Frontline Initiative Healthcare

Be Connected. Be Well. Dakota Communities Culture of Wellness Initiative


Antonia (Toni) O’Brien is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Service Coordinator and Director of Community Life for Dakota Communities in Minnesota.

Communities provides services to people with disabilities in Minnesota. Dakota Communities emphasizes the importance of recreation and inclusion in people’s lives. We believe that people with disabilities should live and play alongside their families and neighbors. 

At Dakota Communities we are creating a “culture of wellness” for the people we support and employees. One of our initiatives is the Be Connected. Be Well. program. Be Connected. Be Well. addresses seven essential dimensions of health and wellness —

  • Mental wellbeing

  • Physical wellbeing

  • Relationship wellbeing

  • Work/volunteer wellbeing

  • Play wellbeing

  • Spiritual wellbeing

  • Wellbeing of our world  

Our program continuously improves supports within these seven interconnected dimensions. Both people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) receive supports and benefits. DSPs and the individuals we support are given access to health and wellness-related information. They receive resources on best practices to lead a healthier life. They also receive individual information that allows people to “know their numbers.”

Participants learn about their current health and wellness through individual diagnostic testing and evaluation. They receive information on their Body Mass Index (BMI) and metabolic rate. They also assess strength, flexibility, and lifestyle habits. They are able to benchmark their current emotional and psychological wellness. Participants are then given access to health coaches and volunteers. They can also access training. These are resources that assist with program implementation. Participants are provided with a new menu system. They have opportunities to play the Wii or work out at a local health club. There are even opportunities to engage in pet therapy and horticulture therapy. 

Each person who receives our services has participated in one of more aspects of our wellness initiative. Initial results demonstrate success! Participants lost an average of 13.6 pounds during the twelve twelve-week evaluation period. They dropped their BMI an average of 5.4 points. Average waist circumference decreased by 1.7 inches. Over half of the participants who completed the twelve week program met their goals. Their goals are focused on fitness, body composition, and lifestyle. Many participants have also noted growth in self-confidence and self-esteem. Overall, participants report higher energy levels. They express a sense of pride in attaining goals and making healthy choices. A quote from Patsy gives us great insight into the popularity and value of the program. She said, “This can’t be exercise because it is too much fun!” One unexpected feature of the wellness program is its growing popularity. As people get involved, their friends and housemates are motivated to get involved. This brings new meaning to our understanding of ‘contagious’ wellness. Mike and Tom are a good example of this. Mike cooks from the new menu system and lost almost 60 pounds. Mike’s housemate, Tom, saw Mike’s successes. Now Tom is involved in his own cooking. Wellness at Dakota Communities is becoming viral!

We believe partnering DSPs with the people we support results in “well people = well employees”. We are proud to have created a program that becomes the shared culture at Dakota Communities. Healthy living is not a onetime event. Wellness is infused in every aspect of the services we provide. The concept of wellness has reached far beyond our initial ideas. Wellness is integrated into the lives of everyone associated with the organization.