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Andrew Blank helps clients fill the blanks in their lives

Worksite supervisor builds new skills, values in Corrections clients

Andrew Blank, Rock-Nobles Community Corrections worksite supervisor, takes a break in his office at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington. Blank oversees clients who are willing to work to pay off fines and court costs.
Andrew Blank, Rock-Nobles Community Corrections worksite supervisor, takes a break in his office at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington. Blank oversees clients who are willing to work to pay off fines and court costs.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON — A self-described “outside dog” with a strong work ethic, patient demeanor and fundamental belief in the intrinsic value of every human being is the current Rock-Nobles Community Corrections worksite supervisor.

Andrew Blank, a 35-year-old native of Beaver Creek and 2006 graduate of Hills-Beaver Creek High School, started the job in October 2020.

Even a short conversation with Blank quickly reveals his character and can-do attitude.

“If we’re swinging a hammer or pushing a mop, I’m very comfortable with that,” said Blank, a December 2021 recipient of the Nobles County Excellence in Performance Award.

Of that honor, Blank modestly said, “I received a certificate and the County set up a breakfast for everyone who got awards during 2020 and 2021.

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“There were several people from the social services department who were recognized, and they have a lot harder jobs than I have. It was quite an honor to receive it.”

Humility seems to come naturally to Blank, who resides in Beaver Creek with his wife Amanda and their two children, ages five and eight. Prior to becoming worksite supervisor, he was employed in construction (primarily for New Prairie Insulation) and logged 13 years with the Minnesota National Guard.

“My brother Aaron works in the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, saw the job posting and encouraged me to apply because he thought I’d be a good fit,” said Blank.

He appreciates his job’s deeper meaning, beyond just supervising folks who need to check off community service hours.

“In construction, you’re paid to do a job and punch a time clock,” said Blank. “This job has more value to it in that I’m showing the clients a different way to do life — how to live in sobriety and be productive members of society.”

Lessons Blank learned during his military service directly contribute to his daily approach.

“In the army, I saw a lot of people from different backgrounds, but we all wore the same uniform and lived up to the same expectations,” said Blank. “We had the same task at hand — and that’s the mindset I bring to the work crew.

“Nobody here is better than anyone else. We get the tasks done through teamwork, and we’re all here for the same purpose.”

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Despite starting during the heart of the pandemic, Blank quickly gripped the reins of his position.

He coordinates projects — whether for area churches, schools, governmental entities or non-profit organizations — for the work crews he supervises. And occasionally the community service work crews are called upon to assist seniors in either Rock or Nobles County.

“Sometimes people don’t like to ask for help, but it’s a wonderful thing to have this program facilitate needed assistance,” Blank shared, mentioning his crew may help with one-time landscaping or yard projects but isn’t available to take on, say, twice-a-week mowing gigs.

“To teach useful skills to our clients — how to frame a porch, or how to build a set of stairs or ramps for improved handicapped accessibility — is really cool, because a few have gone on to careers in home construction, and that’s awesome,” Blank said.

His clients have tackled a variety of projects: clearing trees and brush, doing touch-up painting, washing fire trucks for local communities, helping with tree removal and organizing the Love INC warehouse have all made the list.

“Picking rock has happened, too,” said Blank. “This is supposed to be a hardship, but it doesn’t have to be harder than it needs to be.

“We always provide the necessary equipment to complete the task at hand, and we do it safely and timely.”

Love INC executive director Greg Wede appreciates Blank’s cooperative spirit. While Wede’s organization has had trouble finding a volunteer warehouse manager, Blank’s work crews have filled the gap, allowing Love INC to continue serving its constituency.

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“Andrew and his teams have been very helpful,” said Wede. “I’ve really enjoyed working with Andrew in this way.”

Blank is one of 10 Rock-Nobles Community Corrections employees. Probation agents refer clients to him for community service work. Clients are paid at a rate of $10 per hour, and Blank says that amount has been a selling point to probationers needing the work to pay off fines for their crimes.

“I always tell them, if you have more time than money, come and work, but if you have more money than time, just pay off your fines,” said Blank. “It’s a good system; I work directly with the agents, and when they have an individual they feel is fit enough, financially and time-wise, to do the work, we meet to talk about the program.”

Blank supervises crews of up to six people, most of whom are on probation but some of whom join him on a work-release basis from the Nobles County Jail.

“And we work a lot with the Drug Court program, which is fantastic,” said Blank. “It requires that if the person isn’t working or is out of work for a time, they will work with us while going through their sober program to fill up their days so they’re not just meandering around or watching TV.

“The money they earn goes to pay off their fines, as well, so it’s wonderful.”

Blank’s boss, Rock-Nobles Community Correction director Jon Ramlo, agrees Blank is an excellent fit for the role of worksite supervisor.

“Andrew is a very level-headed guy with some great values,” said Ramlo. “He positively influences the clients he works with quite a bit, really serving as a mentor to them.

“And Andrew gets the clients to look a little more at the positive side of life and leave their criminal behavior behind.”

Part of the secret to Blank’s success is his innate empathy, combined with a belief that every person has intrinsic value.

“Maybe somebody was just released from jail, or is still in jail, and they’ve made choices in life that aren’t very good,” said Blank. “But maybe they’ve not been valued their whole life, and here we’re giving them a chance to look at a wall they’ve painted — and they’ve done it while sober, and are paying off their fines while doing it.

“Everyone has an intrinsic worth, and those who are at the lowest point in their lives need to be shown they’re worth somebody’s time and effort, and that they can be something regardless of the bad choices they may have made.”

Blank focuses not only on developing practical work skills in his clients but also steers them to meet the demands of a day-to-day job — something that’s more challenging for people struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues.

“It’s things some of us might take for granted, but I start with, ‘You need to wake up on time, drag your butt out of bed, dress appropriately for the weather and pack a lunch,” said Blank. “Helping them get back on a routine schedule so they can more easily slide into a job in the regular workforce and function more normally in society is important.”

Ramlo affirms that Blank is getting those points across.

“Andrew has the patience and understanding to not be judgmental but to also guide them,” said Ramlo. “They actually look forward to going out on the crew to work after being with him for a few days.”

Blank strives to arrive at his own job each day with an open heart and mind.

Said Blank, “It’s about bringing them up to the next level.”

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