Growing Up with Hammer

By Wendy Paulson, Human Resources Specialist

TWP_5Year_Top100_Minneapolis_2014_HCongratulations Hammer Residences, on being recognized as a Star Tribune Top 100 Workplace for five years in a row! On June 15, the Star Tribune published “Top Workplaces 2014”—a list of the best places to work in Minnesota. Only 14 Minnesota companies have been named all five years. Employee’s responses indicate our organization has a clear sense of direction, good communication, innovative practices and that employees feel valued.

It was my honor to send that announcement again! When I returned to Hammer in 2010, I saw a tiny announcement in the paper about this new award. I was certain it would be a strong recruiting tool and the recognition would strengthen Hammer’s reputation. Who wouldn’t want to work at a Top Workplace?!

Now, when I interview applicants, they frequently mention that our status as a Top Workplace impressed them. Our other top source for candidates … staff referrals. We love telling our friends and family about Hammer. In fact, we have many married couples and employee’s family members who all work here. I always explain what makes Hammer special, when recruiting. I describe about our history, mission, excellent training, community partnerships and benefits. Eventually, I apologize for sounding corny when describing our culture as “the Hammer family.” But, the loyalty, mutual respect and true appreciation displayed throughout our organization are more akin to one’s home than workplace! I guess I did grow up here …

ice rinkThe first time I visited Hammer School was Halloween 1968. Volunteers from my church threw a party, and I recruited some sixth grade classmates. I was Peter Pan and my cardboard-tinfoil sword was the most coveted accessory. Later that winter, we froze a skating rink in the front yard of the big house and, as a passionate figure skater, I came every week to lace skates. I stayed in touch through the years.

Even as a volunteer, Hammer encouraged me to share my interests and talents. My creativity and initiative were never limited. One summer, my best friend and I built a library to shelve all the books. Then, when I was studying music therapy, I completed my independent study at Hammer. Working as a summer staff in the boy’s dormitory, we camped a lot and I taught swimming lessons in the backyard pool. After graduating with my teaching license in 1979, I came straight back to Hammer to start my career.

Once again, self-expression was valued, and I helped fulfill the mission in my own unique ways. I kept a guitar in the office when I worked direct support. I later found that I loved recruiting and training. We all wore a lot of hats in those days! In the early ‘80s, Opportunity Workshop (now Opportunity Partners) was the only workplace option. It was not a good fit for those who did not like light assembly work. So, we talked about how we could create a supported work program. I volunteered to locate jobs, educate and persuade employers, and train several of the individuals we supported. I washed dishes at Leeann Chin alongside Art. I worked the dining room at Cargill with Lynn and chopped the salad bar with Alden. Once they were trained, I visited weekly. Two years later, supported work programs were opening and barriers were falling. Employment options for individuals we support have evolved in wonderful ways. Take, for example, Jacqi’s story:  https://www.twelve.tv/news/newsitem.aspx?newsid=324&newsitemid=24517

Times were changing for my young family too, and I left Hammer. I taught for other fine employers for twenty years. However, I couldn’t leave completely – I worked on small projects and came back to teach CPR every year. Then in January 2010, I called to ask if I could return full-time. I was warmly welcomed back and even given an adjusted hire date that acknowledged my years of service for benefits. Many of my colleagues from the ‘80s are still here, and I have known many of the people we support since they were kids. I feel as if I have never left.


Group w Plaque








As it has so many times, this wonderful and unique organization met me where I was. Like bookends beginning and ending my career, my time at Hammer has been a blessing. Nobody tried to squeeze me into a job description; I have remade myself again and again as I continue to “grow up.”


  1. Angela

    Great story Wendy! I so appreciate all that you do for Hammer. I love too the story of how you used to tie Ralph’s ice skates!

  2. Suzanne

    Well said, Wendy! Hammer is so lucky to have you back! Your historical view is priceless.

  3. Dan Pysno

    Thanks for sharing, Wendy. It’s always great to hear about how Hammer has and continues to evolve.


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