Fraser 2023 Annual Report Because of YOU, children, teens, and adults with autism, mental health needs, and disabilities are empowered to achieve more.

A Message from Diane Cross, Fraser President and CEO

Dear Friends of Fraser

As I read through the stories in this year’s Annual Report, I was touched by the number of young people served at Fraser, who have now realized their potential as advocates. There’s Ian who received services at Fraser for his attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and expressive language disorder. This past year for his Eagle Scout project, he gave back to Fraser through a volunteer project.

Abe was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and struggled with sensory issues. He met his best friend in group therapy at Fraser. He is now expressing his advocacy by portraying a young man with autism in the play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

Nishi Peters is 30 years old and has autism. He received various therapies at Fraser and is now a part of the new Fraser Self-Advocacy Advisory Council. The self-advocates provide feedback on services, marketing, community engagement, and individual experiences at Fraser.

And then there is our dear friend, Leo Dworsky. Leo began singing at the gala when he was just 11 years old. His powerful voice still amazes me, and we are extremely lucky that he continues to lend it to our annual fundraiser. But Leo doesn’t just raise his voice in song; he also uses it to share his story of being a young boy with autism — a boy who didn’t speak — until a Fraser School teacher helped him find his voice. This year, we are recognizing Leo as our Louise Whitbeck Fraser Award winner because of his dedication to Fraser and the community he champions, day after day.

Because of you, these young people were able to receive services, meet friends, find their voice, and grow into thriving humans. It truly takes my breath away to see so many dreams alive and flourishing, in these young people. And that they are willing to give back to Fraser fills my heart and humbles me.

Thank you for making all these dreams possible. Your generosity truly transforms lives every day; these young people are living proof.

With gratitude,

Diane S. Cross, President and Chief Executive Officer

Finding His Fit at Fraser School

By the time Samuel was 3 years old, it was clear he was different than other kids. He wasn’t really talking, and he had a hard time regulating his movement. He might throw his body at other people, or if he saw something that caught his eye, he’d immediately dart across the room for it.

He was attending a traditional daycare, but his mom, Sherri, would get a call by 10:30 most mornings to come pick him up. Samuel was waiting for a neuropsychology evaluation, but in the meantime, the daycare staff made it clear he wasn’t working out there. He would soon be diagnosed with autism.

“The world was telling him (and me) that he didn’t fit — his traditional daycare, his gymnastics class, and the strangers at the supermarket,” says Sherri. “They were all just dismissing my beautiful and funny child as somehow wrong because he didn’t fit into the specific shape that society said 3-year-olds should be.”

Sherri works full-time, so she needed a place for Samuel while she was at work. She reached out to Fraser School Director Chris Bentley, who had an opening during the time Sherri needed.

“It has been the greatest gift of his life so far that he landed at Fraser in early November 2021,” says Sherri.

At Fraser School, Samuel attended Day Treatment, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. Sherri appreciated that Samuel could receive all these services while at the school. It was much easier for her and eliminated many transitions for Samuel.

Samuel had found a place where he fit in. All the kids had different strengths and perspectives, says Sherri, and no one asked him to be different than he was. They just worked to help him grow, learn, and meet his goals.

“We give a lot of lip service to ideas like diversity and inclusion, but Fraser School is the true definition of inclusion. Kids with disabilities and neurodiversity aren’t just tolerated; they’re celebrated and appreciated for their differences,” says Sherri. “Samuel knows he’s different, but he found this amazing space where he learned he belonged. And as he grows, he will be able to internalize that feeling of belonging and take it throughout his lifetime.”

Samuel has always loved other people and kids, but at Fraser School, he found friends and people who appreciated him for being Samuel. When Sherri went to pick him up, she would see other kids teaching him. They always included him when they played games, even if he didn’t know how to play. He started to get invited to other kids’ birthday parties. His speech also improved dramatically, and he learned to regulate his movement.

Samuel is 5 ½ years old now and just started kindergarten.

“As Samuel starts public kindergarten, I have my concerns. I know that Fraser has helped him grow and prepare so much. But my concern is that the world is not Fraser,” says Sherri. “To truly embrace neurodiversity, the world needs to become a little more like Fraser, to allow people to be unique human beings that grow and learn together — all different — and not be asked to fit into a defined space. That is the future world that I dream Samuel will grow into one day.”

Saint Paul Garden Club Helps Children Grow

The Saint Paul Garden Club was founded in 1927 and is part of the Garden Club of America. Members of the Saint Paul Garden Club “have dedicated many volunteer hours to urban beautification, conservation, land stewardship, and to supporting educational programs in the area of horticulture and conservation.” As part of this support, the group holds an annual Tea Dance, which raises funds to provide grants to nonprofit groups.

In recent years, the club has shifted much of their grant support to organizations with a mental health affiliation, like Fraser. Group member Gretchen Cudak sees this as a natural fit, since gardening and caring for plants can be so therapeutic. Gretchen is also a Fraser board member and donor and suggested Fraser School as a group that could use The Saint Paul Garden Club’s support.

“I’m always looking for ways to get the word out of the good work Fraser does. I think about families going through a new autism or mental health diagnosis, and it weighs so heavily on these families. I want them to feel important and know that Fraser has their back. I also wanted to share the experience of putting your hands in the dirt and watching something grow with the kids at Fraser School. There is something about watching plants grow. It gives us hope, and we all need that.”

The Saint Paul Garden Club also donated plants for the garden at the Fraser Sensory Building at the Minnesota State Fair. The Fraser Sensory Building provides a place for people with sensory processing differences to take a break from the fair. The garden welcomes all visitors to the Fraser Sensory Building.

Soaring for Success: Eagle Scout Gives Back to Fraser

Heather and Eric knew their son Ian had some deficits. He often had trouble putting his thoughts into sentences. At school, he would sometimes get overwhelmed and shut down. He struggled to communicate with teachers.

Heather has a mental health background, so she worked with Ian’s school to get him support. At 7, Ian had a neuropsychology evaluation at Fraser. He was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety, and expressive language disorder. Expressive language disorder causes people to have a hard time expressing thoughts, ideas, or information. It can affect their speech and written language.

“I’ll never forget how thorough the psychologist was. She not only explained what his diagnoses were, but also what wasn’t affecting him and how his symptoms overlapped.”

After trying therapy at other locations, when Ian was 11, he and his parents began therapy at Fraser. Heather and Eric learned more about ADHD and how to understand his thought processes. Ian improved his communication and his ability to express his thoughts and feelings. He started to come out of his shell more.

“The tools he learned not only helped Ian advocate for himself at school, but has been life-changing at home,” says Heather. “We use a basic emotion chart every day. We start by saying ‘I feel’ and then add the emotion and why.”

These skills have helped him in Boy Scouts, too. He joined Scouts in 4th grade. He’s now 18. He enjoys camping, spending time outdoors with his troop, jet skiing, and water skiing.

Becoming an Eagle Scout is considered the pinnacle of achievement for a Boy Scout. You must earn 21 merit badges, including 14 specific badges, and also complete an Eagle Scout Service Project to “plan, develop, and lead a service project that benefits their community or a nonprofit organization.

Ian’s Scoutmaster told him to pick a project that was meaningful, and he immediately thought of Fraser.

“Fraser helped me, so I wanted to help Fraser back,” says Ian.

In May, Ian, 8 fellow Scouts, and 8 other volunteers assembled 150 Fraser Sensory Kits. A Fraser Sensory Kit is a bag with tools that help people with sensory processing differences regulate, while away from home. Ian and the group also painted 74 popsicle stick puzzles for Fraser Occupational Therapy.

After completing the project, Ian presented his report to the Eagle Scout Board of Review, where he was asked questions about his career as a Scout. Ian earned his Eagle Scout rank in October.

“What Ian learned at Fraser, helped him so much during this process,” says Heather. “The therapy he received was absolutely amazing. Fraser understands the tools children and families need to be successful. We learned how to communicate with our son, and he can now produce the words to tell us how he feels.”

Ian also enjoys making art, particularly drawing. He has been accepted to college for graphic design.

Fraser Partners with Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux to Streamline Access

One of the biggest barriers to getting mental or behavioral health care is often taking that first step—making the call and scheduling an evaluation. But without that initial evaluation, an individual or family can’t get a diagnosis, get referred into services, or receive recommendations for community supports.

In 2019, an employee at Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Behavioral Health Clinic was working toward his PsyD and started a doctoral internship at Fraser. After starting at Fraser, he saw an opportunity to streamline the process for neuropsychology evaluations between the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Fraser. He helped foster this relationship.

Today, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Behavioral Health Manager Nancy Hawkins Vickers continues this partnership with Dr. Kim Klein, the Fraser Director of Neuropsychology. Nancy says she refers mostly children, from the tribe, their workforce, and Native Americans living in Scott County.

“Kim has been great to work with,” says Nancy. “She streamlines the process and puts our referrals on a fast track, so neuropsychology appointments can be scheduled quickly and efficiently.”

Fraser provides neuropsychological evaluations for children at least 6 years old through adults. The evaluation can diagnose mental and behavioral health issues. The evaluations are also recommended for people with a history of head injuries or seizures.

Nancy says she most of the individuals she refers are experiencing problems with attention and concentration, learning challenges, and sensory processing issues.

After an evaluation, Fraser often recommends school accommodations to help children be more successful. Sometimes, children are referred to non-Fraser clinics for services, since most of these families are located in Scott County.

“It’s benefitted our community because it has increased many parents’ confidence about getting assessments. They don’t have to worry about not receiving a call back or facing a year-long wait. I also appreciate that it’s wellness-oriented and responsive to our community. The recommendations help families navigate the educational environments, assisting with solutions that are focused on strengths. The recommendations take into account where the families live and where the closest and best services are nearby.”

Nancy Hawkins Vickers, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Behavioral Health Manager

Actor "Plays" It Forward for Fraser

When Tara and Eric’s son Abe was about 2 ½, it was clear he was different. Abe was in an early childhood play program and didn’t understand how to play with other kids. Instead, he might run laps around the room or run headlong into a wall. He couldn’t handle big open spaces, like a church or Target. He would have extreme meltdowns.

“He cried like he was in severe pain, and the sky was falling,” says Tara.

A staff in the program suggested Abe might need an evaluation for sensory issues. Eric talked to his therapist about Abe. The therapist sent Eric home with a Post-it note with the words Asperger’s and Tony Attwood on it.

Tara searched online and learned Tony Attwood was a psychologist renowned for his work on Asperger’s. Asperger syndrome is now considered part of the autism spectrum, but at the time, it was a separate diagnosis. People with Asperger’s typically have difficulty with social interactions, a strong preference for routines, and sensory sensitivities. They are often highly intelligent.

It sounded like Abe, and his parents decided he couldn’t attend a regular daycare. Tara reduced her hours to part-time and enrolled him in play therapy. At age 5, Abe was formally diagnosed with autism.

The summer after Abe was in 3rd grade, his family moved to St. Paul, and Abe started physical therapy at Fraser. He had low muscle tone and struggled with sitting up at his desk, which his Fraser therapist helped him work on. They showed him physical movement could be fun. He learned to ride a bike.

Abe started therapy to improve his social and emotional behavior. He worked on waiting his turn to talk and managing his sensory issues, so he could communicate and focus better. His parents learned how to set clear expectations for his behavior.

“His Fraser therapists made him feel like his company was fun and that they wanted to play with him, which wasn’t always the case with the rest of the world,” says Tara.

In 6th grade, Abe started a social skills group for boys with autism. The group practiced skills like taking turns and learning how to get to know someone.

Abe met Billy. Billy had autism, too, but his autism was different. As they became friends, Abe learned to be patient with Billy’s quirks and became more empathetic.

Abe is 17 now, and he and Billy are still good friends. They enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons together.

After Tara took Abe to a performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Abe discovered a love for theater. The play centers around a 15-year-old boy with autism, and watching a version of himself on stage made Abe feel seen and validated.

Abe attends a creative arts high school and has started to audition for plays at school. This fall, his school is putting on a production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” and Abe is playing the lead.

“The experience of seeing the play was so significant for Abe, and he is determined to pass that on in this performance,” says Tara. “The skills he learned at Fraser have helped him become an advocate for other people with autism. When he sees other kids with autism in the hallway at school or the theater, he helps them and lets them know it’s safe to be themselves around him.”

In addition to theater and D&D, Abe enjoys drawing, sculpting, and painting. He loves to draw creatures and characters. His creations are usually a bit creepy, but with a playful touch. He wants to be a character designer, which means he wants to create the look of characters for cartoons, TV, film, or video games.

Family Shares a Diagnosis and Path Forward

“Early intervention is critical as a parent,” says Rosanne, who speaks from personal experience.

When her son Jeffrey was 3, another mom at preschool approached Rosanne. The mom said she’d been watching Jeffrey in the classroom and asked if Rosanne had ever thought of getting Jeffrey evaluated. She explained that her son had autism, and she knew about a place Rosanne could get him tested: Fraser.

“This was 33 years ago, and people didn’t even know the word autism,” Rosanne explains. “We had no idea, if that mother hadn’t approached me…she’s my angel. She had the guts to tell me he needed to be tested.”

Jeffrey was an extremely intelligent child. He was reading fluently before the age of 3, including newspapers. But he also had delays. At 2, Jeffrey was talking, but it was an invented language. He started speech therapy with the state, and his speech improved quickly.

There were other signs, too. He didn’t play with toys or other children. He repeated the alphabet backward.

Fraser diagnosed Jeffrey with pervasive development disorder (PDD), which is now included in the autism spectrum. He began therapy at Fraser and learned how to play, go up and down a slide, and socialize with other kids.

“There weren’t any books available on his condition and how to help parents navigate PDD and autism,” Rosanne says. “Ken and I learned how to parent and support him from Fraser. It was absolutely the right place at the right time for us.”

By age 5, Jeffrey was ready to be mainstreamed into kindergarten. He thrived in school — with support — and then in college. He is 36 now, and he’s a successful, independent, and kind person.

“I don’t believe this would’ve happened without Fraser,” says Rosanne.

Rosanne and Ken are close with their niece Katie and her family. When Katie’s son Gabriel was about 2 ½, Rosanne and Ken noticed some familiar behaviors. Gabriel was somewhat nonverbal, though he would often repeat non-relevant phrases. He would excessively repeat movements like walking back and forth between objects.

They recommended Fraser to Katie and her husband, Nick. Fraser diagnosed Gabriel with autism, and he began services there.

Since Jefferey’s experience with Fraser, Rosanne and Ken have engaged with and contributed to nonprofit. When Rosanne and Ken were asked to donate to support the playground at the Autism Center of Excellence® satellite location in Richfield, they immediately said yes. The playground will be named after Gabriel, which is even more exciting for Rosanne, Ken, Katie, and Nick.

“When we learned there would be a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the playground, Katie said, ‘I’m really going to have to work on Gabriel’s scissor-cutting skills,’” says Rosanne, laughing. “It’s just so sweet. I feel like Fraser is the best environment to help both parents and children.”

Fraser Was the Soundtrack to Susan's Life

Susan Jelinski was born with Down syndrome in 1961. At the time, children with disabilities weren’t typically educated or included in the community. Her parents, Mary and Ralph, kept Susan at home for the first 3 years of her life. Then they moved to Richfield to be close to Fraser School®.

Her brother, Tod, says Susan’s experience at Fraser School was foundational. She learned basic living skills, and her family learned how to better support her. She started to read and write.

“Her love of music started at Fraser, which was a love she carried throughout her life,” says Tod.

Music was a cornerstone of Fraser founder, Louise Whitbeck Fraser’s teaching. Her daughter Jean was hearing impaired. Louise would play her Victrola (old-time record player), and Jean’s behavior mimicked the Victrola. Louise started teaching Jean with music.

Word spread, and soon other parents asked Louise to tutor their children with disabilities. Like Mary and Ralph, they were told to institutionalize their children.

Using music, Louise had students make swoops in time to the music on the chalkboard. This is how they learned to write letters and then their names.

Susan likely learned to read and write in this way. She also developed lifelong friendships at Fraser, including Hubert Humphrey’s granddaughter, Vicky, who was also born with Down syndrome.

“Sue spoke a lot about her friends that she went to school with,” says Tod.

Former Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey and his wife, Muriel, also became friends of Louise and were instrumental in opening Fraser’s first group homes. Today, Fraser Community Living includes three different living options for adults with disabilities and autism: Supervised Living, Supportive Living, and Independent Living.

When Susan needed more support, she moved into a Fraser Supportive Living apartment. The staff helped her with daily tasks like grocery shopping and balancing her checkbook. She developed more close friendships.

She also began working. Transportation would pick her up from the apartment building and take her to work. She could walk to local shops and restaurants.

“This extra bit of support was really critical for our family,” says Tod.

Susan loved books and joined the Rock Star Book Club, a group run by Fraser volunteers Jeff and Shari Hegna. She also enjoyed painting, making mosaics, and creating latch hook rugs.

Susan lived at Apple Grove Court for 15 years. Shortly before the pandemic, she began to have more health issues, needed more support, and moved into a Fraser Supervised Living home.

“During the move, the Fraser staff were so compassionate and flexible. They understand these are emotional decisions, and they were patient with us,” says Tod. “I’m so glad Sue moved in here when she did. The people there became her community.”

In 2023, Susan began having significant health problems and was able to move into a Fraser home with more accessibility features. She received care there for the next 3 months until she passed away.

“Fraser is birth to death care; Sue’s life is a testimony of that,” says her sister-in-law Allyson. “Louise provided excellent care to children with disabilities, so they could reach their fullest potential. It’s so great that nearly 60 years after Sue started at Fraser, Louise’s vision holds true and continues. Fraser valued Sue’s life and helped her achieve her highest potential.”

Randy and Val Donate to Support People Like Emmett

Randy and his wife, Val, appreciate the work Fraser does for the autism and disability community and their son, Emmett. Randy volunteers at some Fraser events and is also on the Fraser Board of Directors.

“I like going to some of the public events because I feel as if I’ve been in the same shoes as many of the people who attend. I like interacting with them and talking about their concerns,” says Randy.

Randy understands it can be hard to know the best way to support people with autism, disabilities, and mental health issues. He and Val donate to Fraser Community Living homes and apartments. Donating toward a new roof may not sound as critical as donating to therapy, but these contributions also support the well-being and mental health of people like Emmett.

“As we look around, it’s obvious that having a home that’s comfortable where you feel safe and accepted is an incredibly important part of everyone’s life,” says Randy. “We also should acknowledge there are different ways people can live and different ways people want to live. There should be options for people like Emmett — beyond living with their parents or on their own. For Emmett, living on his own isn’t a realistic option, and there are many people like him. And that’s why Fraser is important. Fraser, through its Supervised Living homes, is in it for the long haul, just as Emmett is.”

Self-Advocacy Council Reflects Disability Community's Perspective

“There’s a phrase within the disability community: ‘Nothing about us without us,’ and we really try to support that ideal at Fraser,” says Jessica Enneking, Fraser Assistant Director of Adult and Transitional Age Mental Health. “That’s why the work we do at Fraser needs to reflect the people we’re serving, and why creating a self-advocacy group was so important.”

This ideal, along with excellent client feedback, inspired Jessica and OnTRAC Clinical Program Manager Karen Hailey to create a self-advocacy group. The group is for people who receive Fraser services and staff who have lived experience with autism, mental health needs, or intellectual/developmental disability.

In August, they launched the Fraser Self-Advocacy Advisory Council. The group gathers feedback on services, marketing, community engagement, and individual experiences at Fraser. They meet quarterly for 1 hour over Zoom, and currently, there are about 8 members of the council.

Nishi Peters is a member of the council. He’s 30 years old and was diagnosed with autism when he was 4. Over the years, he has benefitted from various Fraser therapies, including Day Treatment and group therapy. In group therapy, he worked on his social skills and made strong connections with many people he met.

Nishi Peters

When Nishi learned about the new self-advocacy group, he was eager to join.

“I’m passionate about advocacy, especially for the disabilities community,” says Nishi. “I think it’s important that people with disabilities get their voices heard, so they can tell others what it’s like to be disabled. Plus, I want to think beyond myself and work to help other people.”

Nishi has been happy with the progress they’ve made so far. At the first meeting, the self-advocates reviewed the logo and flyer for the Fraser OnTRAC (Transition Readiness and Connections) Program. The council suggested improvements to the logo to help those who are colorblind and also provided feedback on simplifying the layout. They also suggested clarifying some language on the flyer.

For the council’s second meeting in November, they reviewed a new version of the OnTRAC flyer, revamped with their suggested changes. The council also provided feedback on a conference for transition-age adults. The council members advised what should be included in the conference, who should speak there, and other suggestions.

“I’ve been enjoying giving constructive feedback that actually matters,” says Nishi. “I really like what we’re doing on the council, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”

In his spare time, Nishi enjoys writing about disability issues, along with poetry and short stories. He is also passionate about reading, both non-fiction and fiction, everything from literary fiction to fantasy. Nishi also likes going for walks and watching TV and movies.

Letter From Our Board Chair

It is amazing to me that a little girl born with Down syndrome in 1961 — who started at Fraser School in 1964 — was still being served by Fraser in 2023. For nearly 60 years, Fraser supported Susan Jelinski.

She learned to read, made lifelong friends, joined a reading group, and had a home that evolved with her needs. All at Fraser. You can read more about her story above.

As Susan grew, so too did Fraser. What started as a school for children with disabilities is now a nine-division organization that serves individuals like Susan across Minnesota. We support infants through adults in programs and services for Autism, Career Planning and Employment, Community Living, Case Management, Fraser School®, Integrated Healthcare, Mental Health, Neuropsychology, and Rehabilitation Therapy.

In addition to those services, Fraser Sensory Certified™ Supports and Training works to ensure individuals with autism, mental/behavioral health needs, and disabilities are included in the community. Because we’ve created safe, inclusive spaces, people with sensory differences can comfortably attend the Minnesota State Fair, festivals, theater productions, and a St. Paul Saints game.

Inclusion was something the Fraser founder, Louise Whitbeck Fraser, understood from the beginning. Rather than sending her daughter Jean to an institution, she began teaching her. She knew Jean needed support, patience, and a chance to be included.

When we give people like Jean and Susan support and understanding, they can achieve their goals and more. They can join a book club, be an advocate, become an Eagle Scout, and sing opera. Because of you, children, teens, and adults with autism, mental/behavioral health needs, and disabilities are empowered to achieve more.

Thank you for lending your strength and understanding to our community. You’ve created more possibilities for little girls like Susan, and all the individuals who’ve come after her.

- Keith Klein, Chair, Fraser Board of Directors

Fraser Events

The Fraser Festival, Presented by Central Roofing Company

The Fraser Festival, presented by Central Roofing Company, was on Saturday, May 20, at the Saint Paul RiverCentre in downtown St. Paul. The free event and fundraiser was reimagined with new activities and experiences in eight zones that engaged the body’s senses. About 1,000 people attended, creating a day of joy, freedom, and inclusion for people and families with autism and disabilities in the community.

Individuals with autism often experience sensory processing differences that cause them to react with extreme discomfort to loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, crowds, and other stimuli, making attending community events challenging.

Central Roofing Company brought an autism acceptance sports car for snapping selfies. Enticing Entertainment added some fantasy with a floating fairy, a bubble dancer, and a juggling rabbit on a unicycle. North Star Therapy Animals delighted attendees with two mini horses, an alpaca, bunnies, cats, and dogs to pet and hug. Celebrity therapy dog, Koda the Fluff, brought smiles and joy in her tiny convertible, zipping around the festival for all to meet.

GenerationNOW Entertainment and RBG Sound created a sensory-inclusive auditory experience with a silent disco, allowing attendees to dance together while wearing headphones. There was a rock climbing wall, a hula hoop workshop, an inflatable obstacle course, Dance Dance Revolution, spin art machines, and more. The Minnesota Wild Foundation had a slapshot game, beanbag toss, and a chance to meet their mascot, Nordy.

The one-of-a-kind, sensory-friendly festival raised over $170,000 for individuals and families impacted by autism.

Tee Off for Fraser, Presented by Geritom Medical

It was a wonderful day at Brackett’s Crossing Country Club again this year! On July 10, 124 golfers joined us for Tee Off for Fraser, presented by Geritom Medical. Participants enjoyed course games like Yard Yahtzee, the Happy Gilmore Swing, and Sink-a-Putt. They also won fabulous raffle prizes and enjoyed a delicious lunch and dinner.

But most importantly, attendees raised more than $94,000 for Fraser Community Living, a program providing long-term care and housing for individuals with disabilities and autism. Along with a companion

fundraising campaign and the generosity of a matching donor, that brings the total to over $120,000 for Fraser Community Living and adult services.

These contributions help cover home maintenance and repair, recreational supplies and activities, and enhanced security and accessibility projects for Community Living homes and apartments. Donations also support important programs like Fraser Career Planning and Employment, which helps teens and adults with autism, mental health, or intellectual or physical disabilities prepare for success in college or a career.

2023 Fraser Gala, Presented by Meristem | Cresset

On Friday, Nov. 3, attendees of the Fraser Gala, presented by Meristem | Cresset, truly got to have their cake and eat it too. The gala was at Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot, and guests were led on a magical adventure through the whimsical world of Candy Land.

Kat Perkins wowed guests with her mashup of “Pure Imagination/Candyman,” along with her fabulous band, candy-coated dancers, and backing vocals from the Paul Peterson Orchestra. Longtime gala performer Leo Dworsky was a sweet surprise, joining Kat and Paul on stage for “Hold My Hand.” Enticing Entertainment further frosted the night with a cotton candy cocktail dress server and peppermint dancers. Sheletta Brundidge returned as emcee and shared her family’s journey with autism, highlighting the importance of Fraser’s sensory support services.

At the after-party, guests enjoyed King Kandy’s Candy Bar, Gloopy S’mores, Queen Frostine’s Nitro Ice Cream Sandwiches, an assortment of truffles with cordials, and more delicious music from Kat Perkins. But the real cherry on top was the funds raised for the individuals and families Fraser serves.

Thanks to the generosity of attendees, sponsors, and other donors, Fraser raised over $640,000.

Fraser by the Numbers

Congratulations to the 2024 Louise Whitbeck Fraser Award recipients, Leo Dworsky and the K.A.H.R. Foundation!

Leo Dworsky

Leo Dworsky is a University of Minnesota junior, performs regularly with the University Opera Theatre, and has a connection to Fraser. When he was 2 ½, he was diagnosed with autism and started attending Fraser School and receiving therapy there. Leo was nonverbal. While at the school, his favorite teacher helped bring him out of his shell, and he began talking. At 4, Leo discovered a love for singing and soon joined the Minnesota Boychoir.

“But I credit Fraser for helping give me my voice,” says Leo.

At age 11, Leo sang “Imagine” by John Lennon at the Fraser Annual Benefit. He’s performed every year since, singing with musicians like Paul Peterson, Philip Sheppard, and Kat Perkins. Leo has also held multiple Fraser fundraisers, including concerts in 2018, 2019, and 2020, which was live-streamed on the Fraser Facebook page.

“I decided to host fundraisers because I wanted to raise awareness of Fraser and the services they provide,” says Leo. “The fundraisers also provided me an opportunity for me to grow as a musician, since I was putting together a full-length concert on my own.”

Leo said he was shocked, but honored when he learned he was receiving the award.

“I first thought was there are so many other people that deserve the award,” says Leo. “Then I thought, singing at the benefit, fundraising, and the advocacy work I do; I guess I can see how it happened.”

The K.A.H.R. Foundation

The K.A.H.R. Foundation is a family foundation — founded by Jeannine M. Rivet and Warren G. Herreid II — to support nonprofits that make an impact in healthcare, education, and the community. Jeannine was formerly the CEO of Optum, Ingenix, and UnitedHealthcare. Warren is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel.

Since 2008, K.A.H.R. has donated over $235,000 to support the expansion of Fraser programs, including Fraser Career Planning and Employment services.

“Career opportunities are so critical for individuals with autism and disabilities, and it’s critical that families know how to support their children and grandchildren,” says Jeannine.

When a family member received a diagnostic assessment at Fraser, Jeannine and Warren were introduced to the nonprofit. Jeannine later met Fraser President & CEO Diane S. Cross and expressed an appreciation for Fraser’s work. The two soon became friends.

When Jeannine and Warren learned of the award, they, too, were surprised.

“It’s an honor to be recognized,” says Jeannine. “We’re so grateful to Diane and Fraser for all they’ve done for the community by providing services that didn’t exist before or weren’t available to many people. Fraser demonstrates its positive impact in people’s lives every day.”


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