Despite the COVID-19 pandemic limiting this year’s Reach for Ralph event to an online-only format, Hammer Residences raised more than $177,000 to help the organization serve individuals with developmental disabilities.

The June 25 event invited supporters to log online and watch a 30-minute program, which can still be viewed at

Leading the virtual benefit for the Wayzata-based nonprofit was Hammer program coordinator Brian Kelly, who addressed the current times.

“As you know, 2020 has been a difficult year for our country, our community, and it’s posed significant challenges for everyone at Hammer Residences. Your support from this fundraiser will help us navigate the financial challenges that we’re facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Kelly said donations will continue to ensure that caregivers have the proper protective equipment necessary to do their work without compromising their safety or the safety of those served by the organization.

Among those served by Hammer and featured in the video was Karen, who sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” During a video interview within the program, Karen was asked about the ongoing pandemic.

“How am I feeling about the coronavirus? Well, scared. I’d like it to be over with,” she said.

Among the many people helping Karen and hundreds of others is Jenna Neal, who provides services as a nurse for the organization. Neal said she works for Hammer because she is passionate about improving the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities.

“I knew from a young age I wanted to help people and pursued a career in nursing,” she said. “My goal is to help improve the quality of life for an individual by including them in the conversation. It’s very important for me to get to know the person as an individual and be able to build that relationship and rapport so that we can better understand what to do medically to improve each person’s life.”

Neal pointed out that many of the people served by the organization have underlying health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, which requires close monitoring and extra precautions to properly protect and keep them safe.

Hammer CEO John Estrem also spoke during the program and provided some history on the organization. He said the inspiration for the Reach for Ralph event was a man named Ralph Rosenvold, who came to the Hammer School in the 1920s as a boy and lived at Hammer until he died in 1995.

“Our founder, Alvina Hammer, opened our doors more than 95 years ago. She believed that individuals with disabilities have the right to live in a loving home environment, where they could flourish and develop independence and self-confidence,” Estrem said.

After the Hammer School was founded in 1923, the organization recognized further needs in the community and expanded to include dormitories and other residential facilities.

Today, the organization provides support services for 280 individuals who live at the organization’s 36 homes and 10 apartment programs throughout the west metro.

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