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The Rising Phoenix is a nonprofit, private organization that offers job training, placement services, assessments and personal support to individuals with developmental disabilities, mental illness, physical disabilities and traumatic brain injury.

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One of its most important goals is to connect people with disabilities to the community, said Barb Ellingson, executive director.

"It's our job to support [people] with disabilities and help them build and maintain meaningful lives," she said. "We help people fit into the community in which they live and participate in the community."

Cleaning enclaves to Pizza Ranch and Wadena County Social Services are one way The Rising Phoenix works with the community, said Todd Anderson, case manager. A staff member accompanies the workers to monitor their job performance.

Rising Phoenix clients, referred to as consumers, also provide janitorial services to Fair Oaks Lodge and Pro Dairy Systems. Rising Phoenix is always looking for more businesses to work with, Anderson said.

The organization also provides on-site jobs with its warehouse and truckload sales. Stores such as Wal-Mart and Kohls supply truckloads of merchandise for Rising Phoenix clients to organize, price and sell to the community, Anderson said. The items are sold for approximately half the normal retail price.

"The customer gets a good deal and it gives our people an opportunity to learn skills," he said.

The truckload sales are held one weekend a month. The next sale takes place from 5-9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, and from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10.

Another on-site job source is an area called the tackle box where clients complete projects such as making fishhooks and assembling nut and bolt packages for Homecrest, Ellingson said.

Clients who work in the tackle box are paid piece rate depending on their productivity, he said. Warehouse workers are paid an hourly wage. Rising Phoenix's services are paid for by another agency, which typically includes a combination of funding from Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (Rehabilitation Services Branch; Vocational Rehabilitation or Extended Employment programs) and county social service agencies.

Clients are referred to Rising Phoenix through county social service agencies, local schools, Minnesota Work Force, Rehabilitation Services and Minnesota Rural Concentrated Employment Program, Anderson said. Seven different counties refer people to the organization.

At any given time, Rising Phoenix has approximately 125 clients, Ellingson said.

Bertha resident Tracy Fleischacker is in the work adjustment training program and works in the warehouse, tackle box and as a member of a cleaning enclave to Pizza Ranch. Minnesota Work Force referred her to Rising Phoenix, she said. Fleischacker has been working with Rising Phoenix three days a week since July 17. She was a stay-at-home mom before working with the organization, she said.

Fleischacker wants to learn skills so she can find another job, she said. She has learned to work faster through her job training at Rising Phoenix. She would love to get a job in a restaurant or a veterinarians office, she said.

"I'm really good at working with animals, and I am a very good cook," Fleischacker said.

Judith Mann is undergoing a work assessment to determine her skills for a clerical job. Mann has explored all kinds of occupations throughout her life. She went to cosmetology school, worked as a waitress and helped at the veteran's office. She even went through the Marine Engine Technology program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Detroit Lakes where she was the first female student in 10 years, Mann said.

"I kind of say I'm a Jill of all trades," she said.

A learning disability and fybromyalgia she developed from an injury have interfered with Mann's employment options. She has pursued more physical jobs throughout her life due to her learning disability. But now the pain from fybromyalgia has limited her ability to do physical work, she said.

Mann has tried desk jobs before and has found them difficult due to her learning disability, she said. The assessment with Rising Phoenix will help determine her ability to handle that type of job, Mann said.

"[This is] my last resort," she said.

She said her biggest challenge with clerical work has been typing.

"It's pretty slow and very painful," Mann said.

She doubts her ability to compete in the work place with average people who type fast and have gone to college, she said. The assessment will at least let her know where she stands in regards to her clerical skills, Mann said.

Perham resident Donovan Kusick works in the tackle box as part of the pre-vocational services program. He has also worked at Pizza Hut and Wadena County Social Services during his three years at Rising Phoenix, he said.

Improved communication skills and getting along with other people are some of the skills Kusick said he has learned at Rising Phoenix. He enjoys his coworkers, but said he would eventually like to get a good job in the community.

The clients at Rising Phoenix are an under served population that have wonderful work skills to offer employers, Ellingson said. They just need encouragement and support.

"These people are just as much a part of the community as anybody is," she said. "[They] want all the same things we do. They want work and relationships."

sarah@wadenapj.com

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