The Life Skills Program at the Winona County DAC has evolved over the years to better address the interests and needs of the individuals we serve. We see this program as integral to the development and overall experience we provide to individuals on a daily basis.

Winona DAC has a very healthy Work Program that many of our individuals take part in. For others, work isn’t their first priority, and the Life Skills Program provides these and all individuals we serve with a place that they can grow, develop new skills, and explore their interests and new experiences. The Life Skills Program works with individuals and their teams to create personalized goals based on their varied interests and needs.

Example: An individual has an interest in cooking and would one day like to work in a bakery or in a restaurant as a chef. This individual has also had difficulty with attendance. We would work on kitchen safety, proper hygiene, and reading/following recipes and so on. We would also talk to this individual about the importance of punctuality and being accountable, and that people would depend on them to show up to their job ready to work.

The Life Skills Program includes a variety of target areas to ensure an inclusive and balanced experience for everyone we serve. Some of these key components include:

  • Relaxation, yoga and calming techniques
  • Computer skills
  • Math, reading, and communication skills (speech, sign language, picture boards, writing, etc.)
  • Socialization through the use of games, parties, and community outings
  • Sensory opportunities including, but not limited to, guest musicians, outdoor play equipment, and a dedicated space with black lights, aromatherapy, a variety of tactile objects, music, and live fish. We have recently added an 1800 sq. ft. sensory garden filled with water features, wind chimes, bright and aromatic plants, bird feeders, and more
  • Horticulture/Healthy Living — we have our own vegetable and fruit garden with accessible raised beds that individuals help cultivate, care for, and harvest. We use the produce in cooking classes to help promote healthy eating habits/meal planning, and to teach kitchen skills. To get around our garden we have a paved track along the perimeter of the yard, which many individuals also use for exercise. Alongside the Life Skills program we have a Physical Therapy Program. This program, though run separately, works in coordination with Life Skills to create opportunities for individuals to make healthy choices and encourages them to take care of their bodies.
  • Cooking/Home Living — we have a fully equipped kitchen and laundry set up in center that we use to teach skills needed to live more independently.
  • Art therapy — this is a newer area of focus that we’ve added to our program. We have always encouraged creativity and self-expression through the use of art. Recently we received funding to expand this into an entrepreneurial enterprise that will directly fund future enrichment opportunities.
  • Work Practice — we have a variety of kits put together to simulate some of the in center projects we work on, such as sorting/packaging product. We also have a mini grocery store where individuals can practice facing (stocking shelves), cleaning and organizing, and bagging. There is also the possibility to use the grocery store to teach math, shopping skills, etc.

Utilization of the Life Skills Program has directly benefited the individuals we serve. They become more confident in their own abilities and develop expanding communication skills. There is an almost never ending list of benefits that are gained through these experiences. One specific example of the success of this program is an individual who came to us lacking communication or social skills. She had lived her childhood in isolation in a non-nurturing environment. She spent the entirety of her day at DAC by herself in the hall and frequently would display aggressive and/or destructive behaviors. She would often go through multiple shirts a day because she would completely destroy them when she was frustrated.

It was a slow process getting her fully integrated into the Life Skills Program starting with 1:1 staff attention and positive reinforcement in the form of coffee and pictures of pretty dresses (two of her favorite things). After a while staff didn’t need to initiate the interaction and she would seek it out herself, joining her peers in the Life Skills room rather than spending time alone in the hall. Once she became more comfortable in the new space, staff were able to start teaching her sign language to communicate her needs and wants and to ask for these things without prompts. Her verbal skills also increased and she now uses a combination of both to communicate with staff and peers. To address the destruction of her outfits, staff made her a blanket with pieces of fabric sewn to it that she could wear on her lap and pick at instead of ruining her own clothes. She no longer needs to use the blanket as frequently and we’ve seen a marked decrease in clothing destruction. This individual has done so well that she has transitioned into the work program at Winona DAC, working next to her peers, and earns a steady paycheck.