At the ProAct-West building in Eagan, expansive space has made way for people to enjoy services and practice social distancing as the nonprofit reopened in early July for classes.
It was the first volley in a COVID-19-era return of day training and habilitation participants, where staff members are thrilled to connect once again, and the people they serve engage in conversations and learning.
“Just pick one of them and then you’re going to do your design,” said classroom instructor Kim Davis to a participant at a table. Her group was making rain sticks for a music class.
ProAct had more than 100 class offerings before COVID, so instructors have no lack of options.
Happy to be back
“I love working with these guys,” said Davis. “For me to be back, I feel like I’m home.”
Participants enter via the east entrance to an indoor walkway of sorts, with plastic sheeting lining the sides to enhance safety. A podium is set up within it to do health screenings before people begin the day’s programming.
Classroom instructor Robin Smith and other staff do the health assessments, checking temperatures, giving hand sanitizer and asking questions of participants to determine if there are any issues that would bar entry. Custodial staff clean and sanitize the space hourly.
Services began virtually for instructors
Together with Davis, they offer in-person instruction for morning and afternoon groups, each limited to three hours by the Department of Human Services.
Virtual enrichment classes continue to serve nearly 100 in Eagan, which includes people from ProAct’s Shakopee and Hudson, Wis. locations. What started with 10 to 15 people continues to grow each day.
“Virtual services are the absolute coolest part of what we’re doing,” said ProAct VP Kim Feller.
Across the parking lot, at ProAct’s headquarters, staff have been covering production work that’s normally done by participants to retain the nonprofit’s contracts.
Back at the West building, social distancing guidelines and masks are the norm. As Smith talks to participant Dina Scheffel, she gives nonverbal cues to pull the sliding mask back up over her nose.
She moved home to qualify
Scheffel does exercises in her wheelchair as part of the day’s activities. Because ProAct’s services were restricted to people who lived independently or with family, her family removed her from a group home to be with them.
“My parents said all the group homes can’t go to work,” said Scheffel. That restriction was modifed by DHS on July 13, and ProAct is ramping up to accept additional participants. Unfortunately, capacity and hours of service limits remain, so there are substantial limits on the number of people who can be served.
After returning from her half day of service, Scheffel often tells her parents what she did that day.
When asked about the spread out nature of restored services and the impacts on participants, Smith said each person is unique. “If they were a social person before, they’re still social now. If they were a more a quiet person, they’re quiet now.”
Safety first, excercise to stay alert
Much of Smith’s pre-COVID class load was community based, and while she wished to be out with people, she also understands the situation and the need to protect participants.
Cones set up in an open area are used for walking laps, which are split by short breaks and preceded by stretching. There are exercise videos as well. With the shorter day for participants, the movements help to increase attentiveness.
An additional group of participants was to start the following week, from ProAct’s Adult Day Services.
“We’re expanding, slowly bringing people back who want to come back,” said Smith.
There are many options to choose from, with karaoke, guided imagery, visual arts and crafts, to name a few.
The days are different than before, with hand washing every hour, tables wiped down and frequent sanitizer pumps. The hand washing gives a chance to use the restroom and enjoy a snack. Lunch is on everyone’s own as the short service days don’t allow enough time.
Classses for now, work later
Participant Christopher Reynolds said he misses the skills training area where he worked, and projects that paid minimum wage. He seemed glad to be back.
While at home, he took long walks, mowed the lawn and did outside work to make his father happy, he said. One of Reynolds’ fun things to do is buy people food and soft drinks.
For transportation, about half of the participants get rides from family or friends while others take a ProAct bus.
Rather than three people to a bus seat, rides are limited to one, said Davis, with three participants total and the driver.
In the next week’s classes, the morning group was going to learn about voices in music.