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Willmar, Minn., Home Depot employee receives top honor

WILLMAR -- A Willmar Home Depot employee has been honored by Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota with its Participant of the Year award.

Kevin Haakenson, 50, accepted the prestigious award at an event May 17 in St. Paul.

According to a news release, the award recognizes exceptional effort and accomplishment by a Goodwill/Easter Seals participant. He joined two other Participants of the Year, Rafiq Muyahim and Shelly Smetana, in receiving the award.

Goodwill/Easter Seals provides workforce development statewide for people with disabilities.

In the past, Haakenson struggled with maintaining steady employment because of the effects of a traumatic brain injury he suffered several years ago. He enrolled in Goodwill/Easter Seals' Supported Employment program, which assists people with barriers -- such as a physical or mental disability or lack of education -- in finding and obtaining good jobs.

With help from Goodwill/Easter Seals, Haakenson found a job as a lot attendant at Willmar Home Depot, where he's worked for almost two years.

Bill Struzyk, Haakenson's case manager at Goodwill/Easter Seals, said in the release that Haakenson is determined. "He puts his heart and soul into his job. Every day he does whatever it takes to be the best he can be."

Willmar Home Depot manager Matt Austin said Haakenson deserves this award because he's an exemplary employee and "because as a person, he's the epitome of doing the right thing. For Kevin, no hurdle is too high, no goal is unreachable."

Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota provides a wide variety of services for people with disabilities and other barriers to education, employment and independence. In the past year, more than 15,000 individuals received 31,000 services, including job skills training, job placement and free medical equipment loans.

Revenues from its 24 retail stores, along with other contributions, support these programs at 48 service locations in Minnesota.