Ability Building Center holds banquet

By Jan Lee Buxengard
Caledonia Argus

The Ability Building Center Houston County Recognition Banquet was held Oct. 25 at the Four Seasons Community Center, Caledonia. This is the 11th joint recognition banquet and the 11th year hosting in Houston County since the merger of ABC Works and Woodland Industries.

“Time to Soar” was the theme of the event. Larry Erickson, assistant director of ABC – Rochester Center, welcomed the 300 in attendance for the event.

In opening remarks Erickson said, “Our mission is always a work in progress. We could be overwhelmed by it, but we aren’t. Each day is a welcome challenge and opportunity to help so many.”

Community employers honored

The Settle Inn of La Crosse, Wisc. was named Community Employer of the Year for ABC Works. Accepting the award were Roxanne North and Aaron Greenwood.

ABC Works began working with the hotel on June 1, 2011, with a crew of three to four  participants and one staff member in their laundry department. They pick up laundry from the hotel rooms and wash, dry and fold towels, sheets and pillowcases. Not only does the inn offer a great work opportunity, but they make it fun for the workers by providing donuts, throwing birthday, Halloween and pizza parties. The Settle Inn has also given away hats, t-shirts and blankets, said Cathy McCabe, job developer and program coordinator for ABC Works.

“It is said that they are the most caring, understanding and considerate people to work for,” McCabe said when awarding the plaque.

Each year Woodland Industries recognizes an employer who has provided community work for its participants. This year they chose Ron Carlson of Carlson Enterprises to be the 2012 Employer of the Year. Carlson built and owns what is called the Ag Center. Located on Hwy. 44, on the northwest edge of Caledonia, the center houses the USDA Natural Resources & Conservation Service, Ag Service Center, Farm Service Agency and RRSWCD office.

Helen Olson, worksite coordinator for Woodland Industries, reported that Woodland participants clean this building each Tuesday and Thursday. This allows three participants with a job coach an opportunity to gain valuable work skills, earn a productive wage and assist in learning employer expectations.

“They are so dependable,” Carlson said upon accepting the award, and added, “They have a smile that just warms your heart.”

Olson also announced Infastech as Woodland Industries’ Business Partner of the year. Accepting the award was Dennis Schneberger. The company out of Decorah, Iowa is one of the world’s largest producers of engineered mechanical fasteners. Olson said, “Participants box a variety of fasteners in our in-center program. This gives both Woodland Industries and ABC Works participants the opportunity to work on their productivity, gain work skills, work on quality requirements and be given a sense of accomplishment daily.

And, she added, “Infastech has been great to work with, and we really appreciate the relationship we have been able to build.”

Employees recognized

Eric Loken was named employee of the year for ABC Works. Loken started working at the Caledonia site in 1994. In 2005 he transferred to the La Crescent site where he has done a variety of different in-center jobs as well as crushing cans at the American Legion.

McCabe explained that Loken recently started a new job through Infastech, which involves packaging screws into a clam shell. With the help of an adaptive device that resembles a miniature fishing pole with a magnet on the end of the line instead of a hook. This has allowed him to be successful in placing the screws into the container. “Our fisherman and employee of the year has had many accomplishments throughout his years at ABC,” McCabe said. “He always has a smile on his face and is pleasure to work with.”

Each quarter the Woodland staff nominates a participant for the “WOW” Award, which stands for Woodland’s Outstanding Worker. These nominations are based on the participant’s goal of success, attendance, attitude and improvements they have made.

The four participants who received this award for 2012 were Jamie Acker, Laura Breeser, Laraine Gorman and Mark Houdek.

In October the participants voted and chose Laraine Gorman to be the 2012 Employee of the Year.

“Laraine has worked at Woodland Industries for 21 years. She has had a great attendance this year, has been filling in at enclaves when asked and has improved her attitude,” Olson said. “We enjoy having Laraine at Woodland and are appreciative of her great work ethic!”

Mike Richards was named recipient of the Vicki Wilkes Spirit of Independence Award. Since Sept. 2, 2008, Richards has worked doing dishes in the kitchen at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. And, since April 15, 2009, he has also been doing custodial work at Quillin’s grocery store in Caledonia.

“Richards is independent and lives independently. He is a hard worker and reliable and likes hunting and going to the family farm,” stated Liz Bickford who presented the award in the absence of Danielle Burg.

Service awards announced

Years of service awards for program participants and staff included:

• Five years: participants are Michelle Diersen, Harry Heffner, Mathew Leonard, Latonja Novak, Marlene St. Sauver, Brenda Whitmore, and Jan Zilmer; and staff of Samantha Averbeck, Kim Covey, Katherine Schroeder and Sarah Wiste;

• Ten years: participants are Joe Gorman, Corey Groves, Bill McCarthy, Terry Miller, Ryan Wieser and Melissa Yolton; and staff of Jill Johnson and Jean Middendorf;

• 15 years: participants are Marshall Connelly, Jenny Gregerson and John Murphy; and staff Katherine Witt;

• 20 years: participant Pat Jordan;

• 25 years: participants Howard Dorival, Sue Ann Kronebusch, Pat O’Heron and Jenny Omoth; and staff Mike Stark;

• 30 years: participants Mike Augedahl, Steve Betz, Linda Giesler, Al Pedretti and Owen Schuldt;

• 40 years: participant Corrine Williams. “Forty years is a record for Houston County,” said Judy Johnson.

History of ABC

ABC (Ability Building Center) Inc., was established in 1956 in Rochester in the basement of the Samaritan Bethany Nursing Home with two participants and one staff. It is a non-profit corporation, governed by a voluntary board of directors.

The mission of ABC is to improve the quality of life in southeastern Minnesota by providing rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities and other special needs.

Houston County ABC sites currently have a staff of 67 and serve 160 program participants. About 95 percent are from Houston County, with others from nearby Fillmore and Winona counties.

ABC Works, which has locations in La Crescent and Caledonia, is for people who need extra help on the job or to develop skills to get a job. The program offers employment opportunities as well as social, recreational, communication and therapy supports.

Woodland Industries, located in Caledonia, is a vocational rehabilitation center to serve clients and use their abilities in a productive way.

Angela Murphy, Judy Tollefsrud and Deb Harguth, all of Houston County, currently serve on the ABC board of directors.

To learn more about the programs offered by ABC, visit its website at  www.abcinc.org or call Woodland Industries at (507) 725-2092, or ABC Works at (507) 895-7161.