By Anna Jauhola
Jennifer Bergh and Tiffany Peterson enjoy making rugs. Dan Johnson, Jean Wolf, Terry Gunnarson and Brian Brown enjoy cutting and ripping material for those handmade rugs. Everyone mentioned, and others attend the Kittson County Day Activities Center in Lake Bronson.
Arthur Franklin is the oldest member at 77 years old. He’s retired and leads a life of leisure, helping out whenever he wants, said Missy Karboviak, DAC director. Charles Kveen has a passion for crushing aluminum cans and doing his daily chores around the building.
The DAC provides an opportunity for adults with developmental disabilities to socialize, work and be out and about in the communities. People ages 18 and older can attend if they meet certain criteria.
“We like to call them friends,” Karboviak said with a smile. “I’m starting my 18th year here and they’re just friendly and warm, and love to have company. They love to have people stop in and have coffee. I think our community is very receptive and treats us very kindly.”
Every week, DAC friends go on a route to refill vending machines at various locations around Kittson County. Karboviak said the route has been a great business. They purchase snack items in bulk and Coca-Cola products to stock in the vending machines.
“We clean The Frog Pond (in Halma) Tuesday through Friday,” she added. “And we clean the DNR building in Karlstad every Tuesday.”
Those who attend the DAC come in every day with a great attitude, Karboviak said, ready to work and take pride in that work. At the west end of the building sit four looms and several tables where most everybody participates in making rugs, which they sell at the DAC and around the county.
In the summertime, the DAC subcontracts through a company to assemble a certain part for Arctic Cat.
“It comes in three pieces and we assemble them with nuts and bolts,” Karboviak said. “The ones who are good at it make about $10 an hour each.”
Arctic Cat pays 16 cents per completed part. Each friend who assembled parts receives 14 cents per completed part and the DAC uses the other 2 cents toward transportation to and from the center.
Each one of these jobs not only provides a point of pride for those who attend the DAC, but also a source of money.
“They don’t get to volunteer,” Karboviak said. “Everything they do gives us money to pay them.”
The DAC operates as a nonprofit 501c3 and has a commensurate wage certificate, which means the DAC pays each friend on their productivity and not minimum wage.
At its height, the DAC had 18 friends attending every day. They are now down half of that due to various circumstances – some friends have died or gone into a nursing home and others moved away or left after one group home closed in Karlstad. The DAC is a wonderful opportunity and for those who maybe haven’t considered it for a family member with a developmental disability, Karboviak encourages them to visit.
“Check us out,” she said. “We pick them up every morning, bring them home every afternoon. They can socialize, make a little money. I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t want to send someone here.”
Each friend can spend six hours a day at the DAC. Usually, with state regulations, this includes transportation time, but Karboviak said they received a variance years ago due to Kittson County being extremely rural.
The cost is also reasonable at between $80 and $124 a day, depending on the person’s level of need for care, plus $2 a day for a hot lunch. The DAC receives either private pay or a voucher through county social services for each friend.
“The only money we get (to operate), and this is important that people understand, is the per diem per day per person who attends,” Karboviak said. “We don’t get paid if someone is absent.”
With a decline of attendees, the DAC has also cut back on staff and is much more careful with its money, she said.
But it’s not all work at the DAC. The friends and staff have a lot of fun, too.
“I compiled a list of things we’d done this year and it was two pages,” Karboviak said. “We really try to get out. They wouldn’t ordinarily get to do these things.”
The friends went on many trips through generous donations, including to a zoo, the Shrine Circus, a Twins game, a Fargo Force hockey game, a Redhawks game and on a riverboat at Duluth.
Karboviak noted that several families of former friends have given memorials to the DAC. She teared up thinking of a couple, including John Hanson and Barry Lindberg.
“We went to that Twins game on John,” she said. “When Barry Lindberg passed away, he was a huge ‘The Price Is Right’ fan, so with his memorials we bought a new TV.”
Since the DAC is a nonprofit, they are always happy to have volunteers. Karboviak said people should call ahead of time to make sure everyone is at the DAC. Volunteers can be a guest cook, play cards or games, help sew material for rugs, weave rugs, go for a bike ride in nice weather and so much more. She said they also are always willing to accept monetary donations.
When they aren’t playing or earning money, friends at the DAC are working hard to keep their own facility clean and in order. Each person has their own jobs and they rotate. Once a week, they all help wash down the couches and tables, sweep and mop the floors, and clean the bathrooms. Tiffany Peterson is in charge of the washing machine and dryer – she folds clothes and puts them all away, Karboviak said.
“They feel good about working and making money. They act just like I do when I get my paycheck,” she said. “They take pride in it.”
Karboviak and the other employees also take great pride in working with their friends at the DAC. Bonnie Johnson is a certified commercial cook and makes a hot meal for them each day during the week.
“We are the only DAC in the state that still provides a hot meal,” Karboviak said.
Jill Frei subs when a staff member is out. Cheryl Coffield is part-time help in the DAC and David Hartsock is the newest staff member, also working to get his CDL.
All employees are trained in CPR, First Aid and emergency use of manual restraints. While other DACs may deal with behavioral problems, she has never once had a friend who has displayed that type of behavior.
“I think if you haven’t been around someone with disabilities, it’s a little bit scary at first,” Karboviak said. “I think people are nervous about how to interact with them. Once you learn their quirks and ways, then you realize, who wouldn’t want them here? They’re so happy to see you.”
By Anna Jauhola