The Minnesota Department of Human Services is recognizing organizations that have partnered with the agency and done an exemplary job of providing access to food, health care and other assistance to Minnesotans in need. This is the 10th year the department’s Circle of Excellence Awards are being awarded. This year, special consideration was given to COVID-19-related efforts.
“The challenges our communities are facing require us to rethink how we do our work to ensure people are able to meet their basic needs,” said Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “The organizations we’re honoring this year have partnered together and stepped up in really creative ways to ensure all Minnesotans have access to essential services.”
The six winners, who will receive their awards in the weeks ahead, beginning with Lutheran Social Service Willmar Youth Services in a virtual event Dec. 15, are:
American Indian Food Security Work Group members
- For their work to create access to nutritious, stable food and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. The honorees are: Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Prairie Island Indian Community, Red Lake Nation, Upper Sioux Indian Community, White Earth Nation, American Indian Community Housing Organization, Department of Indian Work, Division of Indian Work and Northwest Indian Community Development Center.
- Governor Walz established the American Indian Food Security Work Group in recognition of tribal sovereignty and the unique status of American Indians. COVID-19 exacerbated existing food insecurity for American Indians due to closures of services and businesses including the casinos, which are a main source of employment for community members. Working together with state agencies, the group members successfully established or enhanced food distribution programs and bridged multiple programs, funding streams, and available food sources to secure essential resources so no one will be put into harm’s way to access food.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Metro Transit
- For creating mobile COVID vaccination units to reach out to underserved communities. Metro Transit mechanics retrofitted six buses that Metro Transit drivers piloted across the state, carrying associates from Blue Cross to vaccinate more than 7,200 people at 170 unique sites in 42 Minnesota counties.
- They visited affordable housing complexes, places of worship, county fairs, workplaces, senior living centers and events to ensure fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine, especially among at-risk and marginalized populations. Blue Cross and Metro Transit collaborated with the Minnesota Departments of Health and Transportation, as well as local public health officials, on this effort.
Hennepin County, Olmsted County, Wabasha County, Wright County, and Code for America
- For collaborating with DHS to create mnbenefits.mn.gov, a simplified online application for nine of Minnesota’s public assistance programs. The mobile-friendly app is available in English and Spanish (with more languages coming). Applications can be completed in just 13 minutes. The previous application took 1 hour.
- MNbenefits is a boon to Minnesotans applying for benefits and has created efficiencies for DHS, county and tribal nation staff, boosting their collective capacity to provide more timely service.
Lutheran Social Service Willmar Youth Services
- Deputy Commissioner Nikki Farago selected Lutheran Social Service Willmar Youth Services for its work during COVID to support students in the Minnesota Education and Training Voucher program. The program provides up to $5,000 a year to help students under the age of 26 who have aged out of foster care pay for college tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies and living expenses. Youth who are awarded a voucher receive fiscal management assistance and support from Lutheran Social Service.
- Their work was especially important during the pandemic, given that many students had no other support as they transitioned to online learning and, in some cases, finding new housing, food support and other resources. Staff supported them as they acquired new life skills and made important decisions regarding the future.
North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems
- For responding to food insecurity made worse by the pandemic, as well as the George Floyd murder and related unrest. The group mobilized a team at the Indigenous Food Lab in Minneapolis to get healthy Indigenous foods out to those in need.
- Over the winter of 2020-2021, the Indigenous Food Lab, in partnership with the Minnesota Board on Aging, distributed nearly 80,000 culturally appropriate meals to tribal elders and families across Minnesota, impacting nine of the 11 Minnesota tribes and coordinating with seven Native nonproﬁt organizations.
Red Lake Nation
- For transforming their approach and service delivery system to be rooted in Anishinaabe language, culture, traditions, beliefs, and values. Ombimindwaa Gidinawemaaganinaadog (Uplifting Our Relatives) focuses on inter-generational family wellness which includes physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and cultural wellness for each family member inclusive to each hill of life – infancy, adolescence, adulthood and elderhood.
- The framework is person-centered; trauma and resiliency focused; and is grounded in the Anishinaabe worldview, the Seven Grandfather teachings, the National Association of Social Work code of ethics and cultural humility.
Circle of Excellence Awards winners were selected based on how well they met the following award criteria:
- Supports the DHS mission to help people meet their basic needs so they can live in dignity and achieve their highest potential.
- Contributes to current DHS goals and priority projects.
- Demonstrates best practices.
- Achieves results that impact clients.
- Partners with others in the human services system.
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