FAIRMONT - Several things are happening to commemorate Upward Bound's 15 years as an organization.
The drop-in club for adults with mental health and other disabilities has been tucked away behind the current Fairmont Decorating store, allowing adults with mental illness or disabilities chances to learn and socialize with others.
"All of the members live independently," said coordinator Deb Adams. "They need to be independent because we don't provide one-on-one supervision. What we're doing is offering support and resources to be a part of the community."
GROWING?SOMETHING?GOOD?— Jeff Jensen, second from left, shows a group of Upward Bound members where they will plant a row of green beans in the new Upward Bound garden in Fairmont.
The organization is hosting an open house today from 2-4:30 p.m. at its center at 104 E. Fifth St., behind Fairmont Decorating.
"It's really to promote these people coming out and being social," Adams said. "For example, the community garden we're starting. Several of our members have their own small gardens while others like to garden but don't want to take the responsibility for one on their own. This way, we all work together, and we can take home what we grow and also serve it at our meals we have here."
Talk of the garden began over the winter, and the group has worked on it for the past month.
"We've had a wonderful partnership with the city and with Rural Advantage," Adams said. "We originally thought about doing it in the area behind our building and we contacted the city. The city told us they had this vacant lot nearby we could use, and it was win-win, because they don't have to mow or maintain it, and it's more room but still close to our clubhouse."
As for a little help in the "how-to" department, they needed look no farther than Jeff Jensen of Rural Advantage.
"I'm not a gardner, so Jeff has been an amazing help," Adams said. "We called Linda Meschke and asked if he could just give us a few tips, and she said, 'He can do more than that.'"
That was proven as Jensen plowed through the dirt and helped make rows for sweet corn, spinach and green beans on Thursday morning.
"He's helped and taught us about picking rocks, or digging rocks, since we found some big chunks while we were tilling," Adams said, eying a large pile of broken concrete at the corner of the lot. "That's one of the things with a vacant lot. We also informed all the neighbors so they knew what we were doing and what was going on."
There are 83 members of Upward Bound. However, there are usually less than a dozen people at the club on any given day.
"We bring in more during the September through April Wii bowling league; then we see about 18-20 people," Adams said. "We've had 54 people attend one or more of our special events this year."
Special events are usually coordinated through the community-based initiative that covers 10 of the south-central Minnesota counties. These events include trips to the Minnesota Zoo or a Timberwolves game, or the Minnesota State Fair.
"With all 10 coordinators, there's more opportunity to be able to do these things," Adams said. "We also sometimes do our own things locally."
Members need to be at least 18, but to qualify for special events, a person usually is diagnosed with a serious, persistent mental illness.
"We also do other community projects," Adams said. "We tie blankets that we give to Human Services that are used for the Healthy Families projects. We've made blankets and shawls for the nursing homes, and sent cards to the troops overseas. We really encourage our members to get involved with things like that on their own. We've also had people come in and give presentations. Sometimes Jane Sorenson comes in and talks to us about nutrition, and the Chain of Lakes Karate Club came in and gave us a self-defense course."
Most importantly, Upward Bound members are contributing to the community.
"I think a lot of people misunderstand that these people don't have development disabilities; it's mental illness," Adams said. "Most of the members are high school graduates and some of them even have college degrees. Some even hold part-time jobs, but many are on disability. They can think. These are intelligent people."