In 1976 an auto accident left Alan Tholkes a quadriplegic. In 1987 he founded a company that makes products to help physically disabled people stand and move. Five years ago Tholkes founded another company, which develops office ergonomics products. These days, the successful inventor, business owner and former Minnesota Entrepreneur of the Year is looking to give back. Tholkes, 45, recently launched Tender Hearts Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless and at-risk youth. The recipients of its first donations included Safe Haven for Youth, a transitional-housing program that operates two homes in Burnsville, and Dakota Woodlands, an Eagan shelter for women and children. Running the foundation is Wendy Brandt, a Burnsville native and estate-planning attorney. The foundation’s first big fund-raiser will be the Heart of the City Half Marathon, to be held June 4 and 5 in Burnsville’s Heart of the City district.
“In a sense, I’m creating my future job,” Tholkes said of the foundation. This is what I really want to do as I make a transition later in my life. I feel like I’d rather give back more and be able to help more people…” Tholkes, a Granite Falls native who now lives in Belle Plaine, founded Altimate Medical Inc. in Redwood Falls in 1987. The company’s flagship product has been the EasyStand line of hydraulic-powered devices that allow disabled people to lift themselves to a standing position. Tholkes’ success earned him the 1991 Minnesota Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Ernst and Young Inc. Magazine and Merrill Lynch. His new company, HealthPostures Inc., produces the Stance “angle chair”, which adjusts to allow office workers to vary their postures and positions at their work stations.
Tholkes hired Brandt, his estate planning attorney, to run the foundation and seek out suitable recipients. “It’s always been a goal to come up with a way to help disadvantaged children,” Tholkes said. “I just finally had gotten to the point where I had the resources to do that.” “….He asked me to do the research and find out where there is an unmet need,” said Brandt. What she learned is that homelessness in general, and among youth in particular, is a growing problem. In 2002, the Dakota County Supportive Housing Unit had initial contacts with 251 homeless families, 116 homeless single adults and 36 homeless youth. Compared with the previous year, the number of contacts was 10 percent higher for families, 300 percent higher for single adults and 120 percent higher for youth. The Safe Haven program has two houses in Burnsville, one for males and one for females that provide transitional housing for people ages 16 to 20. The program provides a host of other services, such as job seeking assistance and life-skills training, to help the youth become self-sufficient. For more information about the foundation, call 952-224-7649.