Access North Breaks Ground on New Shop, with a Little Help from Minnesota North College

by Annika Freiburger

Hibbing, Mn – Access North, the Center for Independent Living in Northeastern Minnesota for the last 37 years that serves the 10 county area of Northeastern Minnesota, recently hosted a groundbreaking for a new shop that will support their work on site at Hibbing.

Don Brunette, Executive Director of Access North said, “The goal of Access North is to allow people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations like seniors to age in place and stay in their homes.  Baby boomers are aging into their homes in a large rate especially in the northland, and many are retiring into an inaccessible housing stock.  We knew we could do something about it so we became a general contractor. This new shop is in support of that home occupation work (widened doorways, home accessibility, walk-in showers).  Some people don’t know but a simple installation of a walk-in shower, allows people to stay in their home an average of 5-7 years longer.  We needed some good partners, and that is when Leo and I started talking about how Minnesota North College could help with the construction of this shop.”

Minnesota North College’s Carpentry program and students let by Program Director Leo Lukas identified the on-site pole building as an untapped resource for the location of the shop, it just needs some TLC, which the carpentry program provided in spades.

Leo Lukas, Minnesota North College Carpentry Faculty and Program Director continued by saying, “We do collaborate with all the different organizations around but to me, experiential learning is the key to success of my program.  When you can do the book learning and do the videos and give students the real world opportunity to see what this is really like.  Our students spent a significant amount on this project and they are just as committed to their education as we are as faculty and it is pretty impressive to watch.  The best thing is the opportunity that our local partners give to us, to take on real life projects.”

Jessalyn Sabin, Dean of Career and Technical Education added, “I look around and I see a bunch of people we partner with, the one thing I think people down at state system (Minnesota State College and Universities System) functions are pretty jealous of, is all of our community connections that we have, that allow us to create opportunities, build relationships, and grow the talent in our region.  We are grateful for the hard work all of our students have put in, and to Access North for this very rich experience.

If you are an organization, that would like to partner with Minnesota North College in some way, shape, or form, please contact Trent Janezich via email at