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The McKnight Foundation, in partnership with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, announces four Minnesotans as recipients of the 2022 Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Award.

The awards are given to individuals who have had a significant impact on the state of Minnesota and its communities, but have not been widely recognized for their work in the past. Each recipient receives a $10,000 cash award. 

This year’s recipients are: 

  • Pat Castellano – Duluth, MN
  • Arlen Johnson – Waite Park, MN
  • HaoPay Lee – Woodbury, MN
  • Carol Mulroy – Saint Paul, MN

Meet The Heroes

Pat Castellano

Arlen Johnson

HaoPay Lee

Carol Mulroy

“We celebrate these four individuals, recognizing the life-changing difference one person can make. They give selflessly to our communities through quiet leadership and commitment to service. We thank them for making Minnesota stronger, kinder, and more inclusive.” 

—Tonya Allen, president of McKnight Foundation

Pat Castellano

Pat Castellano is on a mission to make Duluth’s business district clean, safe, and welcoming. Her colleagues at Lincoln Park Business Group say she has a unique ability to build relationships with business owners, residents, and tourists, calling her a “problem-solver, outside-the-box thinker, and team member who is child- and animal-tested and approved.” Creative, hands-on, and detail-oriented, Patricia has been a museum program director, English and physical education teacher, animal welfare education coordinator, and theater director, producer, and actor. She has devoted hundreds of volunteer hours to Animal Allies, League of Women Voters, and Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program. Throughout all of these roles, her peers note that she does her work quietly and with kindness, never calling attention to herself.

Arlen Johson

At age 89, Arlen Johnson still has work to do. He spends his days at Quiet Oaks Hospice House, providing comfort for those nearing the end of life and their families. For 35 years he was a caregiver to his wife. His journey with her taught him the patience and resilience he now shares daily with others. Recognizing that each person needs help to endure the pain of losing a loved one, Arlen helps lead a grief support group for men called “Guy Talk.” He also organizes and supports veterans’ services at Quiet Oaks. Through the hundreds of hours he has volunteered, Quiet Oaks leaders say that Arlen has become one of the organization’s most valuable assets and a tremendous resource for Central Minnesota.

Carol Mulroy

Carol Mulroy has lived within a three-block radius of Alden Square Park in Saint Paul for 82 of her 85 years. She greets and builds relationships with virtually anyone who might pass by as she tends to her garden or the gardens in the park. She warmly welcomes people new to the neighborhood, especially those who are also new to the country, helping many new immigrant families navigate appointments, paperwork, and bureaucracy. Carol turns her garage into a play area for children in the summer, and her garden shed is filled with lawn and home care tools for folks to borrow. For decades, she has coordinated a vigorous calendar of social events for the neighborhood. A weekly volunteer with the St. Anthony Park Senior Program, she is, neighbors say, the kind of person who will stop whatever she is doing to help a neighbor in need. 

HaoPay Lee

HaoPay Lee is passionate about gender justice. A survivor of violence, she seeks to create a better world for Hmong women and girls. She advocates for culturally-specific domestic and sexual violence services as founder of the Hmong Minnesota Gender Justice Collective. She is also dedicated to empowering BIPOC communities, serving as a board member of MaivPAC, a Hmong American-led political action committee focused on creating an inclusive democracy. HaoPay balances her community service with her role as a single parent to a child with severe special needs. Friends and colleagues celebrate her energy to hold down a full-time job, complete her master’s degree, serve on boards, and provide round-the-clock care for her child, all while standing up for human rights. 

About the McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research. 

About the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) was founded in 1987 to meet the increasing information needs of nonprofits and to convene nonprofits to address issues facing the sector. It is the largest state association of nonprofits in the United States. Through MCN, nonprofits join together across interest areas to work on issues of common concern to all. 

Topic: Diversity Equity & Inclusion

October 2022

English (Canada)