Until the early 1960’s, parents of children with developmental disabilities had only two choices; keep their child at home or send their child to an institution. In 1963, a group of parents organized the Neighborhood House Day Activity Center housed at Salem Lutheran Church in West Saint Paul to provide group activities helping their children acquire skills for living, develop their potential, and integrate into the community. The project expanded to include a preschool program in 1965; and, in 1971, incorporated as a nonprofit agency, the Kaposia Area Day Activity Center. We take our name, Kaposia, from the Dakota word meaning “fleet of foot”, which became the foundation for our motto “One Step Ahead.”
Over the past 50 years, our commitment to staying “One Step Ahead” has lead Kaposia to evolve into a customized employment and retirement service. We provide customized employment services for people with disabilities by serving one person at a time, insisting on integrated work settings, focusing on strengths, paying no less than minimum wage, and never giving up on the expectation of progress. Our only requirement is the desire to work. We serve senior citizens with disabilities who have chosen to remain active in the community by identifying each person’s interests, preferences, and desires; developing a plan and community connections with other senior recreation programs, agencies, and services; providing one-to-one social skills training; and coordinating transportation specific to the needs of each retiree.
What inspired the change to “Customized Employment?”
Kaposia began offering work options for people with disabilities in the 1970’s. The concept of customized employment was newly developing in the 1980’s. Staying one step ahead, former CEO Jackie Mlynarczyk moved the organization to offer customized employment as an option in 1984, and converted all of Kaposia’s employment options to integrated community settings by 1990, something only 2% of all similar organizations have accomplished. Customized employment is characterized by competitive wages for jobs in integrated, open market settings, that match the abilities and desires of people with disabilities who receive as much ongoing support as is needed, but no more than is necessary. There is a significant amount of evidence indicating that integrated customized employment options improve outcomes for people with disabilities, cost less than other options, and generate savings for taxpayers.
Why were Retirement Services added?
In 2000, it became clear that there was a need for a different type of service for some of the older individuals Kaposia served. Retirement Services was founded to offer supported retirement options to seniors with disabilities while continuing to meet the spirit of our mission. Kaposia promotes participation in the community, life-long learning, and personal fulfillment through leisure, recreation, and volunteerism. Veteran staff at Kaposia Retirement Services point out that over the past 50 years, it has been inspiring to watch seniors with disabilities move from being the objects of charity, to becoming contributors of charity.
What are Kaposia’s core values now?
- Each person is valuable and should be treated with dignity and respect.
- We are committed to each person discovering their potential.
- We are passionate about challenging each person to succeed.
- We are innovative and entrepreneurial.
- Competent and dedicated employees increase the prosperity of people with disabilities.
Where is Kaposia going in the future?
It is Kaposia’s long-term goal to serve one person at a time. Our funding system and licensing requirements, however, do not align with this goal. Our hope is that these barriers can be overcome in time, and allow us to truly be person-centered in all that we do. We will continue to adapt our practices to best fit the needs of the people we serve, and stay “One Step Ahead.”