Contact: Jodie Muller
North Star Community Services
Phone#: 236-0901, ext. 304

Winter News 2018

Meet North Star's New Executive Director

With the retirement of long-time Executive Director, Mark Witmer, Valerie L. Schwager joined the agency on June 11th. She is only the fifth Executive Director in North Star's 43-year history.

Valerie comes to North Star from Link Associates in West Des Moines, a large agency providing similar services to the ones provided by North Star. Valerie has 20 years of experience supporting people with disabilities, and was previously Link Associates’ Director of Supported Living, overseeing the supported community living, day habilitation, and employment services programs. Valerie says that she “is honored to uphold North Star’s mission to empower each person to realize potential, pursue dreams, and enjoy life.”

Outside of her professional endeavors, Valerie focuses her time on her husband, Dale, two sons, Karver and Kristopher, and dog, Everett. She has a degree in psychology from the University of Iowa.

Jay Schares, North Star’s board president stated, “Mark was an incredible asset to North Star for 25+ years. The board is grateful for his leadership and guidance through the years. Although he will be missed, we look forward to having Valerie lead us into the future. She brings valuable experience and a unique understanding of the current environment surrounding services to those with disabilities. Valerie is a dedicated advocate and we are excited to have her lead North Star!”

Welcome, Valerie!

Creating a Multi-Sensory Environment

This fall, thanks to the generosity of the Black Hawk County Gaming Association and the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, North Star’s newest project, a multi-sensory room, has been completed at the main facility in Waterloo.

The room was created to be an immersive environment specifically designed to develop the user’s senses. It includes specialized sensory equipment which can stimulate the user’s activity, provide a relaxing environment, or promote appropriate social interaction. The use of a sensory space is most helpful for persons with sensory processing disorders such as autism but has also shown some success with people who have Down’s syndrome, chronic mental health challenges, an acquired traumatic brain injury, and even dementia.

Our new multi-sensory space should really be called the “Calming, Coping, Comfort Room,” because that is an accurate description of what the space is intended to accomplish. The main emphasis of the area is for individuals to learn to “self-regulate;” the program participant will proactively be able to use the space to reduce stress and control certain behaviors. The large room is divided into two sections. The first half meant to stimulate is sunny yellow with a bright mural and mirrors, and the second half meant to relax is soothing blues and greens with subdued lighting.

The project has been a collaborative effort between the Allen College Occupational Therapy (OT) program and North Star staff. The design is based on recommendations from Denise Dermody, MAOT, OTD, OTR/L, professor at Allen College. Special thanks should also be extended to Mr. Bill Close for his assistance with the beautiful mural.

The public is invited to a special open house on June 12th: “See Through our Eyes.” You will be able to experience the space for yourself, and will be combined with a photography show featuring the works of at least 80 individuals served from Waterloo’s Day Habilitation program. For more details on the event [click here]

Project funders:


Waverly Center "Went Back to the 80's" to celebrate 30 years!

In 1988 George H.W. Bush was elected President, and Sonny Bono became the mayor of Palm Springs, California. This was the year of the movies Die Hard and Beetlejuice. The Winter Olympics were in Calgary, Whitney Houston was “So Emotional,” and North Star Community Services opened their Waverly Center.

On Monday, March 14, 1988 North Star opened its first satellite office on the corner of West Bremer Avenue and 4th Street SW in Waverly, the site of a former nightclub. On the first day, there were six participants. Originally named the “Center for Community Integration of Bremer County,” the Waverly Center was developed because the Bremer County Board of Supervisors was seeking a more economical way to serve adults with disabilities from the county. In 2004, the Waverly Center relocated to its current location at the north end of the Willow Lawn Mall (219-20th Street NW) and has expanded to include services for around 70 people from Bremer and surrounding counties.

Today, the programs provided by North Star include day habilitation (day hab) and supported community living (SCL). Day Hab programming supports individuals as they develop or maintain life skills, and promotes community integration through meaningful activities and opportunities, including volunteer experiences. SCL provides services to help people live as independently as possible in their own homes in our community.

The opening of the Waverly Center 30-years ago has yielded numerous improvements for both the participants and the local community. The community benefits by having a valuable resource available to serve some of its more vulnerable citizens locally; and, the program’s participants have necessary services and supports close to home.

Colette Ruth, Director of North Star’s Waverly Center, says it’s been a wonderful 30-years. “It’s exciting to be celebrating this milestone. We have grown quite a bit since we first opened our doors in 1988. It’s been fun to see all the accomplishments and changes that have taken place over the years. We have helped our participants to reach life goals, have choices, and become valued, contributing citizens, friends and neighbors. The positive encouragement and support that we receive from the community has been amazing! It has been great to watch the acceptance of our participants’ various abilities evolve over the years, and heartwarming to watch people embrace what a person CAN do rather than looking at what they CAN’T do as well.”

On May 18th, around 150 people joined the fun, as we went back to the 80’s and celebrated with a “like totally rad cook-out!” Special thanks to Brad Ruth for being our grill master!

Did you know Waverly Center has a bell choir?

Several participants from North Star's Waverly Center perform bell choir concerts around the Bremer County area. A new fun facet to the shows is the addition of an "iPad Band," in which participants use the iPad to play different instrumental sounds. They are led by North Star staff member, Ray Dixon. The Bell Choir/iPad Band typically perform at different Christmas events, and also visit a few nursing homes throughout the year. If you are interested, you can schedule the Bell Choir to perform for your program at any time during the year. Contact the Waverly Center at 319-352-1425 for more information, or to schedule a performance.

If you haven't visited North Star's blog, you should check it out today!

North Star’s blog is entitled “See Through our Eyes.” [click here to see it]

This blog is different, because it is being written (or dictated) by the men and women with disabilities who participate in programs at North Star. Each entry is about anything the person wants to share with others.

Since disability is really just another part of the human experience, it is our hope that through these postings you will be able to step outside of your own world, and perhaps learn a little bit about someone else’s life. What you discover may surprise you!

In a quote taken from a song by rap artist, DMX, “Look through my eyes, see what I do, be what I be, walk in my shoes.” That is what we hope that this project will accomplish – allowing other people to see things from a new point of view and demonstrating that no matter what our abilities, we are really more alike than we are different.