Hammer Residences, a Wayzata-based organization that assists people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, is recognizing two community members who volunteer their time with nonverbal individuals supported by Hammer.
Each year Hammer selects an individual, family or organization to receive a community partner award in recognition of their contributions to Hammer’s mission of providing housing and services to more than 1,600 adults and children in Minnesota and running 37 homes and 10 apartment programs throughout the west metro area.
Among the award recipients this year is Martha Gschneider, an Edina resident who has volunteered with Hammer for the past 10 years. She said she got involved with the organization because she wanted to get out into the community and give back. She had volunteered with developmentally disabled people when she was young, so the opportunity with Hammer caught her attention.
“I wanted something where I could be active and Hammer had a volunteer opportunity that was posted to go walking with somebody,” she said.
That somebody was Rick, one of the many people who call Hammer home.
Gschneider meets weekly with Rick, who is nonverbal, and spends time with him by going on walks. Their weekly meet-ups have now spanned a decade, and their friendship has grown well past the point of needing words.
“I can talk to him and he knows what I’m saying, but if he has a specific idea of his own he’ll usually grab my hand and pull me a different direction,” Gschneider said.
When the weather allows, Gschneider’s dog will join them on their walks. In the summer months, she’ll take Rick to Hammer’s weekly bowling league.
Over the years, Gschneider has come to find that she gets as much out of their time together as Rick does.
“It really is a two-way relationship. … I’ve learned a lot just being around someone who’s nonverbal. You have to learn that it’s okay to not talk and to just be with somebody,” she said.
Another volunteer who Hammer has chosen as a community partner is Wayzata High School senior Evan Poellinger. For the past two years, the student has shared his violin skills with Matt, a nonverbal individual supported by Hammer.
Poellinger said he was looking for volunteer opportunities to expand his extracurricular life outside of school when he learned about Hammer. He soon found that he could incorporate his talents as a musician to share with Matt, who has an interest in music and was a gifted child musician. Matt was accepted to Juilliard, but an accident at 15 left him with brain damage and took away his ability to play the violin.
“I only found out about his Juilliard background when I first got there, and I remember feeling a little intimidated,” Poellinger said. “But I’ve had a strong relationship with Matt ever since. He enjoys hearing me play, so much so that if I miss our usual day he becomes dismayed that I did not show up and he holds me accountable.”
Each week, Poellinger plays his violin after Matt chooses which piece he would like to hear. Matt then uses cards that Poellinger created to express whether or not he liked the song.
The student will even test out new orchestra pieces that he’s practicing for school. He also brought Matt to one of the school orchestra’s recent concerts.
“He greatly enjoyed being there,” the student said. “I could see that in his expressions.”
Poellinger said the gains he’s gotten out of his friendship with Matt have been “immeasurable.”
“The bond that we’ve formed as musicians, I feel that every time. ... Building any relationship requires work, but that work ultimately makes a relationship that materializes out of that all the more rewarding,” he said.
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