WILLMAR — Kandi Works Developmental Achievement Center, a nonprofit agency that provided programming and services for individuals with developmental disabilities, was assisting approximately 80 people when the decision was made to close the facility a few months ago.

Now, Kandiyohi County's main goal is to help find new opportunities for those who relied on Kandi Works for its services such as employment and habilitation programming.

"It is very important for those folks," said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Rollie Nissen. "Just to have a place to go, to do something. The smiles on their faces, it was wonderful to see."

The decision to close Kandi Works was made by its board of directors earlier this summer, with the Kandiyohi County Board approving it Sept. 15.

At the Oct. 6 County Board meeting, a second step was made, as the commissioners accepted a needs assessment completed by Health and Human Services Supervisor Kathy Nelson. The assessment reported on what service needs would no longer be met for the clients of Kandi Works now that it is closing.

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"This is the second major step," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen, who also serves on the Kandi Works board.

As part of the assessment, the county made two recommendations to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The first was for the state department to approve an increase in the number of individuals West Central Industries in Willmar could serve.

Many of Kandi Works clients would like to join West Central Industries, but the facility's current license won't allow it and there is now a waiting list. Nelson said the Department of Human Services would lean heavily on the county's recommendation when deciding whether to approve a new license for West Central Industries.

"DHS said as long as we had it recommended in our needs determination, they would have no problem going forward with that license," Nelson said.

The county is also recommending the state allow a new entity to provide programming in the Kandi Works service area, such as day training, habilitation and adult day care. Nelson said she has already had discussions with Divine House, which has shown interest in the past about expanding its day training and habilitation programming into Kandiyohi County.

While some of Kandi Works' clients have decided to find services elsewhere, others are waiting to make that call, Nelson said, hoping a new program will form in the Kandiyohi and Atwater areas, where Kandi Works was located. Many of those individuals are medically fragile or have other challenges that would make transportation to Willmar or another city difficult.

"They would really like us to support the creation of an agency that would meet their needs in the Kandiyohi County area," Nelson said.

Once the dissolution process of Kandi Works is completed, the county will decide who will receive any remaining assets from the facility. The plan is to give those assets to other local providers, with the County Board deciding just where those assets will go. Nelson did recommend using some of the remaining money to make digital copies of all the client files Kandi Works has and that the county is obligated to keep for seven years.

"That would make more sense for storage," Nelson said.

Madsen said the assessment report and recommendations made by the county are similar to what the Kandi Works board had hoped would happen.

"We are very much on the same page and very much support moving ahead with this," Madsen said. " I do believe this is the right way to go."

There are concerns about the future of entities like Kandi Works. The lack of adequate reimbursement from the state, transportation costs and legislative changes to the minimum wage laws are all major hurdles for day training and habilitation centers.

"It is going to be difficult for any DT&H to make the bottom line work," Nissen said.

Despite the challenges, both the Kandi Works board and the county will continue to work together during the transition phase, with the hope to have everything wrapped up by the end of the year.

"We have to do what we can to serve those folks," Nissen said. "But it is not going to be easy in the current environment."