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08/02/22

Rate Increase for ACCESS Public Transportation


ACCESS Public Transportation is announcing a rate increase beginning September 1, 2022. All city rides will be $3.00 per one way ride and all county rides will be $5.00 per one way ride. Tickets purchased before this date can still be used with the rider paying the difference.


ACCESS operates from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm seven days a week. ACCESS phone lines will be open from 6:00 am to 9:30 pm seven days a week for you to book rides. You can book rides two weeks in advance and are encouraged to do so.


To book a ride or for more information regarding the rate increase, contact ACCESS Transportation at 785-628-1052.



07/07/22

Sarah Meitner - Living a Purpose Filled Life


Many know Sarah Meitner as the director of the Heartland Community Foundation and a strong presence within the Hays community. She has worked to grow and improve Hays by participating in various projects like the development of the new ARC Park that has recently been built on 33rd street.


However, Sarah has an incredible family story that not many people get the opportunity to learn about. Sarah is the proud mother of five children including her youngest son Abraham (Abe) who has down syndrome. Since giving birth to Abe, Sarah has made it her goal to create a more welcoming community for Abe so that he can live a purpose centered life. She uses her voice to share information about down syndrome and helps the world to understand Abe’s unique gifts, talents, and purpose. She expresses that Abe is not a burden, but rather, an intricate part of their family and describes having a child with a disability as a tremendous gift.


Through her advocacy in the community and on social media, Sarah began to tackle issues related to down syndrome on an even larger scale. She was able to bring Abe with her to testify in Topeka to create a bill in Kansas that eliminated organ transplant discrimination. She also went to Washington D.C. to meet with senators and representatives about creating welcoming communities. Through these endeavors, Sarah has worked to make a difference for individuals with down syndrome not only in the Hays community, but all over the world.


She wants people to become more accepting of Abe so that he can be proud of having down syndrome, live a life filled with purpose, and most importantly, be an advocate for himself while leaning into his voice. Sarah stated, “We are all given talents and gifts and you can stifle them and ignore them, or you can lean into them.”


06/30/22

Custom Creations encourages a life of purpose, providing a creative outlet for disabled individuals

By Hailey Chapman Hays Daily News

Live With Purpose- a fitting catchphrase for a business with a profound mission. Custom Creations in Downtown Hays works in partnership with DSNWK to provide work for individuals with developmental disabilities. Creating one of a kind furniture and staple pieces for any home, Custom Creations uses donated, real wood furniture to prove that both their business and your next home purchase will be sustainable.

LaVonne Giess, Program Manager has been a part of the mission from day one. Overseeing Employment Connections, Giess began this journey thanks to generous donations from the Hays community.

At first, the donations were being given to individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities, who might not be able to afford a brand new couch. Dustin Olsen began sharing his passion with Giess, refurbishing pieces brought in to sell at a yearly benefit sale. “That’s really how it started, four or five pieces that Dustin had repurposed, and they sold immediately,” Giess shared.

And with that, momentum picked up and Custom Creations found its name. Creating a logo, an online presence and a clientele of interested customers was the first step of many for Giess and her colleagues. “It was a dream of mine that one day we could have a store on Downtown Main,” Giess said. With the help of Downtown Hays Development Corporation, it wasn’t long before a building was available to rent.

“This place was in bad shape, it hadn’t been used in over thirty years and you had to be careful where you walked,” Giess shared. But with a little bit of love, it soon became the beautiful store front it is today. Within one year, on October 15, 2021, the building was fully transformed and ready for business.

Running solely on donations and money from grants, Custom Creations was able to run a woodshop, open a store front and work with surrounding areas to provide not only work, but a creative outlet for disabled individuals. “Our goal was for the individuals that we serve to have a way to make money and have an income, so all of the small items in the store are what our individuals create themselves,” Giess added.

While Dustin Olsen, Woodshop Coordinator and his coworkers are paid hourly to bring life back to old pieces, Giess and her staff work with their individuals to create different decorative items to spice up any living room. Each piece is tagged with a photo of the artist, allowing customers to connect with their purchase, deeper than a simple transaction. “People love being able to see who created what they bought,” Giess shared.

Sales began taking off for Custom Creations, oftentimes having customers ask for a piece that was once featured on the showroom floor. “It’s important for people to understand that these are one of a kind pieces, there are no two pieces that are the same,” Director of Development Steve Keil said.

What many customers take most surprise in is the pricing. Because donations allow Custom Creations to repurpose used furniture, they do not have to charge the same prices as new furniture. “We get pieces that are missing drawers or pieces that are partially broken and Dustin will turn it into something amazing and we can’t believe how he does it,” Giess added. “The donations really keep us running because if we had to purchase lumber raw, our prices would be astronomical. We’re not brand new so we aren’t going to charge brand new prices and people are amazed at the quality of our pieces, so that has been really fun to see from customers.”

Custom Creations is open Monday through Friday from 8-5 and Saturday from 9-3, with donation drop off available at Employee Connections. They also offer free pickup within Hays city limits. The store also offers $20 delivery for customers who might not be able to transport the furniture themselves.

Among staff, Store Coordinator Rae Moravek has shared what an amazing experience Custom Creations has given her. After graduating from Fort Hays State University with a degree in Sociology, Moravek knew she wanted to work in a nonprofit. “I wanted to do something hands-on, that is really how I feel fulfilled in my work, and I just stumbled upon this job opening and it has been incredibly rewarding,” Moravek shared of her time with Custom Creations.

During her time in high school and college, Moravek shares that she was never professionally trained to work with intellectually or developmentally disabled individuals. “It was scary easy,” Moravek said. “I think people might have this image in their head that they can’t work with people who have a disability because they’re not trained, but you don’t need to be a super-professional to work with them. They’re people, they’re awesome people, they’re fun people, they have a good time, we’re just being people together and that doesn’t take training.”

Another aspect of work that drew in Moravek was the sustainability of Custom Creations. Taking pieces of furniture that might otherwise be discarded has been exciting for her to see. “There is a really solid sustainability aspect as well, we get good quality pieces that have stood the test of time and will stand the test of time, and we’re not wasting material,” she added.

While sharing about the time she has worked at Custom Creations, Moravek gushed about some of the individuals and how amazing it is to see their work sell. “There was a piece that one of our individuals had a hand on from start to finish, so it was kind of his pride and joy and those are usually the pieces that sell pretty quickly, those pieces where you can feel the passion that the individual had when making it,” she said.

Of these individuals, Angela Rogers has captured the awe of staff with her abilities to create art using only her gaze. Rogers is non-verbal, but has found a way to create within her zone of comfort. Using a communication board that tracks her gaze, Rogers is able to focus on a color which will then appear, ready for her to paint with on her screen. Using her gaze, she can then create digital art, which Custom Creations helps to print out on canvas, mugs or t-shirts. “It’s amazing to see what she can create,” Giess said. “How it works is amazing, so say she looks at the color blue, the board will register that and she can paint with the color blue, just based on her eye gaze, she creates art with her eyes.”

For Custom Creations, this has always been what it’s about. Finding ways for their individuals to show what they can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t. “We don’t focus on the disability, we like to look at each piece and consider what can this individual do and what part do we need to help tweak,” Giess said. She shared a technique that has been used in recent pieces that allows individuals with limited motor skills to place a balloon on their hand, saturate it with paint and decorate a piece to their liking.

Giess also utilizes a Vista worker who helps create a catalog of ideas for their individuals to browse. Once they pick what they want to create, they are then sent a kit with all the necessary items to make their desired piece of art.

The amazing mission of Custom Creations might go overlooked, however. In a building that hasn’t seen business in decades, Giess shared that oftentimes, customers will come in and express their surprise at their hidden gem. Utilizing their money to grow their business in creativity rather than finances, Custom Creations does not run ads, but rather works to build a presence on social media.

Moravek works hard to keep their social media presence steady on both Facebook and Instagram. However, viewing a photo online does not necessarily gain the same attention as an in person visit. “Until they see what they can do and what they’re capable of, it doesn’t resonate, so getting people in here and raising their standard for what these individuals are able to do, that’s the goal,” Moravek shares.

Alongside running social media, Moravek is in charge of keeping the store maintained. Ensuring items on the floor are fresh and new, while working alongside various individuals who dedicate their time throughout the week. “I can say, Rae has been a godsend,” Giess said. “I was so excited when she applied because I really wanted someone energetic, someone who had a vision, who could keep the store fresh and help us grow in everything that downtown has to offer, she has really truly been phenomenal,”

The next step for Custom Creations will feature artists within their store. Creating a space for them to sell their items, Giess will open the door for their creativity to flourish. “We have a lot of individuals who do a lot of art and crafts on their own time, and we want to give them that exposure and promote their art in store,” Giess said.

A fairly new business with big dreams, Custom Creations will continue working with disabled individuals to empower them in their creativity while supplying them with a means of income they might not be able to find elsewhere. “The store speaks for itself, you look around and see that this is legit, quality work done by individuals with disabilities, so we want people to come in and give us a chance,” Keil said. “We have a phrase, live with purpose, so when you talk about Custom Creations, I think this place speaks volumes to what we’re trying to convey."

Inside DSNWK 8/5/22

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