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Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service honor six outstanding Minnesotans

September 10, 2014

Six Minnesotans with long histories of service to their communities will receive the 2014 Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service. The McKnight Foundation will present the awards on Wednesday, September 10, at a private ceremony in Minneapolis.

The $10,000 awards honor Minnesota residents who give their time to improve the lives of people in their communities. This year’s recipients include mentors, healers, community builders, and advocates for the immigrant population. (Awardee names and descriptions of work are below.)

A committee of six people working in human service fields across the state selected the finalists from more than 75 nominations.

The Human Service Awards celebrate the positive impact that one committed individual can make in the lives of others,” says McKnight's board chair Ted Staryk. “We are proud and humbled to recognize these awardees’ good work. As every year, we hope their stories inspire others to follow their lead.”

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.

Candidates for the awards are nominated confidentially by someone familiar with their work. No one may apply for them directly. Counting this year’s recipients, 283 individuals, including nine pairs, have received the awards.

Over the past 30 years, McKnight has shifted the number of awardees, adjusted the dollar amount, and refined the criteria to better align with programmatic developments at McKnight. In 2014, the awards will evolve again, through a new partnership with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to extend the awards’ reach and visibility, and create new opportunities to celebrate Minnesotans giving selflessly to help each other. Visit in spring 2015 for information about next year’s awards process.

About The McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations through grantmaking, collaboration, and encouragement of strategic policy reform.Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Minnesota-based family Foundation had assets of approximately $2 billion and granted about $86 million in 2013. Learn more at, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

2014 Awards in Human Service recipient profiles

Brenda Anderson of Waseca reaches out to kids who have lived in multiple foster homes and have lost contact with family, as well as former teachers, coaches, and mentors. Many have never had someone who believed in them. An intensive trauma specialist at Anu Family Services, Brenda is a patient, compassionate listener,and her kind demeanor has allowed breakthroughs when others have given up. During her career, she has found permanent homes or connections for nearly all the youth with whom she has worked.

Barbara Fabre of Ogema advocates for early childhood training and development on the White Earth Reservation, where her first job as a child care teacher assistant grew into a 27-year career. As director of the White Earth Child Care / Early Childhood Program, she is responsible for launching numerous initiatives to create a holistic approach to serving families and delivering exceptional child care options to the White Earth Tribe. Initially the lone employee, she now oversees a staff of 15, and the child care program has grown to offer services such as parent mentors, literacy programs, and community events.

Liz Kuoppala of Moorhead became the director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless in 2009, after working there for seven years. She took over the leadership role just as the economy collapsed. In the beginning,she was scarcely paid (and in fact cut her own salary to hire a policy director), yet she quietly pulled the organization from financial crisis, developing a powerful voice for homeless Minnesotans at the State Capitol. In 2011, she helped launch Homes for All, one of the most effective alliances of homeless advocates in Minnesota. This year, Homes for All passed an unprecedented $100 million in bonds for housing.

Juan Linares of St. Paul has strengthened the voices of underrepresented communities for more than 30 years. An immigrant to Minnesota from Mexico in 1977, Juan’s natural leadership and bilingual skills quickly made him the “go to” person for other Latino immigrants and migrant workers. Asa community organizer, he helped establish weekly services in Spanish at Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, among the first churches in the Twin Citiesto do so. Juan was also a driving force behind the development of the thriving Mercado Central marketplace in Minneapolis.           

Susan Neis of Minneapolis joined Cornerstone Advocacy Service in 1985, when the organization was located in a tiny room in a local church in Bloomington with a handful of volunteers. With Susan as its executive director, Cornerstone has since expanded to a staff of 80. The team provides round-the-clock crisis counseling,emergency shelter services, a transitional housing program, and innovative programs for children in schools and therapeutic settings. Cornerstone now provides services to victims in 10 cities across Hennepin County and is on track to serve 4,000 individuals in 2014.

Melissa Eagle Uhlmann of Rochester has made it her mission to help make immigrants’ transition to the United States less daunting. For five years she has volunteered 15 to 20 hours a week at the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association (IMAA), in addition to her roles as a registered nurse, wife,and mother of five. During her tenure at IMAA, Melissa has developed curriculum and served as an instructor of pre-certified nursing assistant and nursing assistant training courses and a medical interpreter training course.

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