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Melissa Geertsma is one of The Achievement Center’s faculty. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

TAC, DAC vital links for those living with disabilities

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

By Gretchen O'Donnell

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series dedicated to National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Part three will appear in Saturday’s Daily Globe.

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WORTHINGTON — For many people in Nobles County, the initials TAC bring to mind the big spring rummage sale and not much more. And then there’s the DAC, which people drive past on their way to someplace else. But for a certain group of individuals in the county, both TAC and DAC are vital links to living full and healthy lives.

The Achievement Center (TAC) — a division of Hope Haven — and Nobles County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) have served in the county for 45 and 50 years, respectively. The mission of both organizations, while varying slightly from each other, can each be summed up as supporting and teaching work skills to people with mental and physical challenges in order that they can have meaningful jobs in the real world.

Melissa Geertsema, community placement specialist at TAC, and Bob Schreiber, director at DAC, explained.

“Both of our organizations are part of a statewide group of providers called the CTIC — the Community Transition Interagency Committee — that helps transition students from school life into the work life upon graduation,” said Schreiber.

Typically, the DAC clientele faces more challenges than TAC’s clients. These challenges may include — but are not limited to — cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and other physical and mental challenges.

Over at TAC, the admission requirements include — but again, are not limited to — “mental, physical and/or psychiatric disabilities that are barriers to gainful employment and/or independent living.”

Both programs have potential clients come for tours in order to custom-fit them to the services required, based on individual needs.

“They come to TAC for evaluation with a supervisor. We check on different jobs, see what will be the best fit for them and then we set person-centered goals, both long-range and short — such as attendance, grooming, socialization, working with customers — and we re-evaluate those goals every six months,” Geertsema explained. “They work with a supervisor, on a team.”

Clients at both TAC and DAC receive extensive job training, through both real and simulated work environments. Developing good work habits, communication skills and social skills are just a few of the topics covered. This focused training prepares them to be the best employees they can be.

TAC clients work in several places around town, such as Wal-Mart and Fareway, as well as cleaning at the Travelodge and at Sanford Worthington Clinic. They also do commercial laundry, small-package assembly, collate papers or assemble boxes. They are available for special projects upon request.

DAC’s clients work at Marthaler Ford and also do cleaning at AmericInn, Newport Labs, Bioverse and Bedford Technology. They do paper shredding upon request, destroying confidential documents for individuals or businesses throughout southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. They will even drive to pick up the documents themselves. In addition, DAC clients make their own products, including notepads that are available at various businesses around town, and gift bags, available at the DAC office.

Both Geertsema and Schreiber love to see their clients succeed in various enterprises around town.

“Part of the fun of my job is to see clients come in to our program and grow and expand as people. It is very rewarding,” Geertsema said.

“When a person is earning a paycheck, they are healthier overall,” said Schreiber, “both physically and mentally. It improves their self-worth.”

Geertsema agreed: “To be able to come to a job gives meaning to their life — gives dignity. These are the most hard-working people — some of the kindest, most heartfelt people out there. They may face challenges, but they have the most positive attitude. We all can take a lesson from them.”

A few of the clients at TAC go on to get jobs on their own, independent of TAC. They take the skills they have learned through their involvement at TAC, and are able to hold down a job with an employer who has seen their skills and is willing to take them on.

“Hy-Vee hired four of our individuals,” said Geertsema. “We were so happy for them. (Hy-Vee) can offer more pay and benefits than we can offer them. We’re still available for them if issues arise at their new jobs.”

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and as such, both Geertsema and Schreiber hope more businesses around town will consider hiring their employees.

“We hope that this (series of stories) will be eye-opening to the community, that it will open doors,” said Geertsema. “We have great employees, and we hope people will give them a chance. The TAC rummage sale in May is just one fundraising event. We are a whole lot more than that. We are here to help individuals with physical and mental issues to become gainfully employed.”

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