Ten Minnesotans with long records of service to their communities were recipients of the 2006 Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service during a presentation November 16 at a private ceremony in Minneapolis.

The $7,500 awards honor Minnesota residents who give their time to improve the lives of people in their communities. Among this year’s recipients are advocates for affordable housing and immigrant rights; community organizers; job-skills trainers; direct human service volunteers; and community mentors and friends.

A committee of six people working in human service fields across the state selected the finalists from about 50 nominations.

"Despite challenges in their own lives, every day these 10 special people offer their time and their energy to help communities and change worlds," says McKnight’s board chair Erika L. Binger. "They have found courageous and creative ways to serve humanity, from empowering those without resources to encouraging cultural pride and offering an open ear and warm heart to those in need."

Since 1985, The McKnight Foundation has given the awards each year to recognize Minnesotans who demonstrate the difference one person can make in helping others. The awards are named for the Foundation’s former chair and president, Virginia McKnight Binger. Mrs. Binger served the Foundation for nearly 50 years as a board member, as president from 1974 through 1987, and then as honorary chair until her death in 2002. Although her parents, William and Maude McKnight, established the Foundation, it was Mrs. Binger’s personal compassion and generosity that set the standard for the Foundation’s work.

2006 AWARDS IN HUMAN SERVICE RECIPIENT PROFILES

• Dee Cotten of Minneapolis lives out her dedication to housing justice as office manager and fundraiser at the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH), a faith-based organization that responds to issues around homelessness in the Twin Cities. She also has served as a community organizer on a variety of Twin Cities committees and boards.

• May Pa Heu of Woodbury, a proud native of Laos, is dedicated to supporting the community around her, and has been a lifelong volunteer and advocate for women and children. She serves as board chair for Hmong Youth Educational Services in St. Paul, and is active in the community doing what she can to help Hmong children reach their full potential.

• Russ Irvin of Cokato volunteers wherever there is a need, in Cokato and around the country. Russ has devoted countless hours working on Elim Mission Church’s building and grounds committee and helping with its Awana Youth Program. He also volunteers on projects with Habitat for Humanity, Cokato’s local food shelf, and his local nursing home.

• Shegitu Kebede of Minneapolis knows firsthand the challenges faced by single, immigrant mothers. She founded Going Home, Inc., to provide first jobs and job training and support for immigrant mothers and other new immigrants. Shegitu also established the Homework Center to provide after-school activities and homework help to children of working immigrant mothers.

• Sarah Mollet of Minneapolis has worked the past several years at Camp Heartland, enhancing the lives of children impacted by HIV/AIDS through support, advocacy, and recreational programs. Sarah has also assisted AIDS awareness seminars, and this year collaborated with the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership program to coordinate a leadership seminar at Camp Heartland.

• Vivian Peterson of Williams has helped the elderly for more than 60 years, since she was 12 years old. Vivian brings community members shopping and to the doctor, and she regularly checks in on those with little or no family. Vivian also has been active with her local adopt-a-grandparent program, and has served as a Sunday school teacher, Girl Scout leader, and 4-H leader.

• Erik Rodriguez of Minneapolis emerged as a young Latino leader and immigrant advocate at Southwest High School. Erik helped organize the school group ALIANZA to integrate the school’s multicultural communities. He also has lobbied at the Legislature and traveled to rural Minnesota to talk about the importance of immigrant rights and access to higher education.

• Jim Soderberg of Duluth, executive director of Churches United in Ministry, works with a network of professionals, volunteers, and community partners. The team provides holistic support for the region’s most marginalized citizens through emergency shelters, food shelves, nursing clinics, and more. Jim works to create a community that values all members.

• Jodi Townsend of Lakeville is executive director at Majestic Hills Ranch for Children, a therapeutic horseback riding program. Majestic Hills takes in mistreated horses, nurses them to full health, and trains those with the right temperament to work with special needs children. Jodi and her volunteers provide all programs free of charge, supported only through volunteers, grants, and donations.

• Patrick Wood of St. Paul has a deep understanding of Minnesota’s homelessness crisis. Patrick established the Metropolitan Homeless Outreach Project in 1994, to help expand the homeless outreach work of St. Paul’s People Incorporated. Today, Patrick continues to devise creative ways to connect those in need with housing and other social services.

Founded in 1953 and endowed by William L. McKnight and Maude L. McKnight, The McKnight Foundation has assets of approximately $2 billion and granted about $90 million in 2005. McKnight is an independent private philanthropic organization; the Foundation has no relationship with the 3M Company, although Mr. McKnight was one of 3M’s early leaders. Visit www.mcknight.org for more information about the Foundation and its programs.

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Tim Miejan
Tim Miejan is editor & co-publisher of The Edge magazine. Contact him at 651.578.8969 or editor@edgemagazine.net. Visit The Edge online at www.edgemagazine.net.

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