SETWorks Announces 2023 Inspiring Progress Award Winners - Innovation Category

The Innovation award showcases disability services agencies that are pioneering novel approaches to drive positive change in their communities.

Disability service providers are constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to enhance the lives of those they serve. SETWorks’ “Inspiring Progress – Celebrating Success in Disability Services” awards highlight these successes and their impact on individuals with disabilities, DSPs, and the community. 


Success can be defined in many ways, so there were three types of awards open to any SETWorks client: Achievement, Innovation, and Transformation.


The second category, Innovation, celebrates agencies that are developing and implementing new processes, techniques, services or ideas that will make a long-term impact on their organization or industry. Winners will receive prize funds that can be used to further their initiatives, support professional development, or enhance the quality of their services.  


Below are this year’s winners in the Innovation category: 

Kota Connections partners with Lyft & Dakota County to revolutionize transportation accessibility

Transportation is a major barrier to independence for many individuals with disabilities. But thanks to Kota Connections, it’s no longer an obstacle for those living in Dakota County, Minnesota.  


As part of a pilot program with the county that began in 2019, Kota Connections trained individuals to use rideshare platform Lyft safely and efficiently. The overwhelming success of this initial phase prompted Dakota County to expand the program’s scope, making it available to all residents receiving services from the county. 


Under this groundbreaking program, individuals are granted a monthly Lyft allowance of $500, or up to $1500 for those using the service for work-related travel. Today, nearly 300 Dakota County residents rely on the program to get around without conventional supports, allowing them to seamlessly blend into the community.  


The program’s achievements have garnered widespread media attention, with multiple news articles and interviews highlighting the positive impact it has had on individuals’ lives. The blueprint provided by the Dakota County-Kota Connections partnership is ripe for replication in other counties and states, and serves as an inspiring example of how innovative approaches to transportation can pave the way for a more inclusive and independent future. 


JD Modrynski, Designated Coordinator at Kota Connections, expressed his gratitude for the Inspiring Progress award: “This award highlights what we are always trying to do: provide more opportunities to our individuals to become more independent. We are constantly trying to find new and unique ways to provide our services to our individuals and this award further exemplifies that and the great individuals we currently serve.”  

Link Associates supports DSPs through innovative childcare initiative

Childcare poses a significant financial burden for parents, consuming a substantial portion of their budgets and preventing many parents from working. Faced with critical staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic, Iowa-based Link Associates is pioneering a game-changing solution to this problem: the Link & Learn Day Care Center. This project not only aims to solve staffing gaps but also support local families and individuals with disabilities, while enhancing the community’s workforce. 


The Link & Learn Day Care Center, which will be funded primarily through a $600,000 grant from Polk County, will provide Link staff with discounted childcare at a rate around 40% lower than local childcare costs. This will help Link to retain qualified direct support staff, as well as attract new employees seeking a supportive employer who understands their childcare needs.  


Beyond offering affordable childcare, the center will also provide vocational training opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities aspiring to pursue careers in childcare. Through this, Link aims to empower these individuals to develop marketable skills, enhancing their prospects for future employment. Moreover, the center’s innovative approach serves as a model for other nonprofits who want to think outside the box of traditional benefits.  


Link was the only organization to receive two Inspiring Progress awards in this year’s contest. In accepting the Innovation award, Link Executive Director Linda Dunshee emphasized the project’s significance: “Those we serve are our mission and why we exist.  Our DSPs are the backbone of our organization. Any recognition received by Link is a tribute to both of these essential groups of people. Without them, there would be no Link Associates.”  

Innovating and inspiring progress

From redefining transportation accessibility to pioneering innovative childcare solutions, the winners of this year’s Inspiring Progress award exemplify the spirit of innovation in the disability services industry. These trailblazing agencies have made significant contributions to their communities, and they remind us of the potential for positive change when commitment, collaboration, and creativity unite.  

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