Believe & Achieve helps adults with special needs in a home-like setting
TINA L. SCOTT
Believe & Achieve is more than just a catchy slogan or a motivational message. It’s the name of a new state licensed adult day care that opened at 814 E. First St. in Merrill on September 28, 2020. “I chose the name Believe & Achieve Learning & Recreational Center,” said owner and entrepreneur, Gina Krause, of Merrill, “after a lot of thought and conversation with a very good friend, Katy Nelson. She is a teacher that I have worked with for many years at Merrill High School. She has been with me every step of the way, helping me with so much support and guidance. She is who I call when I need advice. She actually came up with the name, and I loved it immediately! It so fits. If you really want something and Believe in it, you can Achieve it. No matter what it is. I feel it is a good thing to remember for me and my clients.”
Krause’s clients are “adults 18 and older with intellectual and physical disabilities, as well as traumatic brain injuries,” she said. “Our program is based on daily living and good social skills. We practice learning and maintaining the skills needed on a daily basis to help our participants be as independent as possible, while having fun and enjoying each other’s company. We go on outings, weekly library visits, walks, community volunteering, watch movies, play games, cook, bake, and exercise.”
But it doesn’t stop there. “We enjoy outdoor activities and will be attempting to grow a raised garden. All of us here at the center are very excited to start a raised garden on our lovely patio. I feel it will be a great learning experience, and we will have the opportunity to eat what we grow, and to learn how to preserve what we grow,” Krause said.
The large outdoor patio area is completely fenced in and will also provide “outdoor living space” for everyone at the Center. They’ll be able to relax and enjoy the outdoors, play basketball or volleyball, and just spend time breathing fresh air and enjoying the park-like lot next door.
“All this we do while practicing good sportsmanship and social skills,” she added. “Everyone has choices in the activities they do and the right to refuse activities. We focus on treating each person with kindness and respect; we strive to make everyone’s day a good one.”
After working as a special education aide for 13 years, 12 of which were at Merrill High School (MHS), Krause found she really enjoyed working with people who just happened to have intellectual and/or physical disabilities. She said she learned so much from her experience working at MHS … from the students she worked with there, and from the teachers, “whom I have a ton of respect for, and still talk to for advice.”
Krause said her work at the school is what planted the seed to create the business she runs today. “I’ve always thought about our students and what they were doing when they left the High School,” Krause said. “And I wanted to be involved with the services they could use after school.”
“I did not realize that it was actually possible, until I did some research and found out I could do this,” she said. “What a great opportunity to work with kids I have built a relationship with, as well as make new relationships. I have always enjoyed the people I worked with and could not imagine a better way to make a living.”
Krause said some of her current clients are indeed now adults with whom she once worked when they were students at MHS. Right now she has four clients – two full time and two part time – who range in age from 27 years old to 61 years old. Three are her former students, and the fourth is her brother-in-law. She is licensed to have up to eight clients in her current facility, so she currently has openings for new clients.
The process to grow the center from idea to reality was all-consuming for a time. “There were weeks of paperwork, policies and procedures to draw up, and licensing red tape,” Krause explained. “We rented half of the former Skippers Restaurant and were given permission from our landlord to renovate as we needed to make it work for our business. We started renting and renovating in February, 2020.”
While the business is in her name, it really has been a whole-family undertaking, Krause said. “My husband, Ray, has been very supportive and understanding through the whole process,” she said. “My husband has a huge part in it, and I run everything by him. We are a team. He has and still does a lot for the Center.”
“He and our kids – Tia, Tyson, and Taylor – and their spouses, Scott and Charli, have worked many hours after work and on weekends to renovate and make the Center feel homelike and comfortable. They helped with my paperwork, decorating, or anything we needed to get things done,” Krause said.
The Center is set up similar to an open-concept home, with a living room, dining and kitchen area, office area, and open space for activities, in addition to the outdoor living space/patio area.
“I had and still have so much support from my family and friends. Especially my mother in law, Judy Krause, who really made it possible for this to happen. She helps me anytime I need an extra hand. I can always count on her to be there when I need her, and she is very good with everyone here.”
In addition to preparing the Center facility, “I purchased a van shortly after starting the Center to be able to transport my clients on our field trips,” Krause said. “We will also utilize the Merrill-Go-Round, because I feel it is an important life skill for my clients.”
“Because of COVID, we have not been able to go on many outings,” she adds. “But we were able to do some outdoor volunteering. We raked leaves and went for walks. We are just starting to get back into going out into the community. We go to the library and go shopping. We will soon be bowling, going to the Cosmo, and hopefully taking some tours of the different places in Merrill, since it is something that interests my clients.”
“One thing that we did that was super fun for me and my clients was a sleigh ride very generously donated by Willow Springs Garden and Jack Divett,” Krause said. “Jack and Karen Divett are the parents of one of my clients, Rheanna Becker. They arranged for this lovely outing which all of my clients enjoyed. It consisted of a beautiful sleigh ride with horses, and a very cool vintage looking sleigh that I do believe was made by, as well as driven by, Jack. We stopped at a campfire and had hot cocoa and roasted marshmallows. Karen joined us for the trip and helped me with the others, which I really appreciated. It was a great time; everyone had a great day!”
While Krause doesn’t currently have any other employees on staff, “I plan on hiring as soon as possible,” she said. “I’m just starting out, so I need a couple more clients to make it happen. I feel it is important to have enough help so that everyone here gets the care and attention they deserve. Five to six clients would call for another hand. My clients are very responsible, so it is not hard at this time to care for the amount of people I have. But it is better to have extra hands to help things run smoother.”
Toward that end, there are frequently extra helpers at the Center. Krause said she has some very kind friends, as well as family members, that volunteer their time and talents to the benefit and delight of her clients.
“Holly Finnell donates time to teach my clients fun dance moves, to super cool music, during her time off of work,” Krause said. “We call it ‘Dance Day.’ She has a very special way with my clients and many years of experience that makes her extra fun when she is here. My participants look forward to her visits.”
Creating the Center, making the dream a reality, and now taking it to the next level has truly been a team effort, Krause said, and she couldn’t have done it alone.
“Chris Meinheit donates her time and expertise when she is off of work to give me a hand, providing continuous help and support,” Krause said. “She is very kind and compassionate, and puts everything she has into her work. She always is there for the people. That is what makes her so special.
“Kay Smrecek donates her time at the center to lend a helping hand which I really appreciate. She takes time out of her schedule to help me out anytime I need it,” Krause said. “She has worked with my participants in the past, and they enjoy her time here. It’s very nice to have an extra hand when we go out and about.”
“These people are so very kind and helpful,” Krause said. “My clients enjoy them when they are here and look forward to them coming back. They know exactly what to do, and I truly enjoy and appreciate them.”
“And then there is Katy Nelson and her family with their generous donations and support,” Krause said. They’ve been there from the beginning, when this was just an idea.
“I am so lucky to have great participants and supportive parents that have been there for me from the start, and do whatever they can to help me,” Krause said. “I am especially grateful for Julie and Gregg Davis, Andrea and David Kottman, Karen and Jack Divett, and Judy Krause, the parents of my participants. They listen to me and give me advice, and are always ready to lend a hand. They have been so easy to work with. They are very supportive and great advocates for me and my Center. It’s no wonder their kids are so great. “
Because so many people have helped make this dream a reality, Krause has a hard time saying “I” when she refers to anything related to the Center. She frequently says “we.”
“I guess I also say ‘we’ because I feel my starting clients are part of this place,” Krause said. “They inspired me to make it work for them. It’s kind of all of ours.”
Krause invites anyone who is curious about the Center or considering it for one of their loved ones, to pop in. “Visitors are welcome any time,” she said. “We have openings available and are excited to move forward with our business.”
The Center is just a great and enjoyable place to be, she said. “Every day is fun and filled with laughter. What a great job I have!”