Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards

2023 nominations are now closed. Thank you to everyone who nominated their Unsung Hero!

Award recipients will be announced this Fall.

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is pleased to announce the annual Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards. In partnership with the McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation that advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive, four Minnesotans, two from the Twin Cities metro and two from Greater Minnesota, will each receive $10,000 in recognition of the significant impact they have had on the state of Minnesota and its communities. 

Award Criteria

A Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero is an individual who has had a significant impact on the state of Minnesota and its communities. This individual:

  • Has played a significant role on creating a positive impact on Minnesota and its communities.
  • Has not been widely recognized for their work in the past.

Award Eligibility

  • Nominees do not have to be employed at an organization to be eligible, but may be volunteers, board members, or service staff of nonprofits.
  • Nominees must be Minnesota residents.
  • Self-nominations will not be accepted.
  • Nominees may not be past Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Award or Human Services Award recipients.

Recipients will receive:

  • $10,000 cash award.
  • Public recognition by MCN and the McKnight Foundation.
Binger logo
2023 Nominations are now closed.

2023 award recipients will be announced in September.

For questions, please contact

Congratulations 2022 Award Recipients!

View past recipients

Patricia Castellano
Pat Castellano - Duluth, Minnesota
Pat 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, Pat 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. 

Learn more about Pat's volunteer work across Duluth.

Arlen Johnson
Arlen Johnson - Waite Park, Minnesota

At age 88, Arlen 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.

Learn more about Arlen's work at Quiet Oaks.

HaoPay Lee
HaoPay Lee - Woodbury, Minnesota

HaoPay 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, an Hmong American-led political action committee focused on creating an inclusive democracy.

Friends and colleagues cite 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.

Learn more about HaoPay's work in the gender justice movement.

Carol Mulroy

Carol Mulroy - Saint Paul, Minnesota
Carol 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 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, neighbors say she is the kind of person who will stop whatever she is doing to help a neighbor in need.

Learn more about Carol's community engagement work in Saint Paul.