“We need them to be independent so when parents are gone, they’re OK.”
Vocational classes stress job and internship skills, and in their senior year students look for internships. The employment rate for seniors and graduates who seek jobs is 93 percent. The school has continuing relationships with institutions like the Minnesota Masonic Home, Fairview-Southdale Hospital, Renaissance Inn Hotels, Walgreens and other businesses.
Students also run a business making dog biscuits that are sold at ARC Value Village and some local businesses. The revenue goes back to the school.
Graduates keep ties to school
As the number of MLC graduates grew, many rented apartments nearby, reluctant to go home when their friends were in Richfield. But uneasy faraway parents would call MLC, asking staff members to check on their kids to see how they were doing or find out if they were coming home for Christmas.
“We started to see some graduates isolating themselves again,” Gudmestad said.
So in 2005, MLC started its graduate community.
Graduates, many of whom continue to rent Colony apartments, pay varying monthly fees for different levels of continued support from MLC. Some graduates only attend social events, while others visit staff regularly.
One of the graduates who is sticking close by is Kari Thayer. Thayer, 27, is from Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from MLC in 2008. She rents an apartment in the Colony complex.
“I just moved into a one-bedroom and I love it,” she said. “I still get support from MLC, and I’m close to all my friends.”
She has a job at ARC Value Village in Richfield that she likes a lot. Her first job there was sorting donated goods, but after six months she asked to be a cashier and she has had that job ever since.
Thayer is briskly efficient and quick to smile as she checks out ARC customers. She still gets full support from MLC so she can go to people she knows for advice and answers to questions. She said that’s something she wouldn’t have had if she’d returned to Buffalo.
“I am more independent here, and I have more friends here,” she said. “And this is a cleaner environment.”
Students and graduates repeatedly mention having friends as one of the advantages of MLC, and Gudmestad said that is the first thing mentioned by parents. Many say their children, vaguely out of step in their home high schools, never had the social support of peers the way they do at MLC.
MLC’s oldest graduate is almost 40 and still lives nearby. As the school faces new growth — Gudmestad said the number of undergraduates is expected to increase by half and the number of graduates by 68 percent in the next five years — one of the questions the MLC board is wrestling with is what the future of the graduate program will be. Even now, there are few programs like MLC across the country.
“There is no one to mentor us on this,” she said. “We need to figure out what is the future for our graduates.”
For now, though, their mission is clear.
“They have their own leases, they’re paying their bills and getting to work,” Gudmestad said. “These guys will have lives after their parents are gone.”