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DAC at 40: Focus still on abilities not disabilities

Stevens County DAC clients Mel Hottovy and Paula Klein refresh water for residents at West Wind Village.1 / 3
Nancy Neal cleans the interior of a vehicle in the DAC Automobile Detailing Area.2 / 3
For 26 of its 40 years, the Stevens County Developmental Achievement Center programs have operated out of its building on Green River Road in Morris.3 / 3

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Developmental Achievement Center will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 11, and wants to use the occasion to update the public on its past, present and future.

The DAC's anniversary open house is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 11. Visitors can tour the facility in Morris at 203 Green River Road, visit with staff and see old photographs.

Coffee and cake will be served and wood products made by DAC clients will be on sale.

"We're trying to educate the public about what we do," said DAC Executive Director Emmy Kvatum.

The county DAC was started by Stevens County Arc and concerned parents. There were 10 clients when the program started in a downtown location and after two years it was moved to the former Bethany Church on East 6th Street. The DAC program has been at its current location for 26 years.

The DAC had 10 clients at its inception and now serves 64. Three of the original 10 clients are still in the program, Kvatum said.

The DAC has 17 employees, many of whom have been with the program for 10 years or more.

"We have a very well-qualified staff," Kvatum said. "Turnover in this industry is generally a problem, but it's not a problem at Stevens County DAC."

When the county DAC began, all the clients lived at home with families. Now, it's rare to have a client who is not living independently in a residential home setting or in an apartment, Kvatum said.

The DAC is not a residential program and instead focuses on what clients do during the day.

About 20 area companies employ DAC clients, such as Country Pet Foods, in DeGraff, which has employees bag ear corn.

Other clients work at places such as Mills Fleet Farm, some work in recycling, making candles, scented soaps and buttons, detailing vehicles, lawn mowing, building bean bag games, doing confidential document shredding for businesses, and scanning of documents for electronic storage.

"We do a little bit of everything," Kvatum said. "Some spend no time in the building and some are there a lot. We have a wide variety of ages, abilities and interests, and we try to match people up with jobs that they're interested in."

The DAC is a private, non-profit corporation that is not part of Stevens County's operation but yet receives funding from the federal, state and county governments. Some clients are funded by Medical Assistance and Medical Assistance Waivers

Stevens County owns the DAC's buildings, sets rates, provides case management of clients and approves enrollments. The staff are not county employees.

John Luetmer is the DAC's Program Director, and qualified professionals are charged with writing goals and programs and direct care and supervision. The DAC also employs program assistants, a cook and a nurse.

On-site jobs and work at the DAC facility aids greatly in the clients' quality of life. Others who can't work are engaged in other activities, Kvatum said.

"For all of us, it's good for everyone to get out of the house and go to a new setting and see people who care about you," Kvatum said. "For those who work, it means a lot to them to earn that paycheck."

It's difficult to figure out what the future holds for DAC programs. They are already feeling the pinch from legislative cuts enacted in July and more tight economic times are likely coming, Kvatum said.

"More than ever before we're working with people who have great disabilities and we're expected to do it with less money," she said.

But what won't change is the dedication to helping clients enrich their lives.

"We focus more on people's abilities rather than their disabilities," Kvatum said.