Posted on Aug 29, 2014
Most of my life has been centered around important issues pertaining to people who have disabilities,” said Dixie Mengelkoch, mother of Tracy who works in Rise’s CIP-Coon Rapids program. Dixie has been a member of Rise’s Board of Directors for more than 20 years. “As a parent, you can never stop advocating for your child and trying to make a difference.”
Even before Tracy was born, Dixie was a member of the Jaycees, a leadership training organization. She designed and implemented a program in cooperation with Spring Lake Park High School so students could take weekly bus trips to (then) Cambridge State Hospital to visit children and adults with severe intellectual disabilities and related conditions who were institutionalized there. “I wanted the kids to get to know the patients as individuals who belonged in our communities,” Dixie remembers. “It was a tremendously eye-opening experience for them.”
A few years later, Tracy, who was a baby at the time, incurred brain damage from a staph infection following eye surgery. Dixie’s “side career” as an advocate for people with disabilities kicked into high gear.
“I was a rebel in those days,” she said with a laugh. “I advocated for Tracy to be mainstreamed in school even before we called it that. I was active in the (then) Anoka County ARC and along with other parents, worked for change on issues that directly affected our kids and community programs and services, including Rise. When Don Masterson, who in 1991 was mayor of Spring Lake Park and serving on Rise’s Board of Directors, asked me to join, I was eager to help.”
Tracy, who is now 46, was born at the right time, said Dixie. “Things were really starting to change in the early 1970s, and theories of normalization and mainstreaming were starting to take hold in schools, at work, and in the community.”
When Tracy, the youngest of four girls, completed her public education at age 21, she started working at Rise.
“It was a great fit for her. I appreciate Chet and Gladys Tollefson’s pioneering efforts to get Rise started, which made it possible for Tracy to go to work and be a part of the community.
“As a parent, you just want your child to be happy, safe, and like what they’re doing in life,” Dixie added. “At Rise, I know that Tracy absolutely loves her job at Chili’s restaurant and is so proud of her work. She enjoys her friends and co-workers, is supervised by people who are dedicated to her success, and is in a safe environment. She is doing what she wants to do. To me, that’s the ultimate. As her mother, what more could I ask for?”
“Dixie’s ‘rebel spirit’ has been a wonderful asset to our Rise Board as well,” said Rise’s President Lynn Noren. “Dixie approaches governance decision-making rooted in her perspective as a parent. It helps all of us at Rise focus on what is important.”
Dixie stated that the possible changes the Employment First policy, as proposed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, are
of great concern to her.
“We need to make sure that future state policies are rational and the process is in place for a positive flow. I think some draft policies could severely limit the choices that Tracy and others have in their employment options and living situations. I want Tracy to be able to make her own choices – and believe me, she knows what she wants. I will support her choices.
“I have always been so appreciative of Rise and it’s been exciting to see all the progress over the years. I think Rise staff are innovative and have always been focused on the right ideas, approaching situations with a positive and enthusiastic attitude. They are committed to the welfare and success of the people they serve. This is what makes Rise successful.
“I plan to stay active in advocacy,” Dixie continued. “You have to be ever-vigilant because with government programs and funding, things can change quickly and dramatically. You can never sit back and think your work is done; you always need to keep an eye out. I want to help make sure people have a choice as to how they live their lives with consideration of their vulnerabilities. I see Rise as a critical part of this process.
“I have enjoyed the years serving on the Board, to be on the ‘cutting edge’ of change and positive progress,” Dixie added. “I appreciate all the people who have served on the Rise Board because their vision and gifts have helped make Rise what it is today. As a parent, I say, ‘thank you!’”
This article appears in the September issue of the Rise Reporter.