On Thursday, April 4, more than 70 employees from MDI locations in Hibbing, Grand Rapids and Minneapolis came together for a day of civic engagement at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Advocacy – the process of engaging with elected officials and government agencies to encourage a specific action – is an important part of civic engagement and helps support the innovative, high-quality work happening at MDI. And MDI employees sharing their personal experiences with elected officials is critical to our advocacy efforts. Their stories are what help legislators better understand our organization. In 2023, it was the successful employee advocacy that helped MDI secure $1.9 million in state funding to support our inclusive employment programming, like Unified Work.

While MDI isn’t asking for state funding this year, proactive advocacy efforts were still on full display during our third annual Day at the Capitol last week. This day was a fun, interactive way for employees to connect with their local elected officials by meeting with and thanking them for their support last year. 

The morning kicked off with welcome remarks from MDI President/CEO Eric Black, who spoke to the importance of advocacy, and was followed by Elizabeth Emerson and Ellen Larson from Goff Public, who represent MDI at the Capitol and shared information about the legislative process. Several guest government leaders also stopped by to talk about their experience in public service, including Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Matt Varilek, Rep. Sydney Jordan, Sen. Aric Putnam, Rep. Spencer Igo, Rep. Ben Davis and Sen. Rob Farnsworth. 

Exploring new perspectives, communication styles

While employees enjoyed their lunch, our Unified Work trainer – Betty DeWitt from Advocating Change Together –  led an abbreviated, hands-on Six Thinking Hats exercise. Based on the book “Six Thinking Hats” by physician Edward de Bono, the activity is a popular part of MDI’s Unified Work soft skills curriculum and helps participants explore and understand their preferred communication style through colorful hats. 

Learnings can be used by individuals to successfully manage meetings, think differently from their usual perspective, and mindfully focus on a specific task or project by separating their thought process into six clear functions or roles, with each of the six colorful hats representing a different way to do so. For example, the white hat represents the need to think through the basic facts of a situation, the green hat focuses on creative opportunities and the red hat, feelings and intuitions.

Participants of the exercise reported finding the information helpful, and shared plans to use its tips when they are in meetings, navigating tough projects, or interacting with people who have different communication styles than them – all situations with the potential to happen daily.

A fun, informative day

After this exercise, employees concluded their busy day with one-on-one meetings with their state legislators and a guided tour of the beautiful Minnesota State Capitol.


Employees shared the following about their 2024 MDI Day at the Capitol experience: 

“It was the best experience I’ve had in recent memory. Learning about the history of the Capitol, and the things I didn’t know about it, was really cool. Just being able to go was a great experience.” CJ Braun

“It was Awesome!! I loved the Governor’s Reception Room!” Tina Tweet

“I am grateful for the opportunity to go on a field trip to the Capitol with some great people. Hearing how some of the funding works and the role MDI upper management plays was insightful, also the Capitol was visually stunning.” Sean Kuck

Stay tuned for future advocacy opportunities at MDI!