The outstanding among us

The McKnight Foundation today announced the winners of the Virginia McKnight Binger awards honoring six individuals for their human service work. It’s a day that surely will lead many people into a guilt trip by comparison. The most impressive part of the news release, however, is that over 100 people were nominated.

Here are the winners as supplied by McKnight:

Abdi Ali of Minneapolis launched a study to investigate the causes of homelessness for Somali youth and the cultural competency of organizations working with them. In 2006, his findings led him to create the Center for Multicultural Mediation and Restorative Justice Program, combining principles of restorative justice and the indigenous values of East Africans to address the needs of Somali youth in crisis.

(See MPR profile)

Jerry Fleischaker of Minneapolis dedicated himself to street outreach after his wife’s death from Alzheimer’s disease in 2002 and reading a newspaper article about an agency serving homeless individuals with mental health issues. He now volunteers fulltime for St. Stephen’s Human Services Street Outreach program, spending at least three shifts each week on the streets, striving to end homelessness.

Dan Hunt of St. Paul has served as director of housing for Urban Homeworks for eight years with responsibility for 53 units in the Twin Cities, maintaining the properties and supporting families in need of low-income housing. Not content to simply provide dignified housing, Dan has gone above and beyond the duties of a typical landlord — including donating a kidney to a tenant undergoing dialysis for kidney failure.

Peg Johnson of Duluth founded Little Treasures Childcare and Family Center, a nonprofit, enriched early care and education center whose mission is to serve families who are at risk or facing additional stress in their lives. Most of her clients are low income and receive childcare assistance; some are in chemical treatment programs, seeking employment or trying to regain custody of their children.

Cynthia McArthur of St. Paul created the “Bikes for Clients” program at the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) in 1998. In 2009, she obtained, repaired, and arranged delivery of 50 bikes for CVT clients and their family members. A former bike mechanic and a 14-year volunteer with CVT, Cynthia can no longer ride a bicycle herself due to a chronic illness, but she takes joy in sharing her gift and aiding in others’ healing process.

(See MPR profile)

Berlyn Staska of Owatonna served four years of active duty in the Korean War, and has been a bugler with the VFW and American Legion Honor Squad since 1975. In addition to playing at more than 1,700 veteran funerals during the past 35 years, Berlyn has directly impacted the Owatanna community through his volunteer roles, including organizing a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate and delivering meals through Meals on Wheels.

(See Habitat for Humanity profile)

Ruben Rosario wrote an oustanding series of profiles of the winners.

Who would you have nominated for the prestigious honor? If you had more time (or money or motivation or….), what cause would you be supporting?

  • Kim E

    I notice that 5 of 6 of the winners work on some aspect of poverty, and many with people who are at risk of/are experiencing homelessness. (However, I imagine that the clients of CVT are also statistically low-income, which makes 6 of 6 winners.) I appreciate the McKnight Foundation choosing these 6 individuals and drawing attention to the populations they serve, as these are populations that still need a lot of help. Congrats to these winners, and thank you for your service!