Vadnais Heights nonprofit empowers adults with disabilities.
At Merrick Inc., staff members say finding a sense of purpose in what they do comes easily.
The Vadnais Heights nonprofit provides day services to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities in Ramsey County, offering a mix of life enrichment, work and self-advocacy options.
Merrick executive director John Wayne Barker says he leaves work each day knowing a difference is being made. “Soon, we’re going to be serving 450 people, so you have 450 stories of why it feels good to offer these services,” Wayne Barker says. “We empower and guide clients to realize their goals and dreams. If we do that every day, then we’re meeting our mission, and we’re improving the quality of life of our clients.”
Merrick is the largest day program in Ramsey County with a 59-year history of leadership in person-centered planning, self-advocacy, meaningful work options, community inclusion, operational excellence and continuous innovation.
Serving adults ages 21 and older, Merrick becomes a home-away-from-home for clients and direct support professionals alike. Karen Herrera, Merrick’s development and communications director, says the average client tenure is 16 years, with a continuous waitlist. “Clients choose us and, most of the time, our waitlist grows by word of mouth,” Herrera says. “Most staff go home at the end of the day with the satisfaction of knowing they make an impact on someone’s life.”
The nonprofit offers life enrichment opportunities or meaningful work. The life enrichment option is intentionally broad to include anything except work and offers activities like pottery, painting, horticulture and sewing.
“Those activities are not wage earning and engage the person and all five senses,” Wayne Barker says. “These options can be anything that improves, maintains or slows the decline of mental, physical and emotional health.”
The work opportunities Merrick offers include on-site work, work crews that go to area businesses or direct employment where people can go straight from their home to a business paying minimum wage or higher.
Herrera says Merrick supports people throughout their lives; as their needs and abilities change, the organization can help support that through the different work options.
Aside from traditional daily duties, Merrick also serves as a contributing member of the local community on many levels. “As a nonprofit, we’re also a small economic engine in our local community,” Wayne Barker says.
As the holidays approach, so do some of the nonprofit’s favorite traditions. Clients partner with the Vadnais Heights Lions Club for a holiday food and toy drive, and Merrick employees participate through gift giving. “We do a lot of civic work that allows us to make the community better for everyone in a nonmonetary way,” Herrera says.
“Giving back to our community is a big part of our culture,” Wayne Barker says. “It helps others understand the people we serve are more like us than not like us; the only difference is they have a cognitive or physical disability that limits their daily life activities, and that’s where our support comes in.”