A handful of disabled adults were unable to report to work at a Carver County recycling center this week because someone vandalized a van used to transport them.
“It really did set us back here,” said Kevin Dietrich, executive director of the Adult Training and Habilitation Center, a nonprofit that provides jobs for adults with mental and physical disabilities in three Minnesota communities. “It took us by surprise.”
About 30 adults are trained and employed at the Douglas Kugler Eco-Site in Watertown. It’s the main recycling center for western Carver County.
Someone cut the catalytic converter out of the van owned by the training center, which will cost about $2,000 to repair.
“The harm is greater than just the theft of a catalytic converter,” said Jason Kamerud, chief deputy of the Carver County Sheriff’s Office.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau said in August that reports to insurers of catalytic converter thefts have risen 23 percent nationwide from 2008 to 2015. NICB data show that there were 281 thefts claimed in Minnesota in those years, with the rolling three-year average climbing from 21.7 a year to 43 a year. The bureau noted that actual thefts probably exceed those numbers as the data only represent insured thefts.
Catalytic converters turn pollutants in exhaust gas into less toxic emissions. They contain precious metals and are sometimes sold for salvage or on the black market for hundreds of dollars.
Jena Dollerschell, 37, has been disassembling mattresses at the recycling center for a year. She doesn’t have a driver’s license, so a van picks her up four days a week to take her to and from work.
“I was like totally stunned that someone would actually do that,” Dollerschell said after learning that someone had vandalized the van.
Dietrich said the jobs at the recycling center are invaluable for workers who live in group homes in the western suburbs but don’t drive.
“This is everything [for them],” he said. “It’s an interaction with the community.”
The positions pay minimum wage, unlike most jobs for disabled adults, Dietrich said.
The social aspect is also important. Without the jobs — and reliable transportation to Watertown — the adults would be left sitting at home.
“These are their work buddies that they’re going to talk about the Vikings game with,” Dietrich said.