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REM serves community for quarter century

Home should be a place of comfort, stability and affection. REM Northstar has been providing these essentials for people with developmental disabilities in the Bemidji area for 25 years.

Currently, 14 REM homes serve people in Bemidji, three are in International Falls and one is in Walker.

One of the homes on Butterfly Road Northwest opened in October 2004 to replace a larger 16-person group home on Beltrami Avenue Northwest. Three friends from the Beltrami house moved to their new home on Butterfly.

Elaine Rainey, Kathy Meyers and Ruth Bauer, along with Rodney Otterson, said they enjoy the quiet life in their home tucked away on the west side of Bemidji. They have a back yard, a deck and a garden, as well as 24-hour help on hand.

As Otterson watched TV, the women described their hobbies and work. Meyers likes to knit and showed off some of her handiwork. Rainey and Bauer enjoy needlepoint, and Rainey also does beadwork.

"Rodney likes rides and going through McDonald's drive-through," said Robert Eckstrom, direct service employee, who is among the 10 staff members at the Butterfly house.

Rainey and Meyer work at the Occupational Development Center on jobs such as putting cardboard corner protectors on Marvin Windows. Bauer is retired from Developmental Day Habilitation where she made pocketbooks and crocheted.

REM, which is owned by the Mentor Network, headquartered in Boston, has as its mission statement: "Life to the fullest. Every Day."

Meyer also volunteers at North Country Regional Hospital every other weekend. She attends Bible studies and goes to church with Bauer. Rainey said she was going out for pizza with a friend this weekend.

Rainey also uses American Sign Language and has taught some of the staff to sign. She cracked everyone up during a visit this week by demonstrating the signs for "funny chicken" and "funny rabbit."

"They sit at night and visit and work on their crafts," said Jean Feia, REM regional director.

She said REM was founded by Robert E. Miller in 1967 in the Twin Cities.

"The goal was to get people out of the state hospitals into smaller settings, more home-based," Feia said.

"In the counties where they were born or had families," added Julie Ann Rubey, REM director of program services. For example, Bauer visits a sister, Darlene Bauer, in Blackduck.

REM operates an array of services for people who need support and assistance to live in their communities. When the first REM residence opened, community living options for people with developmental disabilities were practically nonexistent. Since then, REM has pioneered a system of high-quality services that has advanced the community-based model of care around the country. In 2003, REM merged with the Mentor Network. The first REM home in the Bemidji area was in Turtle River.