The retirement of the longtime director of the Mille Lacs County Developmental Achievement Center in Milaca has opened up new opportunities for its new leader.
“I was fortunate that I was able to work with the previous director, Fred Hoffman, for three months,” new DAC Director Rod Peltoma said. “He was a terrific mentor.”
Peltoma brings decades of experience working in residential group homes throughout central Minnesota to the table.
“I have worked in residential care for 30 years. And residential care is a lot of weekends, nights and on-call,” Peltoma said. “I saw the ad for the position and thought this would be a nice opportunity for change.”
With traditional hours, Peltoma said he will have more time to spend hunting, fishing and attending his son’s college hockey games at Bowling Green University in Ohio.
“This has been a joy. I can honestly say that I haven’t received any calls late into the evenings,” he said smiling.
Peltoma earned his degrees in physical and special education from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He started his work in special needs care at Pinewood Learning Center in Cloquet and went on to develop intermediate care facilities across the central area of the state for Oak Ridge Homes.
Throughout his career in residential care, Peltoma worked with five different developmental achievement centers.
“So I did get to see how various DACs operated,” he said. “I saw what worked and what didn’t.”
And from what he heard from other centers and those in the field, Mille Lacs’ center is doing something right.
“I asked around. It’s a well-respected organization,” he said. “We have excellent, well-qualified staff here and that’s the strength of the organization.”
While he said the depth of experience the staff has to offer will make his job that much easier, outside pressure will prove to be an obstacle he intends to overcome.
“I think the biggest challenge right now will be financial stability,” Peltoma said. “The state deficit has definitely hurt us.”
State funding for developmental learning centers has been flat for the past several years and last year’s Legislature went a step further and cut supports.
“I would like to see us being more proactive in finding people work,” Peltoma said as one possible solution. “We need to challenge our clients to be competitively employed. If someone has the potential, I think it’s our responsibility to take them to that point and find them opportunities.”
Peltoma said looking forward, he will strive to make his mark and improve operations at the DAC.
“I believe in a person putting their stamp on things,” he said. “So there are several changes that I would like to see. They will take time, but hopefully they will challenge our staff and our clients. The staff has been committed to making this an even better place than it is.”
Currently Peltoma resides in Brainerd where he and his wife raised their three children, who are now adults. The couple is currently searching for housing in Mille Lacs County. The commute isn’t something new as his previous work often took him all over the state. But he will miss coaching girls hockey for Brainerd/Little Falls.
“That was hard to give up,” he said. “I really enjoyed that.”