Our decision to provide services primarily in the community allows people with disabilities to connect with others authentically and experience our communities as full members of them.
At Lifeworks, we envision accessible, equitable, and diverse communities. We know that a crucial aspect of making this vision a reality is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the places where we work and live. This change can only occur if we continue to increase opportunities for people with disabilities to experience our shared spaces together and by providing broader access in these areas. Our decision to end our lease at the Brooklyn Park facility is less an uprooting of our current structure but rather an opportunity to fully embrace the path we have been on in partnership with those who come to Lifeworks.