Whether helping them brush their teeth or spending holidays together, some University of Minnesota students and alumni have found an unexpected reward through their jobs: a “second family.”
These new relatives are the residents of ACR Homes Inc., a local company that provides residential and support services to people with disabilities.
ACR Homes operates 52 group homes throughout the Twin Cities area. The company aims to help residents live as independently as possible while still providing them with the support they need, ACR Homes Recruiting Manager Chris Morrissette said.
Residents suffer from a range of mental, physical and developmental disabilities, Morrissette said.
Heather Ervasti, a fourth-year biology student at the University, is one of many ACR Homes employees that has formed special bonds with the company’s residents. The company employs an average of 100 University students each year.
“The U of M has been a great resource for us,” Morrissette said. “It’s a group of very talented, qualified people.”
Ervasti has been working as a program counselor for ACR Homes since her freshman year.
As a program counselor, Ervasti helps residents with their daily activities, such as getting dressed in the morning, taking medications and going out for activities like shopping, the movies and the Minnesota State Fair.
Ervasti said working for the company has provided her with an intense understanding of the obstacles people with disabilities face.
“Now I feel like I’m an advocate for people with disabilities,” Ervasti said. “My eyes have really been opened to what they struggle with.”
Ervasti said that as a student, she appreciates the flexible schedule ACR Homes offers, which allows her to work mainly weekend shifts that do not interfere with her class schedule.
Nicole Robertson, a former University student who is now a recruiter for ACR Homes, added that working with people with disabilities can initially be overwhelming, but that the training the company provides allows staff to feel prepared even in an emergency situation.
Like Robertson, other University students have continued working for the company after graduation.
Rhea Igao began working as a program counselor for ACR Homes during her second year at the University in 2002. She is now a residential care supervisor at one of the company’s group homes.
As a pre-med student, Igao said she gained valuable experience working for the company and said her time at ACR Homes has had an immense impact on her life.
“It helped me mature into a more thoughtful, conscientious human being,” Igao said. “I really feel as though my residents have helped me more than I could ever repay them.”