From the heart: Retired pastor discusses why he became a Hammer caregiver

Nonprofit’s Reach for Ralph benefit will raise money to support the work of caregivers

Hammer caregiver Mike Casey, left and Michael, one of the five people Casey helps support. (Submitted photo)

Mike Casey is one of the 400-plus caregivers working at Hammer Residences, a Wayzata-based organization that supports more than 1,600 individuals with developmental disabilities throughout the Twin Cities west metro.

It was around 25 years ago that Casey, who was then a Methodist pastor, began working part-time at Hammer.

“There was a group home that wasn’t too far away from the church, so I applied. … And I’ve been working in the field ever since,” Casey said.

After realizing the work was a great fit, Casey began working full-time with Hammer’s individual in-home program and group homes.

Today, the retired pastor lives in Minnetonka and works by helping five men in the organization’s individual program. His goal: To help them live a live a full and active life.

“I wanted to give back to the community. I wanted to serve. And I connect with this population extremely well,” Casey said. “The five guys that I’ve got right now are great guys and we have a tremendous relationship.”

In addition to helping Michael and other individuals, Casey is a CPR instructor for other caregivers.

Casey’s regular work as a caregiver includes taking Michael, a Brooklyn Park resident, to his dialysis appointments twice a week. Casey sits with Michael and makes sure that he’s comfortable – all the while helping him pass the time by playing cribbage or talking about movies or the latest mystery novel Casey is wrapped up in.

“Mike is always on time and is really helpful. He plays a good game of cribbage, too,” Michael said.

For fun, the two go on regular outings to Twins and Saints baseball games and go bowling.

Casey also helps out by running errands with Michael and other clients.

“They all have different needs. One guy needs me to go grocery shopping, and if I don’t help him with his groceries, the guy doesn’t eat. He doesn’t get his groceries … Another guy is learning how to cook, so I’ve been teaching him and that’s been a very fun process,” Casey said.

When asked what he would tell those who are considering becoming a caregiver, Casey said patience is a must-have characteristic.

“Working with these guys takes a long time,” Casey said. “It takes months and months and months to see even the smallest steps of what we’re trying to accomplish. So, patience is a big thing that you’ve got to have.”

Casey said getting to know the personalities of each person is also essential.

“You have to know when they’re kidding and you have to know when they’re angry and you’ve got to know the difference. To an outsider it could look the same. …  So, getting to know the clients and they’re personalities is really important,” Casey said.

Casey and Michael will be among the many guests attending this year’s Reach for Ralph fundraiser. The goal for this year’s event is to raise at least $300,000 to support the caregivers of Hammer, who provide support to adults and children in 37 homes and 10 apartment programs, as well as those who are served through the organization’s customized support services.

The benefit event is 5:30-10 p.m. Thursday, July 20, at the Earle Brown Heritage Center, 6155 Earle Brown Dr., Brooklyn Center.

To purchase tickets, visit hammer.org/reach-for-ralph or call 952-345-0115.