Updated: Apr 8, 2020
At Greater Fergus Falls, we love highlighting the people, businesses, and places that make Fergus Falls special. So, when we had the chance to learn more about a long-established business in our community, you can bet we took it! We recently chatted with Tammy Anderson to talk about how Productive Alternatives helps the people and economy of Fergus Falls flourish.
Productive Alternatives, which has locations throughout Minnesota, has been part of the Fergus Falls community since 1959. Over the last 61 years, the company has focused on helping people live their best lives through its many programs and services. Though there are many aspects of the business, the company is best known for helping adults with disabilities learn job skills and matching them with employment opportunities in the community. In fact, Productive Alternatives is ranked number one in outstate Minnesota for helping people with disabilities find employment.
Anderson, who has been with the company for just over three years, serves as Productive Alternatives’ Development Director. Like most employees of a nonprofit, she wears many hats but her primary role is to share the story of the company and the individuals it serves. On any given day, that could include anything from marketing to speaking engagements to fundraising efforts and everything in between. However, if you ask Anderson’s clients what she does, they’d sum it up in just a few words; “She makes us famous.” No matter how you describe her role with the company, it’s clear Anderson loves her job. She says, “I always tell people, man, I've landed in my happy place.”
Keep reading to learn more about Productive Alternatives and how the company lives up to its commitment to help the people in Minnesota communities thrive.
Can you give us a brief overview of the company?
Productive Alternatives is a nonprofit organization that was created in 1959 to help adults with disabilities transition into the community out of institutional care like the Regional Treatment Center. Initially, the main focus was on job skills development, job tryouts, and job placements.
What would you say makes Productive Alternatives unique?
Many people in the community know us for our work helping individuals with disabilities develop job skills and matching them with employers in the community. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is that we offer a wide range of services and programs in addition to vocational services. Not only that, but we also manufacture products. So, we’re a manufacturing plant, but we’re also a nonprofit with a mission: helping people live their best lives.
I think what makes us most unique is our willingness to try different ideas/programs to help our clients live a full and joyful life. You can see a pattern of this with our array of programs and our extensive service area. One of the best compliments we ever received was when one of our donors described Productive Alternatives as “Fearless.”
Can you tell us a little bit about the different services and programs Productive Alternatives provides?
In addition to vocational services for people with disabilities, we also provide day services that offer opportunities for personal growth, creativity, and the chance to discover what brings them joy. Some of our other services include the following.
Adult Day Services: A program for adults facing challenges associated with aging or disability, and are finding it more difficult to maintain independent living.
Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU): A 4-bed, short-term stay program created to help adults 18 years or older, and their families, manage mental illness and recovery. We try to create a stabilization and crisis prevention plan for the future and connect them with different mental health resources.
Otter Express: Otter Express provides public transit for Clay, Crow Wing, Otter Tail, and Wilkin counties. We offer curb-to-curb services for people of all ages, whether they need transportation to a doctor’s appointment, work, or simply need to run errands. The program provides between 14,000-15,000 rides each month and offers transportation to neighboring cities, including Fargo-Moorhead.
Production/Manufacturing: We manufacture our own line of products that are made in Fergus Falls. We also do a variety of contract work for companies. In our production, we have a mission of hiring people who need someone to believe in them and give them another chance such as people struggling with employment barriers due to chemical health, mental health, economic barriers, etc. To see the products we make, check out our new website.
Perham 180: This is a housing/work program located in Perham, MN. The goal is to help people struggling with barriers to employment such as disabilities, chemical health, mental health, homelessness or other life skills and challenges. We provide them with a dorm-room style private room where they are required to rent and they are also required to find a job. We also provide support such as job readiness skills, job searches, job placement, coaching, and so much more. The program was created in 2018 through the generous support of donations. It has been fun to see lives being transformed and finding stability, confidence, joy, and self-sufficiency. We were recently gifted two additional buildings thanks to our friends at KLN Family Brands. We are hoping to expand the programs to other communities if we can find interest and charitable support.
Are there volunteer opportunities available with Productive Alternatives? If so, how can people get involved?
We’d love to partner with people in the community! There are plenty of volunteer opportunities such as helping with activities for our clients with disabilities, offering transportation services, making donations, etc.
We are also trying to create “interest totes” for our clients. It would be a big help if people could help us collect items for the totes such as seashells, magnets, legos, rock collections, magnifying glasses, craft items, artificial flowers, and gardening stuff. We’re also looking for Wii games, tablets, music CDs, and magazines and books with a variety of topics like animals, hobbies, travel, space, oceans, and farming.
To get involved, contact Tammy Anderson at (218) 998-5646 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find information on our website.
What do you love about working at Productive Alternatives?
Oh, there's so many! I just love it, but I would have to say discovering and telling stories is my favorite part because there's so many to tell, and they're all different. I also love to see the joy and happiness our clients get from telling their stories. It’s just been really, really fun.
What’s your favorite part about doing business in the Fergus Falls community?
We have so many amazing business partners in Fergus Falls that believe in providing work opportunities for our clients. I think my favorite thing is how open and willing they are to give us a chance within their companies. It really opens doors for us to partner with other businesses because a lot of our current partners will tell others about us.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about Productive Alternatives?
I would love for businesses in the community to learn more about our employment services. We currently partner with over 60 local employers. We are here to help so give us a call!
I’d also like people to know we are looking for more subcontract work for production. We hire a lot of second-chance employees, so when people subcontract work to us, we’re able to provide more jobs to those in need.
Thank you to Tammy Anderson for taking the time to tell us about all the incredible ways Productive Alternatives serves our community. If you’d like more information about the company or volunteer opportunities, please visit their website or find them on YouTube.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about this outstanding company, and we can’t wait to share more about other businesses in our community in the future!