WILLMAR — It was with a heavy heart and regret that the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved the resolution to dissolve the Kandi Works Development Achievement Center non-profit. The unanimous approval took place during Tuesday's board meeting.
"I come here today with a deep sadness," said Sheila Ellingboe, member of the Kandi Works board of directors.
A wide range of issues, some long standing, forced the board of directors to make the hard choice to close the daily training and habilitation center, which provided services and work opportunities for people with disabilities. Consumers were able to take part in habilitation and socialization programming, as well as work part-time doing jobs such as cleaning or light manufacturing.
"This has not been taken lightly, it is not happenstance, it is not haphazard, it is not knee jerk, we have worked at this," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen, who also serves on the Kandi Works board. "It is a disservice if we continue to stay in operation, given the dynamics we have today."
Jennie Lippert, Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Director, said the county is working with consumers of Kandi Works, to help them find new programming if they wish. Some of the older consumers have decided to retire, while others have reached out to organizations such as West Central Industries or ProWorks. There is also discussion taking place about another local provider taking over at least one of Kandi Works' sites.
"I think most people are waiting" to see what happens, Lippert said.
As part of the dissolution, the Kandi Works board will be working with Kandiyohi County to find qualifying entities to distribute Kandi Works assets to. The qualifying organizations will need to provide services to those with disabilities, similar to Kandi Works.
"We as a board needed to be proactive, to manage that," in finding the right fit for the assets, Madsen said. "We are going to be responsible for that."
Some of the issues Kandi Works was facing including transportation costs, funding from the state and federal governments and the push to end the sub-minimum wage, which allowed consumers at places such as Kandi Works to do jobs for less than the mandated minimum wage. The coronavirus pandemic just added on to the troubles, as Kandi Works and other similar organizations shut down for months.
"While it is an anguish and Shelia expressed it very heartfelt, we also look at if from a practical standpoint and a pragmatic standpoint. The writing is on the wall, DACs (Developmental Achievement Centers) will be done," Madsen said.
Those wanting to advocate for places such as Kandi Works should reach out to their state and federal representatives.
"The future of services to our consumers rest squarely on the shoulders of our state and federal legislatures," Ellingboe said. "The causes of financial resource depletions are many and complex."
Ellingboe and Madsen thanked all who have made Kandi Works a success since it was founded in 1962. Area businesses provided needed work for Kandi Works consumers and long-serving staff and board members helped create a place consumers came for assistance, work and a place to belong.
"Kandi Works has been a model program that grew to be a highly regarded service provider," Ellingboe said.
Ellingboe has been a part of Kandi Works for over 30 years and knows people won't be happy with the decision made.
"It is very hard for me to recommend this decision," Ellingboe said. "It has to be done."
Madsen does hope good will one day come from this decision, in the shape of new service providers and opportunities for consumers.
"We will have positives coming out of this, I truly believe that, but the negatives right now are difficult," Madsen said.