“It’s real. It’s happening. We are starting to come back together,” said direct service professional Liza Svhiel.

This is the atmosphere at ProAct in Shakopee as 54 participants are returning to classes and work at the site near Canterbury Park, explains Svhiel.

Grateful and excited

“I think the participants are so grateful, super excited to be back to see their peers and staff,” she said. There are mask rules to follow, hand washing, distancing and other protocols, and people are adapting well.

At late-September, the location was serving most people for half days. Two full-day groups were in place by September 21 and a third was expected soon. Department of Human Services rules dictate that participants spend at least two hours in the community to qualify for full days.

Family atmosphere here

Program Manager Ali Brown describes Shakopee as a tight knit team or family. She was surprised by the number of families who wanted participants back soon. “They trust us and wanted to be back in some capacity,” said Brown. Some with higher needs have not yet been able to return.

Since COVID-19 period began, there have been care calls and Brown was sending two emails a week to families. She would share updates and say hello.

Improving outlook

Program Coordinator Rick Gregor said many participants were struggling at home through the COVID-19 shutdown to the point of having a mental health crisis. “They couldn’t go to work, but once they were able to go back it was a complete 360 back to their normal selves.” People are more healthy both physically and mentally.

Brown said it was a godsend to families. Participants didn’t have enough brain challenging activity at home. “This has changed their mental status,” she said. “They feel better, are happier and are happy to be back.”

Outings in demand

One community group visited Cedar Lake Farms in New Prague for some nature walking. The next day, they returned to the city, but to Barton’s pumpkin patch to choose corn stalks and pumpkins, Svhiel explains.

Others are asking a lot to go on outings but some of the opportunities are on hold for now.

ProAct in Shakopee has also taken on 15 new participants from another program in the area and more are waiting. Longer term participants know many of the new faces through other community groups, she said. And, staff were familiar with many of the new people coming in.

Times are different, said Brown, but everyone is adjusting really well. It can get very busy but staff have stepped up to help. “We’re keeping a positive attitude and I am amazed by that every single day.”