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Think Global, Act Local: Freedom Resource Center

Learn more about Freedom Resource Center from its Executive Director Nate Aalgaard and how it is changing the stigma about people with disabilities.

Photo By Hillary Ehlen

Buenos Dias!

I hope this written piece finds you embracing the joys of Summer!

In 2015, my first exposure to the non-profit community of the FM area was with Freedom Resource Center as a Communication Intern.

During my internship, I got to work with many people, but the one whom I learned the most from was Nate Aalgaard, the Executive Director of Freedom Resource Center (FRC) for Independent Living, a position he has held for 23 years. I would go with him in the community to raise awareness and he gave me the opportunity to write two articles in his monthly newsletter. Him writing in my column four years later means the world to me.

A native of the Shelly (MN), Nate holds a degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota and a Master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Minnesota State University Mankato. Nate started his career in the Independent Living movement in 1986 as a board member of Options Interstate Resource Center for Independent Living in East Grand Forks. He has served on the North Dakota Statewide Independent Living Council, Minnesota Council on Disability, as well as the Fargo Human Relations Commission and the Moorhead Human Rights Commission.

Throughout his career, Nate has provided American Disability Act (ADA) consulting and training to government and community organizations. I feel fortunate to have him as a mentor and someone I can turn to whenever I need guidance in life but foremost he keeps broadening my perspective on the meaning of equal accessibility for all in society.

We hope to see you at the Avalon Center on Tuesday, September 17th at 5:30 pm to celebrate Freedom Resource Center’s 30th Anniversary!

Skol!

-Alex Cyusa

Once people hear about Freedom Resource Center, they often say, “You are the best-kept secret in town.” That may be true, but it is important to point out that people don’t realize everything they need until they suddenly encounter an accident or illness that causes a disability – a problem functioning in society.

Freedom Resource Center’s mission is to provide services that increase independence for people with disabilities. Its vision: People with disabilities are equal and valued participants in society. One of the core beliefs of the Independent Living Movement is that people with disabilities know what is best for themselves. Centers like Freedom believe in consumer control, whereby people who access services decide what goals they wish to pursue, and what choices they make regarding their own lives. Services are free to the individual, and no medical or financial criteria is necessary. Freedom serves people of any age with any type of disability.

Freedom offers people with disabilities an opportunity at the American Dream–to be fully integrated, productive, valuable members of their communities. Freedom also works to create a more inclusive and accessible society. The goal is that everyone is an equal and integral part of the community.

A few components of how Freedom is managed:

• Everyone will be provided with a clear picture of their role and how it fits into the mission and goals of the Center.

• People will be given the flexibility within their role to do the job to the best of their ability.

• Management will communicate direction, expectations and correction to each.

• People will be encouraged and supported in asking questions and giving input regarding their role and the functions of the organization.

• Employees will assist each other in accomplishing their work.

Started in 1989, Freedom has sustained steady growth for many years. In 2018, the organization’s budget topped $1.5 million. In addition to its main Fargo headquarters, Freedom also has offices in Jamestown, Wahpeton, Lisbon and Fergus Falls. Freedom has been selected one of the initial 14 High Impact Seal of Distinction organizations through the Dakota Medical and Impact Foundations. To be eligible for this distinction, Freedom put aggressive plans and practices in place to ensure that it continues to improve and grow as an organization.

Management staff, as well as several board members, have participated in leadership and board development training through the Impact Institute. Freedom is involved in a project to provide outreach and case management services to people living in institutional settings who wish to return to the community. The overall goal is to enhance choices for home and community-based services.

Freedom’s Home Accessibility Program provides evaluations and recommendations for access improvements; and loans out temporary ramps, as well as assistance in securing long term funding. A task force works with local government and businesses to increase accessibility in the communities served. A good working relationship has been developed with many government and civic entities.

Freedom’s activities, programs and services focus on empowering individuals to make a positive impact on their own lives and the community in which they live. The organization helps individuals find the information they seek through an information and referral program. Individuals learn how to advocate for their needs through individual advocacy services. People learn how to adjust to disabilities and enjoy a more fulfilling life through a peer mentoring program, and attain the skills necessary to live independently through skills training. Finally, people learn to provide systems advocacy to ensure local, state and federal laws and policies are equitable toward people with disabilities.

Freedom has helped individuals learn the skills necessary to attain employment, which contributes back to the community in the form of tax revenue and sales. Common feedback from consumers indicates a lack of understanding about disabilities. Through community education, Freedom has been eliminating some of the stereotypes and stigmas toward people with disabilities. Staff and board members are active in many community groups and organizations, focusing on human rights, youth services, employment, homelessness, transportation and healthcare. Being at the table ensures that the disability perspective will be taken into consideration on increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to become fully integrated into society.

At its core, Freedom is an advocacy organization. Historically, people with disabilities have been treated as second-class citizens. They struggle to find appropriate education, housing, transportation and medical care. They have been devalued and ignored. This is changing, and Freedom is a part of the solution.

Freedom Resource Center 
2701 9th Ave S 
701-478-0459 
freedomrc.org

Alexandre Cyusa

Written by Alexandre Cyusa

Alexandre Cyusa came to the FM area in the fall of 2010 to attend Concordia College. Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Cyusa has lived in Switzerland, Ethiopia, Guinea and France. His traveling experiences have helped him in making this world a smaller and simpler place to live in. He currently works for Folkways and is interested in community development and nurturing global citizenship.

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