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DAC honored for years of service

The Becker County Developmental Achievement Center is one of the oldest in the area, and on Friday was honored by the state Human Services Department for 40 years of service to people with developmental disabilities.

Much has changed since the DAC -- then called Day Activity Center -- was established to serve people recently released from the eight state hospitals that then housed them, according to DAC executive director David Peterson.

Up until the mid- to late-1960s, most people with developmental disabilities "were placed into state hospitals," Peterson said.

After the court system ruled that they needed to be sent home, many moved into newly-created residential group homes, and "they came to us during the day," he said.

The idea back then was mostly to provide respite services for parents of adult children and for group home staff, there was not much in the way of programming then.

As time went on, the Day Activity Center switched to Developmental Achievement Center, and the focus was more on preparing people, when feasible, for work and for living on their own.

Across the state, the 15,000 DAC clients "pull in $46 million in wages," each year, Peterson said. "A lot of people don't realize that."

In Becker County, the first DAC begin in 1967, using a church basement until the building kitty-corner from the front of the DL Middle School was built in 1971, Peterson said.

The Becker County DAC -- which, by the way, is now called Day Training and Rehabilitation by the state -- serves 76 clients daily, with a wide range of skill and behavioral levels.

Associated with the DAC is the Semi Independent Living Services program, which begin locally in 1985 and currently serves 20 higher-functioning clients in their homes.

The DAC also contracts with companies for in-house work, in such areas as assembly and packaging, clerical, button-making, and secure document destruction.

A number of area businesses are long-time providers of those contracts, including SJ Electro Systems (18 years), Lakeshirts (10 years), the Minnesota Department of Transportation (10 years), Bachmann Auctioneers (nine years), the DL Jaycees, Timber Roots, TEAM Industries and BTD manufacturing, Peterson said.

"We've been around a long time and have a lot of good (employment) resources in the community in general," he said.

Other businesses that employ people with periodical support from DAC staff are Dynamic Homes, the DL ice arena, Central Market, Subway, Forum Printing Co. in Detroit Lakes and the DL Community Center.

There are also work groups, called enclaves, of four to six workers and a job trainer who have worked on site (daily for 18 years) at MinnKota recycling, Pro Systems (weekly for 12 years), the Audubon Liquor Store (weekly for eight years) and MAC/NAPS (monthly for five years.)

There are many non-vocational programs offered at the DAC, and it also contracts for in-house assistive technology -- meaning sensory integration switches and devices -- behavioral management, and psychological services, since some clients also have a secondary diagnosis of mental illness.

The Becker County DAC operates the vans and buses needed to pick up clients -- 22 of them in wheelchairs -- and bring them home every day.

Peterson has worked at the DAC for 28 years, and says there isn't much turnover among staff there, who are committed to their jobs, and to serving the clients.

The seven-member board of directors also has its priorities straight, he added.

"I've been fortunate to work with some very good people (on the board) over the years," he said. "They put the needs of the clients first."