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Farmington volunteers recognized for dedication to West St. Paul group home

A group of Farmington area volunteers were recognized by Living Well Disability Services on Friday, Sept. 16 for their support of a West St. Paul group home that houses six adults with developmental disabilities. (Submitted Photo)

Farmington resident Dennis Klose, along with a group of volunteers from the Farmington community, were recognized at Living Well Disability Services' annual gala on Friday, Sept. 16, for their work helping improve a group home in West St. Paul.

Klose was recognized as the 2016 Volunteer Dreammaker but said he shares the award with the other volunteers that are working with the KDK Foundation.

"I can't ever repay the people that care for my daughter, there's just no way to do it," Klose said.

Living Well, a non-profit organization based in Eagan, owns more than 30 group homes and apartment buildings across the Twin Cities area. They also offer in-home services for people with developmental disabilities.

In 2003, Klose helped start the KDK Foundation, named after his daughter Kristine, and hosted events to raise money for residents at Living Well group homes to go on outings in the community.

Over the last several years, volunteers connected to the group have focused their energy making physical improvements to East Emerson, an intermediate care facility for six adults with developmental disabilities. All six have lived at East Emerson for almost a decade, four since the early 1990s.

"They're like a family, they've been together for a long time ... they fit really well together," said Amy Dobbs, program coordinator at East Emerson.

Dobbs first met Klose shortly after she began working at East Emerson about three years ago. Klose, along with other volunteers, stopped into the facility to share some of their plans for improving the outside of the building — cutting down trees, pulling up weeds, putting up a fence, and building garden boxes.

For the last several years, between 10 and 20 volunteers have gathered over a weekend to tackle projects at the house. Klose provided the materials and would cook a big barbeque meal for the volunteers and residents, who all got to be part of each project. The Farmington VFW, American Legion and Eagles have all made donations as part of the improvement projects.

"Once I came and was able to see them doing the work, I could see they really enjoyed it," said Dobbs. "The people at the house that live here, they got to be a part of it too — (the volunteers) would keep the back door open so they could go in and out to see what was going on."

The residents at East Emerson appreciate the chance to experience new sensory inputs, so adding features like swings and bright flowers is helpful for them, Dobbs explained. The volunteers also added a fence to one side of the property, nearly doubling the size of the yard and creating more safe space for residents outside.

"Just being able to spend time outside has really helped out a lot of people in the house ... now they can go outside freely," said Dobbs.

In addition to coordinating the volunteer weekend, Klose often stops by the house to visit his daughter and cook dinner for the staff and residents.

"It takes a huge load off of our staff, they have so much to do already," said Dobbs. "When he comes they get so excited because he'll come and cook dinner, he'll come with a carload of Sam's Club snacks."

Dobbs, along with Toni Gillen, Living Well director of community life, co-wrote the nomination for Klose and the rest of the volunteers.

"There were a lot of nominations that came in for Volunteer of the Year, but it was an almost unanimous decision that Dennis and his crew would win," Dobbs said.

Other local volunteers recognized for this work (not all pictured) include Lori Ann and Jim Stewbaut, Julie and Jeremy Plaster, Ashly and Ryan Full, Katie and Jake O'Neil, Brad Schiller, Scott Ryberg, Kyle and Brittney Betzold, Lance Betzold, Kathy McMullen, Jom Nissen, Pam Ulve, Cherie Klose, and Jasmine Hobson.