If you work in the disability services field long enough, you’re bound to meet a wide variety of characters. For many staff, walking into a stranger’s house and meeting the folks who call it home as well as the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) that call it work, can be quite a shock. Some newly hired staff come in firing on all cylinders and let their energy and enthusiasm cover up their nervousness. Others enter quietly, reserved and observant, taking it all in as they wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into.
When Carson Nystuen joined the 142 team in April of 2022, he was somewhere in the middle. Personable and friendly, but not one for excessive chit-chat; calm and collected with a sense of purpose and focus. The men residing at 142 are not known for being shy and quickly formed solid bonds with Carson over their common love of the outdoors.
Carson grew up in Red Wing, just an hour up the Mississippi River from Winona. He came to Winona to pursue an education at Winona State University and currently is enrolled as a Physical Education and Health Education double major with an Adapted Physical Education Minor, and he notes, “A lot of people don’t understand these are all teaching majors.” Both Red Wing and Winona are bordered by beautiful bluffs and Old Man River and helped Carson settle in, “It made me feel like I was at home.” As for what led him to apply to HCO, he confides that he had a little experience in the past, and was really interested in gaining more experience before going into the teaching field, “I thought that working at HCO and in various settings could give me professional skills I could take and use in my workplace as a teacher.”
Carson grew up fishing with his dad and grandpa, both very influential people in his life. “Both grandpa and my dad are people I greatly respect and admire because of their hard work and ability to instill their important values and beliefs and traditions.” Conveniently, fishing is a popular activity with the men at 142 as well, and Carson has been able to connect with them over their mutual dreams of hooking the “big one”. On plenty of sunny weekday evenings in the summer Carson would help the men wrap up dinner and get everything cleaned up so they could head out for a few casts before sunset. Carson specifically enjoys going camping with the men, stating, “Whether we were tent camping in Caledonia or in a primitive cabin it was amazing to see the guys have fun and enjoy the outdoors outside of their normal lives.”
New experiences are vital to learning as well as leading a fulfilling and enriching life, and as a future educator himself, Carson brings that philosophy into his work as a DSP. He is rightfully proud of the effort he has put into bringing the men new experiences, one of note being ice fishing. “Last winter I got the opportunity to take a couple of the guys from 142 out ice fishing. To my knowledge this was something that they had little knowledge and experience about. It ended up being a big hit and for the following weeks of winter there was always the question of, ‘Carson, when can we go ice fishing and have a picnic on the ice?’ I think that being myself has really helped me create a great relationship with not only the individuals of 142 but staff as well. This is a really important thing that I intend to take and use in my future classroom, since relationships and trust is a really important aspect of teaching.”
Carson had a new experience himself this summer, and while maybe not fulfilling nor enriching, he definitely learned a few things. He had injured his knee which required surgery which put him out of work for about three months total. At the time of the injury, he was working at both the 142 program as well as Saehler since the early spring of 2023. He acknowledges that the HCO teams he works with have been very understanding and flexible throughout the injury and healing process, “and ultimately that is what you would like out of a supervisor and coworkers.”
Although many people find life-long careers at HCO, we are also fortunate to support, train, and encourage many students like Carson that find their way into other professions using their degrees to continue to help people. While 142 is grateful to have Carson support the men for as long as he is able, we recognize that he has his sights on supporting folks in the classroom. He is slated to student teach in Lake City this coming spring, appropriately about halfway between Red Wing and Winona, starting out with elementary physical education and then moving on to secondary PE and Health. When reflecting on his time with HCO, Carson says, “HCO has been a huge stepping stone for my life and end goal as a professional teacher. It has had a huge impact. It has given me a new perspective of interaction with individuals with disabilities. I previously had minimal knowledge but so far, I have gained a fair amount and feel really confident in my abilities as a professional. It has really given me insight on how individuals lives are when they are done with high school and their transition programs.”
Wherever life leads Carson, we are proud and grateful that he chose HCO to share his time, talents, passions, and character with. Whether it is fishing on the backwaters of the Mississippi, or instilling patience, understanding, and life-long skills in the classroom, we hope you “catch the big one.”