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‘I love this job more than anything’

Productive Alternatives helps those with disabilities find a good job

Barista Shena Holtgrewe looks forward to her job at Beans Coffee Bar in Fargo. A special group of ladies meet there for coffee, conversation, and to greet their favorite employee, Shena. She always smiles and calls to them, “Welcome, sweet ladies.”

Shena receives workforce support through Productive Alternatives, Inc. (PAI) a nonprofit organization that provides job training, job coaching, job placements and other supports to persons with disabilities.

Shena Holtgrewe is a barista at Beans Coffee Bar in Fargo and receives workplace support through Productive Alternatives, a non-profit organization offering support and programs for persons with disabilities. Shena works at the cash register in the morning and is a barista, making coffee drinks, in the afternoon. Her job coach, Diane Westlake, is nearby to assist where needed and notes that one of the best parts of her job is being able to watch individuals progress in their job. And for Shena, the job is a dream. “It’s just really fun to be working here,” she said. Contributed photo

Diane Westlake is Shena’s job coach. “I have been working at Productive Alternatives as a job coach with Shena since she started working.

“One of the best parts of being a job coach is being able to watch your client progress. That’s just been the best part to watch come about,” said Diane.

Shena operates the cash register in the morning and is a barista, making coffee drinks, in the afternoon. Her job coach observes Shena’s work and is ready to assist if needed. “It’s really fun to be working here. I love this job more than anything,” smiled Shena.

The Fabled Farmer in Fergus Falls reached out to Productive Alternatives to help them fill a job position. PAI client Jerry Bursaw was just what Mary Robertson, owner of the farm-to-table restaurant, was looking for.

“Jerry had the freedom to come in, and he was ready to go, trained and just did a great job. He just walks in the door with a lot of excitement, and he’s happy to be here, which really contributes to the atmosphere that I’m trying to provide here with all my workers,” said Mary.

With support from his job coach, Jerry completes his tasks. He enjoys working and meeting people. “This is my life. This is my dream here. This is my best thing,” he said.

Since 1959, Productive Alternatives, a non-profit human services organization, has been helping adults with disabilities find and retain meaningful work. Before the agency was developed in Fergus Falls, Minnesota’s state hospitals housed persons with disabilities and mental health issues with little thought given to the connection those individuals had with the world outside the hospital setting, said PAI President Steve Skauge. A movement started to bring those individuals out of the hospital setting and into a more normal living arrangement.

A visionary group of local citizens involved in the Association for Retarded Children, the county welfare department, the school district, state vocational rehabilitation staff and area governmental leaders started the Lake Region Sheltered Workshop in 1959. Two years later, a federal experimental grant to determine the feasibility of operating a sheltered workshop in a rural area was secured.

Jerry Bursaw is employed as a dishwasher at The Fabled Farmer restaurant in Fergus Falls and receives job support through Productive Alternatives. Restaurant owner Mary Robertson said Jerry contributes to the atmosphere she strives for noting that when he walks in the door, Jerry has a lot of excitement for work and his co-workers. And, Jerry enjoys being part of The Fabled Farmer family. “This is my life,” he said. “This is my dream here. This is my best thing.” Contributed photo

At one point, in 1969, the program included a farm. Rehab Acres was established on the land once part of the Fergus Falls State Hospital. The farm started with an ag training program to prepare people for farm labor jobs in the area. It was billed as the only program of its kind in the nation, and at one point, had 450 acres, 130 head of cattle, 50 registered Holstein cows and a custom butchering operation where 2,000 hogs were processed. The farming operation closed in 1980.

In 1985, the organization made a move to merge with the four existing Developmental Achievement Centers in Otter Tail County, which resulted in the current structure of the agency as Productive Alternatives, Inc. This action was taken in recognition of the similarities of the persons that each of these entities was serving and in an effort to consolidate the resources of the respective agencies.

While programs have changed to meet clients’ needs, its focus has remained true to the original mission–to provide innovative human services at a high quality level. “It is our intention to look to the future with the same sense of vision and spirit,” Skauge said when reviewing PAI’s history.

Workforce solutions is just one piece of PAI services. PAI also provide adult day services, mental health services, public transportation, day programs for adults with disabilities, transitional housing, and it also manufactures and distributes its own line of products. “Our goal is to provide supports for the people we serve so they can live a full and joyful life,” said Tammy Anderson, director of development.

Ben Meder, an employee of Home Depot in Fergus Falls, got a hug from TC Bear during pregame festivities at a Minnesota Twins game last summer. Meder was one of several persons with disabilities, receiving job support through Productive Alternatives, honored at the game. The pregame event was part of Harmon’s Heart named after Minnesota Twins great and Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew. The event, including a game and tailgate event, celebrates individuals of all abilities. Harmon’s Heart is a fundraising event for Productive Alternatives which offers several programs to persons with disabilities, including adult day service, job support and training, plus more. For more information on the Harmon’s Heart event, talking place Aug. 10, and on other Productive Alternatives programs, check out Contributed photo

PAI has offices and programs in Alexandria, Brainerd, Cambridge, Fergus Falls, Little Falls, Moorhead, Parkers Prairie and Perham, and services 1,000 people daily with over 300 employees.

To celebrate their 60th anniversary, Productive Alternatives invites you to participate in their Harmon’s Heart-Celebrating All Abilities event at Target Field on Saturday, Aug. 10. Productive Alternatives has partnered with dear friend Nita Killebrew, widow of Minnesota Twins great and Hall of Fame baseball player, Harmon Killebrew, and the Minnesota Twins to create the Harmon’s Heart event. The fundraising event raises dollars to help provide positive opportunities for persons with disabilities.

“I wanted to create an event to honor Harmon’s legacy that would remind all of us what impact we can all have on the lives of others, to smile, and to show love and encouragement to each other,” said Nita Killebrew.

The event includes a tailgate party at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center in Bloomington hosted by the Cornerstone Lodge and the Birak Shrine Club of Fergus Falls. The party includes food, music by the Minnesota Veterans Home Choir, games and a chance to meet Nita Killebrew. Following the tailgate party, fans will head over to Target Field where the Twins will take on the Cleveland Indians. During an on-field pregame ceremony, PAI will give out the Harmon’s Heart of Baseball Award, given to a person with disabilities who exemplifies the values and heart of the award’s namesake Harmon Killebrew.

There is one added treat for this year’s event. Participants who purchase tickets through the website will receive a certificate, courtesy of KLN Family Brands, to redeem at the PAI booth at Target Field for a 12 inch by 18 inch print of Harmon Killebrew painted by artist Robert Blehert. Robert will be on hand at the booth to sign the prints.

For more information, go to, find them on Facebook, email, or call 218-998-5630. To watch Shena and Jerry’s employment success stories find Productive Alternatives on YouTube.

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