COON RAPIDS, MINN. (WCCO) “It’s an unusual dilemma. A Coon Rapids nonprofit has a great new space and a great desire to serve people with disabilities. But they can’t bring people back, even if they have a long waiting list.
As WCCO discovered, it’s a story of frustration and hope.
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The past few years have been difficult for everyone, and Lois George, 43, who lives with autism, is no exception. WCCO spoke with his mother, Marie George.
“We just sort of stagnated here for a few years with the virus, it was very difficult. We had to find things to do,” Marie said. “When she was working, she was happy, she had friends, she was a person.”
Lois worked at Rise five days a week. She says she really likes the place.
“Yeah, I love all my friends, I had a lot more friends than ever,” Lois said.
They are friends who appreciate the agency’s day services and employment program. They serve adults with different abilities, but these days they serve fewer people.
“The past two years have been so difficult, not only for the people we serve, but also for their families, and really for all of us in the community,” said Lynn Noren, President and CEO of Rise.
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When the pandemic hit, they took a staffing blow, dropping from 500 employees to 300. And with such a tight job market, they can’t seem to bounce back.
“There are over 200 people still waiting to return to day services,” Noren said. “So we need to hire 70 people to make this happen for everyone who is waiting to resume their program.”
There is a labor shortage and an abundance of newly renovated spaces. Noren says she wants it to be full again, with people like Lois.
“You just need to be with people. This is what allows these people to learn, to function and to be part of society,” said Marie.
So Rise hosts job fairs, advertises, and hopes to fill that gap, so Lois can fill that void.
“I’m ready to go again and ready to work hard,” Lois said.
Because Rise is so dependent on Medicare, salaries are set by the state. Right now they cost around $17 an hour.
The group is lobbying the State Capitol this month for funds to raise those salaries. Noren is working hard to get Minnesota lawmakers to change the rules so she can pay people more and offer retention bonuses to team members.
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Rise and other public providers are advocating for higher wages and retention bonuses in two legislative proposals.