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Six Minnesotans win prestigious Virginia McKnight Binger service awards

Six Minnesotans have won this year’s Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service, which come with a $10,000 prize.

The McKnight Foundation has given the awards each year since 1985 to “recognize Minnesotans who demonstrate the difference one person can make in helping others.”

They are named for Virginia McKnight Binger, former Foundation chair and president. She died in 2002. Her parents, William and Maude McKnight, established the foundation.

This year’s winners and their descriptions are:

  • Nancy Guenette of Minneapolis worked for nearly 20 years as a mentor to Minneapolis high school and college students. Before retiring in 2008, Nancy was an adviser with Minneapolis Community and Technical College’s TRiO/Talent Search Project. She also served as a mentor for both the Page Education Foundation and the Wallin Scholarship Program, volunteering hundreds of hours to tutor students and help them apply for financial aid.
  • Mohamed Hassan Osman of Columbia Heights co-founded the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota, the Dugsi Charter School, and the Somali American Education Program. These organizations — which offer employment programs, social service offerings, educational support, and community events — have provided hundreds of Somali youth and adults with the foundational elements for lifelong success.
  • Ken Porwoll of Roseville has given free haircuts for the past 25 years to clients at the Listening House, a homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul. In 1942, Ken was sent to the Philippines during World War II and later spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war. It was this POW experience that led Ken to the Listening House, which he says gave him a natural affinity for those in need.
  • John Poupart of West St. Paul overcame chemical dependency and homelessness to receive a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University. As facilitator of the Dakota Ojibwe Language Revitalization Alliance, John brought together American Indian elders, linguists, young people, public school staff and others to develop one of the few statewide indigenous language revitalization efforts in the United States.
  • Linda Riddle of Duluth has worked tirelessly as an advocate for women and children in Minnesota since fleeing an abusive marriage in 1987. After a stint volunteering, Linda served for 15 years as director of Houston County Women’s Resources. She moved to Duluth in 2007 to lead the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, an organization internationally renowned for its model of responding to domestic violence.
  • Renee Tomatz of Hibbing devotes herself to educating and motivating others, often using storytelling as a means to do so. The founder and former director of the Family Investment Center in Hibbing, Renee has helped launch dozens of programs during the past 15 years, including the Hibbing Soup Kitchen, the Hibbing Food Shelf, the Clothes Closet, and Project Warmth.

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