MEET TEN OF THE MOST INSPIRING AND ACCOMPLISHED NONPROFIT STARS FROM ACROSS MINNESOTA.
MEET TEN OF THE MOST INSPIRING AND ACCOMPLISHED NONPROFIT STARS FROM ACROSS MINNESOTA.
With an introduction by Bev Bachel
$1.5 trillion. That’s the size of the national nonprofit economy.
There’s the executive director seeking ways to diversify revenue streams. The campaign volunteer encouraging people to vote. The retired business owner mentoring a young entrepreneur. The neighborhood advocate seeking fundraising advice. The cancer survivors sharing their stories through dance.
Some are high-profile change makers with recognizable names. Others are heroes working behind the scenes. All contribute their time, energy, and enthusiasm to make a difference in the lives of Minnesotans.
And while some people still believe that age is a reason to slow down and withdraw, our ten Nonprofit 50 Over 50 honorees prove that age is no reason to disengage. On the contrary.
Take this year’s oldest honoree, Fran Heitzman, who at 91, spends his days moving furniture for Bridging, the nonprofit organization he founded at age 61. Or Margaret Lovejoy, 73, who cashed in her retirement accounts to create The Family Place, a day center for families without permanent housing. Or 51-year-old Kausar Hussain, board chair of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who fights to protect the rights of our state’s Muslim community.
Very directly, these three and all of this year’s nonprofit honorees play a vital role in our quality of life by creating safe harbors for the vulnerable, providing essential services to the disenfranchised, raising awareness of tough issues to help make the world more just, and helping us all see the good in one another. In the process, they’re shattering stereotypes, becoming role models, and inspiring nonprofit leaders and volunteers of all ages.
Retired, not retiring
Terri Barreiro, 67, shows no sign of aging out of the important work she does in the nonprofit sector. Recently retired founding director of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, she led the charge to establish Impact Hub MSP, a membership-based community of entrepreneurs, activists, and others who are addressing our community’s most pressing needs. A member of the organization’s board, she also serves as its “whatever-it-takes” officer, spending three days a week fundraising, developing partnerships, and coaching members. No wonder she says she flunked retirement. Terri’s also played a key role in the formation and success of eleven other local nonprofits including the Greater Twin Cities United Way, where she worked for two decades. In her “down time” Terri also teaches classes on social entrepreneurship and philanthropy as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Creating better ways to serve Minnesotans of all ages
After a successful 24-year career as a corporate executive, 57-year-old Jodi Harpstead, now CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS), is working to tackle one of Minnesota’s most pressing issues: youth homelessness. One way she’s doing so is via her organization’s Duluth Center for Changing Lives, which broke ground earlier this year and is expected to become a model for ending youth homelessness in Minnesota. But Jodi’s focus isn’t only on the young. Under her leadership, LSS has also developed Abundant Aging, a statewide initiative to help older Minnesotans stay in their homes and continue to contribute to their communities. Both LSS programs are perfect examples of “neighbors taking care of neighbors,” a philosophy Jodi firmly believes can help all people live full, meaningful lives.
Healing and empowering women through advocacy and counseling
Candice Harshner, 67, is the executive director of Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, a nonprofit rape crisis center in southern St. Louis County that is committed to ending sexual violence in the county. Under Candice’s leadership, the organization has become a national leader in innovative delivery of sexual assault support services. Through collaborations with hospitals, police, county attorneys, and government entities, Candice’s work has a ripple effect of inspiring others to treat sexual violence survivors with dignity and respect. Candice bridges divides in the social service system, increasing safety for the most vulnerable members of her community, those disproportionately affected by sexual abuse and violence.
Bringing good people together to make good things happen
Thirty years ago, Fran Heitzman, a former business owner and entrepreneur, spent his days as a church custodian. Today, at the age of 91, he spends his days moving furniture for Bridging, the nonprofit organization he founded in 1987. Billed as the “largest furniture bank in the country,” Bridging provides new and gently used furniture to people in need, so far helping transform more than 75,000 households into heartwarming homes (and saving millions of pounds of waste from entering our state’s landfills). Fran defies outdated beliefs about aging by working six days a week at Bridging, greeting and shopping with clients, meeting with donors, and speaking to groups. No wonder he says his calendar is so full. His heart is, too, thanks to his oft-repeated philosophy of life: “When good people get together and do good things, then good things happen!”
Protecting the rights of Minnesota’s Islamic community
Islamophobia. To many Minnesotans, it’s an everyday problem. Thank goodness for 51-year-old Kausar Hussain, board chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR-MN), a free legal services nonprofit that helps racial, religious, and ethnic minorities facing discrimination. Under Kausar’s leadership, the organization resolves nearly 200 cases each year. Some are related to hate crimes and vandalism, others to racial and religious profiling, employment discrimination, and school bullying. CAIR-MN also fosters understanding through its “Know Your Rights” training for individuals and “Positive Interactions” training for employers. Not afraid to challenge the status quo, Kausar is the first woman to run for president of a Minnesota mosque, thus becoming a role model for all Minnesota Muslim girls and women.
Water: a refreshing way to turn today’s students into tomorrow’s philanthropists
New Brighton Mayor Val Johnson, 58, took a big risk in 2010 when she left a 35-year-career to co-found H20 for Life, a nonprofit that provides schools, youth groups, and faith-based organizations with service-learning opportunities that raise awareness of the world’s water crisis. Students raise money—over $1 million so far—to fund water, sanitation, and hygiene education for schools in the developing world. Val also founded Roundabout Ventures to help nonprofits in the water and sanitation sector find new funding sources. She also serves as the North American representative of Rotary International’s Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group.
A St. Paul community champion
Fifty-five-year-old Matt Kramer, president of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, works tirelessly to ensure a strong, vibrant community for all. That means developing action-oriented solutions to help our region retain talented professionals of color. It also means helping to launch East Metro Strong, a public-private partnership of businesses, cities, and counties, all working together to bring more and better transit to St. Paul’s East Metro to catalyze job growth and economic development. Matt was an early—and vocal—supporter of the St. Paul’s CHS Field and its new proposed major league soccer stadium. He also serves on the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and is a board member of Como Friends and Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Providing a place for families in transition
Fifteen years ago, Margaret Lovejoy, now age 73, cashed in her retirement accounts to create The Family Place, a St. Paul day center for families without permanent housing for which she has since raised more than $6 million. The center provides meals and a safe, comfortable learning environment for people of all ages to enhance their living situation. The center also features the nation’s only Montessori program for children in transition, a leadership program for youth, as well as a 16-week life skills course for parents. Topics include parenting, wellness, financial literacy, and tenant rights, a subject area that shows families just how much The Family Place believes this is a temporary period in their lives as they move to a new home.
A lifelong commitment to saving the wilderness
In 1963, Rebecca Rom was featured in the national magazine Seventeen for arguing in favor of the Wilderness Act at her Ely high school on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Fifty years and a full career later, Rebecca returned to Ely and founded the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, a national coalition of “wilderness warriors” speaking out to gain permanent protection for the area. Past president of The Wilderness Society governing council and current vice chair of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, Rebecca, now 67, enjoys canoeing and skiing in the area she helps protect for future generations.
Continually driving Minnesota improvements
Fifty-three-year-old Paul Williams is a man with a mission: to make Minnesota better. When he worked at the St. Paul Foundation, “better” meant creating a culturally-specific endowment serving Minnesota’s Native American, Pan-African, Latino, and Asian communities. When he worked at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, “better” meant investing in safer and more vibrant inner city neighborhoods. When he was St. Paul’s Deputy Mayor, “better” meant ensuring investment in the areas around the new light rail line. And now, as the CEO of Project for Pride in Living, a nonprofit that helps low-income people become self-reliant, “better” means helping people find both employment and affordable housing.
To all ten nonprofit honorees, I and my fellow Minnesotans say thank you for proving the power of Fran Heitzman’s philosophy: that when good people get together and do good things, good things happen.
This is the second of a five-part series celebrating the inaugural 50 Over 50 recognizing Minnesotans over the age of fifty who have made significant contributions and achievements in their communities.
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