Hammer House Residents Make Good Neighbors

Ives House program manager Brenda Witt (in black) works with residents Anne, Lauren and Kelly.
Hammer group home residents make good neighbors.
Ives House program manager Brenda Witt (in black) works with residents Anne, Lauren and Kelly.

From the outside, Ives House looks like any other suburban home with it’s yellow paint, blacktop driveway, green lawn and cedar fence. But inside, it’s a place of empowerment for four women with developmental disabilities. *Anne, Kelly, Lauren and Stacy have lived here together since 2008. They live independently thanks to the personalized care and support they receive from Hammer, a 90-year-old Minnesota organization that assists children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Each of the women receives around-the-clock care from trained professionals, and each one participates in daily activities tailored to her interests and abilities. Brenda Witt, program manager at Ives House, says Kelly and Lauren both have daytime jobs with WorkAbilities in Golden Valley, where they are given tasks appropriate for their developmental level. Every member of the household enjoys healthy meals together. There are plenty of just-for-fun activities, too, like arts and crafts with Hammer volunteers, swimming at Courage Center, music concerts and walks around French Park.

Becoming part of the fabric of the community is important to the success of any Hammer home. “We are just like any other neighbor,” says Sue Walker, program director for Ives House. “We send out Christmas cards and make a point to go to the neighborhood get-togethers.” The women of Ives House have become part of the neighborhood over time, by making small talk about the weather at the mailbox, saying hello on their morning walks and greeting the neighborhood dogs with a friendly pat.

One morning, the women noticed a black and white cat in their yard. They lavished him with attention, petted his soft fur and offered him a few treats. The next day he was back, and before long he was turning up regularly. They began to wonder if their furry friend might be in need of a home. Witt took the cat to the vet for a checkup. He came back with a clean bill of health and updated shots. Then came a knock on the door.

It was their neighbor, Jeff Straub, wondering if they knew the cat belonged to his family. Jeff’s daughter Joanna had gone to teach in South Korea, and his son Josh, who uses a wheelchair, had just gotten a service dog. Suddenly, the cat was left without all the attention he was accustomed to, and he’d made friends next door. The Straubs could see how happy the cat made their new neighbors, so after a family meeting, they decided to let Thunder move next door. The friendly cat enjoyed several years as king of the castle at Ives House before passing away in February, 2011.

The Straubs received a special gift to commemorate their act of neighborly kindness—a blue Hammer Statue hand-painted with Thunder’s likeness in a field of flowers. Their relationship with the women of Ives House has only continued to grow. During winter blizzards, Straub and other neighbors help to clear snow from the sidewalks and driveway to ensure that Metro Mobility can take the women to work and around town. They always look in on each other after a storm knocks out power. The whole neighborhood looks forward to the Straub’s annual Christmas gathering in early December when they open their home to share coffee, pie and conversation. The staff and residents of Ives House always are welcomed guests.

The Straubs are glad to have a Hammer house next door. “We have a son with special needs,” Straub says. Rebecca, his wife, finishes his thought, “So we appreciate what Hammer does.” On Ives Lane, being a good neighbor means looking out for each other, accepting differences and finding joy in the simple pleasure of discovering other people.

* Editor’s note: At the request of the residents of Ives House, we are using their first names only.

& For volunteer opportunities with Hammer, call 952.277.2427 or email katie@hammer.org.