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Rise, Inc. Celebrates 40 Years After Modest Beginning

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
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ANOKA, Minn. (WCCO) — In a tough economy, getting a job can be the toughest job of all. But for people like Mary Kester, try finding work when you’re disabled.

Kester is among the 20 or so disabled adults working for Cummins Power Generation in Fridley. The company is one of many in the Twin Cities partnering with Rise, Inc., to supplement their workforces with Rise clients.

“I’m glad there’s Rise, because they’re supportive for people like me. I can’t get a job, disability you know,” she said.

Back in 1971, the non-profit agency launched in the living room of Chet and Gladys Tollefson.

“Yea, time went by in a hurry and I never figured it would expand to this capacity that it has,” said Rise, Inc. Founder Chet Tollefson.

The couple’s son, Loring, had a severe learning disability. Instead of facing the prospect of sending him to an institution, Chet and Gladys created Rise.

The agency’s mission would be to find jobs, shelter and social opportunities for others like their son.

“It made him feel really a part of everything,” said Gladys.

Now 40 years later, Rise is providing job, transit and housing opportunities to more than 4,000 adults with disabilities. Many work at the Rise, Inc. facility in Spring Lake Park. But many others like Kester are placed directly with private employers.

Rise, Inc. President John Barrett said while the number of clients has grown, the core mission hasn’t changed.

“Most people, whether disability or not, want a good job. They want to be able to get out and work and be as self-sufficient as possible. And folks with disabilities are exactly like that,” Barrett said.

Sadly in 2002, the Tollefson’s son died after suffering a heart attack. And though he is no longer in their lives, Chet and Gladys can sense his presence and pride in the faces of other Rise, Inc., clients like Kester.

“I just love it because it’s always there for you,” Kester said.

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