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Sen. Kent Eken, right, talks with staff and workers at the Becker County Developmental Achievement Center in Detroit Lakes. He toured the facility and listened to concerns and needs at the facility, but also met the people who come there to work and what they enjoyed about their jobs. LIBBY LARSON/RECORD

Eken tours DAC, listens to concerns

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Minnesota State Sen. Kent Eken, representative from District 04, was in the area to tour the Becker County Developmental Achievement Center on Thursday, July 18.

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David Peterson, director of the DAC, and Kathy Kennedy, a job development professional and Qualified Developmental Disability Professional, led the tour.

While providing information and introducing Eken to several of their clients, they also detailed some of the needs and primary concerns of the facility.

The Becker County DAC, one of around 180 similar institutions in Minnesota, is a product of gradually evolved perceptions about proper care for the disabled community.

Peterson cited the emphasis on deinstitutionalization during the 1960s as paving the way for the current system.

The local facility assists people in a range of disabilities, receiving enough funding from the county to provide their services 225 days each year. Peterson said that because of the need for consistent programming, the DAC fights for as many days as possible, though limited resources often provide a challenge.

Today, the DAC of Becker County lists its goals as providing a “socially acceptable and normalized pattern of living,” while assisting and teaching skills for greater independence.

These objectives are manifested in simple daily tasks, such as shopping, meal preparation, cleaning, and hygiene.

Opportunity for employment is also provided. Lakeshirts is among the companies and industries which have outsourced work to the DAC facility. Great care is taken to ensure that the disabled workers receive fair financial compensation and wages.

“We try to make things better for our clients,” Peterson said. “We are their main advocates.”

On the tour, Eken met some of the clients at the DAC, many of whom had followed his policy development and watched him appear on the news.

Eken said the issue of disability services was especially important to his family, as his brother was diagnosed with a mental disability in childhood.

In the past, the limited options available for care included sending the disabled away to one of the few care facilities, or keeping them at home with little to no assistance or educational aid provided by the government.

Eken’s father viewed both options as unacceptable; prompting him to become involved in politics. Eken later followed his father’s suit, crediting disability policy as one of the biggest factors that drew him into politics.

Peterson shared plans to expand and improve the DAC building, including new sensory equipment, providing stimulation for clients with severe paralysis and other needs.

However, he also noted that funding provided for the facility hasn’t increased in response to inflation or rising gas prices in the past years.

Though recent funding has been granted to nursing homes and other senior care facilities, Eken was disappointed in the relative lack of support that reached disability programs.

“I’m disturbed about equally deserving organizations and causes being pitted against each other,” he said of problems of fund distribution.

“We need to do more for the disability community,” he added.

Reflecting on his visit to the DAC, Eken said “it was a great experience, and this is a very important issue that needs to be addressed. The disabled community has been shortchanged over the last decade.”

He remarked that he was impressed by the staff and work performed at the DAC, especially with their limited resources and the range of disabilities that the organization works with.

 Eken expressed that garnering greater support and funding for programs like the DAC is “one of my top priorities,” and he plans to stay in contact with Peterson and other board members over the course of the session.

Eken’s visit to the DAC was another step toward improving the lives of the disabled, raising awareness for funding needed to equip facilities and staff with crucial resources and tools for success.

For more information about the Becker County DAC, contact the main office at 218-847-8206, or send an email to BeckerDAC@yahoo.com.

Libby Larson | DL-Online

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