Adam Menden

Adam Menden is an MRCI client who loves his jobs, but much of MRCI's programs are suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The halt means nonprofits serving people with intellectual or developmental disabilities aren't getting funding from the state. 

MANKATO — Dan and Mary Jo Menden say their son, Adam, wants to go back to work.

An MRCI client with special needs, Adam, 37, takes pride in his jobs cleaning the food court at River Hills Mall and washing dishes at Bethany Lutheran College.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced MRCI to suspend most of its programming, however, which means Adam hasn’t been socializing much outside of his group home these days.

His parents know MRCI and similar nonprofits are feeling squeezed financially due to the suspension of services. They said they worry about what might happen to Adam and other clients if the nonprofits don’t get help.

“If the funding is cut or stopped, we worry that MRCI may not exist,” said Dan Menden, who serves on the MRCI board. “The funding that they rely on needs to be looked at.”

MRCI and other nonprofits serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities began calling on the Minnesota Legislature to address funding lapses early in the pandemic. Despite support from area politicians, nothing came of it.

The issue for the nonprofits is they need to be providing services to receive federal or state funding. But providing services isn’t really feasible during the pandemic.

And the longer MRCI and others don’t provide services, the harder it could be to resume them once the pandemic ends, the nonprofit’s CEO said. While MRCI has reserves to last longer than smaller organizations, the cushion won’t last forever with as much as 90% of programming reimbursed from state or federal funding.

“MRCI is losing about $1.3 million dollars per month in revenue right now,” CEO Brian Benshoof said. “We’re a large organization, and it’s still devastating.”

He’s confident MRCI’s services and funding will resume someday. Surviving until then is the struggle because there are weeks of lag time between when services resume and when funding comes through.

Not knowing when it’ll be safe to bring people back is a frustrating feeling, Benshoof said. MRCI’s leaders are already looking at ways to reorganize the nonprofit as it approaches a potentially tough summer.

“It’s going to become difficult this summer,” he said. “We’re not going to wait for that to happen; we’ll have to take extreme measures to cut costs.”

Doing so could accelerate plans to become more of a community-based organization. Moving more non-work activities and jobs outside MRCI buildings — like the jobs Adam does — could be one way to reduce building costs.

MRCI has also been adding virtual programming for its clients, which offers some revenue potential. The rollout also proved frustrating, however, with MRCI’s pleas for guidance greeted by a slow response from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Benshoof said.

While trying to stay optimistic, he said the Legislature appears unlikely to provide relief funding. Meanwhile, the strain on the organization, from leadership to staff to clients, is growing.

The Mendens said Harry Meyering Center staff is doing what they can to provide activities for Adam and his housemates. It’s just no substitute for the socialization, fellowship and satisfaction he gets at his job sites and daily visits to MRCI.

“Adam is the first person I’ve ever met who looks forward to his annual (job) appraisal, and he takes every word of it seriously,” Mary Jo Menden said.

They plan to take Adam in for a couple of weeks to give him a break from the group home. Under normal circumstances, the Menden family sees each other frequently, and Adam is missing his nieces and nephews.

After they bring him back, his parents said they hope Adam can go back to work soon. They know what a loss it’d be for their family and others if MRCI wasn’t around.

“It’s obvious that doing the job and doing it well sure helps him develop great self-esteem for himself,” Dan Menden said. “Without doing that, you lose some of that.”

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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