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Center serving developmentally disabled adults seeks new home

Client Amber Anderson takes a break from her paper shredding duties to offer director Michelle McDonald a high-five at the Lake County Developmental Achievement Center on Wednesday. The center, located in Knife River, is seeking funding for a new building. DAC offers services to developmentally disabled adults. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.1 / 3
Client Loni Staples works on a special order rug at the Lake County DAC Wednesday. The rugs are made of donated materials. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky. 2 / 3
Director Cheryl Hedine, board member Gwen Gustafson, director Michelle McDonald, director Terry Johnson and board member Bill Glass were present on Wednesday at the Lake County DAC. The center, which provides services for developmentally disabled adults, is seeking funding for a new building. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.3 / 3

On Central Avenue in Knife River, there is a hand-painted white and red sign in front of an old brick building. It reads, “SALE Hand Woven Rugs.”

The small sign with peeling paint gives almost no hint that there’s a hive of activity just inside the doors of the Lake County Developmental Achievement Center.

“We have a lot of fun here,” said Michelle McDonald, one of the center’s three directors. “We walk in and we know it’s going to be a great day.”

The center has been open since the 1970s. It’s a private nonprofit that provides training, activities and work for developmentally disabled adults. The directors are hopeful that they’ll be able to move the program to a bigger, better building in coming years.

“What we’re dealing with is we’re running out of space,” said Terry Johnson, another center director.

About four months ago, the board and directors decided to make a new space their priority. Now, they are exploring options and say they want to remodel, rebuild or relocate in the next few years. Their choice will depend largely on how many grants they can secure. On the wish list is a spacious one-story building in a safe location, but those involved know that there will be hurdles along the way to a new facility.

“It’s a tight squeeze. There are a lot of nonprofits and we’re all fighting for the same dollars,” McDonald said.

Gwen Gustafson has been on the board of directors for the DAC since the beginning, when the former director, Randy Norenberg, asked her to join.

She said she believes firmly in the center’s work.

“The clients that are here are not just people that walk in the door. They’re family,” Gustafson said. “Just look at the happy faces here.”

The DAC is licensed by the state to provide services to the 30 clients who go to the center. The clients come from group homes where they live with other adults under the supervision of staff, from homes they share with their parents, or places of their own. All participate in center activities as part of their daily routine, receiving the support they want or need to accomplish their goals and live healthy lives.

“Our job is to provide job training skills, real work and programming that includes sensory, recreational therapy,” McDonald said.

On Wednesday, the clients arrived at 9 a.m., many ready to work. In the back room of the DAC it was difficult to hear above the buzz of activity. Some clients were tearing and gluing long strips of fabric to be placed on a nearby loom. They were preparing to make a rug which had been ordered by a customer of the center.

Other clients were operating shredders, feeding piece after piece of paper into the machines. Clients who work receive paychecks, with the rate of pay determined by to how quickly they work. Johnson said that jobs with pay give employees a sense of purpose and normalcy.

“When a paycheck is handed to them, there’s a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’,” McDonald said.

In addition to rug-making and paper-shredding, the center contracts with local businesses for various tasks, like packaging, manufacturing and bulk mailing. The clients handle the day-to-day activities of the recycling center in Two Harbors and a chore crew has a number of contracts for snow shoveling, lawn mowing and laundry.

The DAC also owns the license bureau in Two Harbors, and though no clients work there, a portion of revenues go to the nonprofit.

“The more the community uses it, the more we benefit,” said Cheryl Hedine, the center’s third director.

For clients who aren’t able to work, there are alternatives to the work program which may include arts and social activities.

“Underneath all that, they are gaining social skills,” McDonald said. “They are learning to take turns, they are learning to share and they are learning to speak in front of people. Everything we do here, there is always an underlying reason.”

Bill Glass, a retired physician, has been on the board of directors for about five years. On Wednesday he chatted with the clients, offering high-fives and handshakes to a number of them in the working room.

“It’s a very nice place to be on the board. The client care is top notch,” Glass said.

To find out more or to make a donation toward a new facility, visit the DAC’s website at or call the center at (218) 834-5767. The center is located at 204 Central Avenue, Knife River and is open to visitors.

McDonald said they are proud of the work they do, but a better setting would help greatly.

“We shine with our services, but our building impedes us,” she said.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
(218) 834-2141