MAKING AN IMPACT: Woman calls Hiawatha Homes family for 45+ years

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 4:05 AM CST
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – Hiawatha Homes, Inc. in Rochester is making an impact in many lives.

The people it supports are living fulfilling lives of their choice in a community that values and includes them, despite their disability.

Rose Neis has been a part of the Hiawatha Homes family for over 45 years.

“In 1976 when Hiawatha Homes opened, I was 18 years old and decided to move out of my parents’ home,” said Neis.

She currently lives at the nonprofit’s Eastwood community-based home in southeast Rochester.

“When I was born, the life expectancy of someone with Cerebral Palsy was childhood to early adolescence,” said Neis. “In May, I will be 65.”

Living with Cerebral Palsy has given Neis a different outlook on life and it challenges her to do everyday things a little differently.

“For example, using an iPad to speak,” said Neis. “This is my voice and staff help me to program things I want to say.”

“She is a strong advocate for herself. She is not afraid to tell people what she wants and what she needs.”

Cassandra Emmons, Program Director, Hiawatha Homes

Hiawatha Homes Program Director Cassandra Emmons has been by Neis’s side for a decade. Because of Emmons and Hiawatha, Neis has the opportunity to live independently while receiving the care and support she needs.

“They mean the world to me,” said Neis. “If not for them and Hiawatha Homes, I likely would not be thriving like I am today.”

Emmons added, “I’m not sure there are very many people in the community that don’t know Rose. We have a hard time even walking through Mayo Clinic without people stopping her and wanting to shake her hand and say hello.”

The organization has 19 residential homes throughout Olmsted County. Each home serves three to five individuals living with disabilities.

“We couldn’t do anything without our staff.”

Stephanie Rudeen, Foundation Director, Hiawatha Homes

According to Stephanie Rudeen, The Hiawatha Homes Foundation Director, staff members like Emmons are the heart of the nonprofit.

“They’re the ones that build the relationships with the individuals, they’re the ones that know their likes and dislikes, and it’s a very special bond,” said Rudeen.

Neis added, “I have stayed at Hiawatha Homes all these years because I am really happy here. I’m well cared for and supported.”

In order for Hiawatha Homes to continue serving people like Neis, it needs community support to bring back events like the 37th annual Festival of Trees in person.

The holiday tradition has more than 90 trees decorated by volunteers, community members, and individuals who live at Hiawatha.

Underwriters and designers work year-round to organize this fundraiser.

It takes place Friday, November 25, from 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., and Saturday, November 26, from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.

In addition to the trees, there will be activities for children, entertainment, a silent auction, and a holiday dance for individuals living with disabilities.

Festival of Trees is at a new location this year at J. Powers at the Hilton in downtown Rochester.

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