Achieving the right note

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2013 - 2:52 PM

A group of developmentally disabled adults has created a CD that’s music to the ears of those who support Achieve Services in Blaine.

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Kelly McAlpin, left, and Matt Grieser, right, are among the members of the group Dance at Your Own Risk who wrote and recorded an 11-track CD on iPads under the guidance of Achieve Services training specialist Joe Loskota, center. A CD release party will be Friday.

Photo: Bruce Bisping , Star Tribune

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One member of this musical group has limited communication skills, but has a great rock ’n’ roll scream. Another, whose ability to interact also is limited, has great cadence. Nobody in the group plays an instrument.

The group is called Dance at Your Own Risk, and Achieve Services Inc., a day training and habilitation program in Blaine that serves adults with developmental disabilities, is hoping the group’s new CD will be the hit of the holiday season.

Using iPads to create beats and a loading dock to overdub their vocals, group members wrote and recorded 11 songs under the guidance of Achieve training specialist Joe Loskota. Achieve will host a CD release party Friday, from noon to 1:30 p.m. The entire album can be purchased for $10 or downloaded for $9.99 through the Achieve Services store at www.achieveservices.org.

“There isn’t a lot of music by people with these kinds of disabilities,” said Loskota, a musician who recruited some of his bandmates from the group Belfast Cowboys as guests on four of the songs.

“But the writing process is very interactive. They take a basic idea, create something the whole gang can take part in and then the guys will sing along with their songs.”

The CD release party offers more than a chance for well-wishers to make donations to Achieve, which is located in the Anoka County Services Center but is no longer funded by the county. Achieve, which strives to provide community-based jobs and train developmentally disabled adults to lead meaningful lives, is supported through donations and by local business partners, many of which offer work for Achieve clients.

Meet the band

The CD release party also offers a chance to meet the artists behind the music. Some of the 180 adults at Achieve were once institutionalized. Some come to Achieve through post-high-school transition programs.

Matt Grieser, 28, cowrote four songs with Loskota. “Rock and Roll Man” is about a Harry Potter character. “Over Kick” is about professional wrestling moves.

“Some of our artists like to dance to their songs,” Loskota said. “The moves are large.”

Band members Brian Chong, David Laird, Andy Liepins, Kyle Steele, Troy Langer and Kelly McAlpin all contributed, but Grieser has become the group’s media darling.

He accompanied Loskota recently for a promotional interview on KFAI radio. KSTP-TV, Channel 5, has scheduled a segment on the group for later this month and Grieser is the likeliest candidate to participate, Loskota said. He seems to love any excuse to put on a headset.

“I volunteered for Meals on Wheels and I’m good at my job, pulling gaskets apart,” said Grieser, who lives in Coon Rapids with his father and sister.

He’s been at Achieve six years, usually for six hours a day.

“This [making music] is fun,” he said.

The pride he exhibits when listening to Loskota talk about any of the Dance at Your Own Risk songs says as much about Achieve Services as it does about the musicians.

“This was considered the place of last resort for a long time,” said Tom Weaver, CEO for Achieve Services Inc.

No longer.

“We’re placing as many people as we can with jobs in the community,” Weaver said. “They feel good about what they’re accomplishing and we feel great about that.”

Achieve’s story

Achieve opened in Anoka County in 1964, in St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Fridley. It served 17 children with developmental disabilities during a time when schools did not serve such kids.

A decade later, as state institutions began downsizing, a new center was built in Fridley and a satellite program opened in Anoka. In 1974, four adults were enrolled in a new program at the Resurrection Episcopal Church in Spring Lake Park. In 1980, the combined programs moved to Blaine Elementary School. Years later, the Anoka County Daytime Activity Center was renamed the Achieve Developmental Achievement Center.

In 1991, Achieve moved to its current facility. It became a nonprofit and was renamed Achieve Services when it separated from the county in 2004.

More than 25 local businesses work with Achieve, either providing jobs or helping provide work for Achieve’s in-house workshop. Jobs include separating film from plastic, packaging greeting cards, building pizza boxes and putting labels on cans.

Other states have shut down similar programs, because of finances, Weaver said. Operating these facilities involves far more than assigning tasks and recruiting funding. At Achieve, some of the workers need to be fed and toileted by staff. Critics argue that placing developmentally disabled adults in community jobs via a sheltered environment like Achieve does not set up these adults for the real world.

“Our response is: What happens to these people if you’re not going to place them in a community job?” Weaver said. “They’re safe, happy and busy here. Forty-six percent of our people are working jobs in the community. We have a waiting list.”

Achieve’s slogan is, “We Have Personability.”

Two years ago, proceeds from a fundraiser allowed Achieve to purchase the iPads that, among other things, were used to create the Dance at Your Own Risk album. Loskota, whose primary instrument is piano, suggested getting garage-rock apps for the iPads.

“What do you think Matt?” Loskota asked Grieser.

He was too busy adjusting the bass line to answer.

 

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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