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

Winter News 2018

North Star Found New Executive Director

Since October, a committee consisting of members from North Star’s Board of Directors and several key staff members have worked to find just the right person to head our agency when Mark Witmer retires; someone who shares our vision and values and we are pleased to announce that we have found our new Executive Director. Only the fifth director in North Star’s history, Valerie L. Schwager will be joining the agency in June.

She 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.”

Jay Schares, North Star’s board president stated, “Mark has been 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!”

And, mark your calendars June 19th from 3:30 – 6:00. We are planning an Open House to honor Mark’s retirement and provide an opportunity to greet Valerie.

For more details on the event [click here]

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:


North Star's "Entertainment Awards" Feel Good Hit!

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017 nearly 190 friends, family, and community members gathered at St. Mary Church to enjoy North Star’s annual fall program.

Giving the performers an opportunity to dress up and show-off their talents, this year’s program was loosely based on the Country Music Awards, and was titled, “The North Star Entertainment Awards.” Everyone who attends day programming at North Star’s Waverly Center had the opportunity to have a role in the show, either as a presenter, performer, or greeter.

Featured vocalists were Cody Adams, Jeremy Kluiter, Sonya Foutch, Chad Olson, Alice McGovern, Nick Jentz, Duane “Slim” Scoles, Heather Hendricks, Dean Shonka, Brent Westmeyer, and two duets: Dakota Bushman with Courtney Tharp and Lynn Taylor with Koni Wee. The performers chose a few personal favorite musical numbers, and an eclectic variety of music was represented, including: “I Swear” (All-4-One), “Anymore” (Travis Tritt), “Baby I’m-a Want You” (Bread), “Harper Valley PTA” (Jeannie C. Riley), “Let it Go” (“Frozen” theme, Idina Menzel), “Hound Dog” (Elvis), and “Rainbow Connection” (“Muppet Movie,” Kermit the Frog) and more. The final number was a touching rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross” sung by Brent Westmeyer with a little assistance from staff member and show director, Ray Dixon.

Other highlights included Travis Moeller playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on keyboard, “Kumbaya” by North Star’s bell choir, and a rousing dance performance to Meghan Trainor’s “It’s all about the Bass.”

Acting as host for the event was Haleigh Swick with assistance from staff member, Lois Rosol. Presenting awards were: Jay Billington, Dean Shonka, Lacie Vorthman, Holly Forest, Tim Gallmeyer, Darren Tiedt, Danielle Jensen, Russell Lalk, Koni Wee, Joel Brase, Jim Neelans, Hope Eickhoff, and McKenna Hart. Other participants included: Laney Beadle, Sierra Pleas, Alison Cusick, Janet Schwerin, and April Gilbert.

Special thanks to St. Mary Church, Janesville United Methodist Church-Rebecca Circle, Jim Stout, Duane Schwickerath, Linda Schnabel, and Rita Ruth. Special thanks to Cheryl Forest for making all of the fun Kermit the Frog puppets used in the production, and as always; thank you to our dedicated volunteers, families, and staff.

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.