Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is pleased to partner with the McKnight Foundation to present the annual Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards. In partnership with McKnight, 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 Receive:

  • $10,000 cash award.
  • Public recognition by MCN and the McKnight Foundation.
Binger logo
For questions, please contact [email protected].

Congratulations 2023 Award Recipients!

View past recipients

Jessalyn Akerman-Frank
Jessalyn Akerman-Frank, St. Paul, Minnesota
Jessalyn Akerman-Frank is on a mission to advance equity and access for all Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans through education, engagement, and advocacy. She is one of the founders of Deaf Equity and the Annual Deaf LGBTQ+ Awards Program and is a pioneer in closing gaps in the systems that provide services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Her peers say she is recognized locally and nationally for her kindness, compassion, creative thinking, and ability to form beneficial partnerships. A community builder, she hosts an annual cookout that brings together more than 400 Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard of Hearing people to build connections and share resources.

Meet Jessalyn

Natasha Kingbird
Natasha Kingbird - Bagley, Minnesota

Natasha Kingbird has single-handedly supported, advocated for, and served dozens of Native women who are returning home after incarceration. Through her work with the Northwest Indian Community Development Center, and her extraordinary volunteer efforts, she ensures these women are seen, heard, valued, and supported in reunifying with their children and community.

Her commitment comes from her own lived experience with the challenges of life after incarceration. Natasha also advocates for Native women through her work with Mending the Sacred Hoop, the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women task force, through community efforts that address opioid addiction, and through support for victims of sexual and domestic violence and trafficking. She understands what it is like to be in dangerous situations and that it is possible to make positive changes, especially through cultural healing and culturally appropriate spiritual guidance.

Meet Natasha

Julie Malyon
Julie Malyon - Red Wing, Minnesota

Julie Malyon is often referred to as the “ultimate caregiver.” A nurse by training, she spearheaded the creation of the CARE Clinic Red Wing, which provides free medical, mental, and dental health care for the uninsured and underinsured population in Goodhue County.

Her nominators say that she always focuses on where she is most needed in the clinic, not on what her formal job description says, and that her eyes and ears are always open to the needs of the community. The clinic has grown from serving fewer than 1,000 people in 2010 to more than 5,000 today and provides services in both English and Spanish. In addition, as a medical ambassador, she has traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo and trains medical teams that continue to serve the African country.

Meet Julie

Abdi Mukhtar

Abdirahman (Abdi) Mukhtar - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Abdirahman (Abdi) Mukhtar is passionate about the health of the young people in his community. A coach for numerous sports teams, mentor, and passionate youth worker over two decades, he is widely known on the West Bank of Minneapolis and in the Somali American community in Minnesota for his community work.

When he realized opioid overdoses were killing East African young adults in heartbreaking numbers, he set about eliminating the shame that often prevents his Somali community from talking about addiction and getting help for children or grandchildren. He founded Daryeel (the Somali word for “care”) Youth to be a non-judging beacon of light for young people in the throes of active addiction. He welcomes all to his Friday night gatherings, where he supplies food, clean clothing, personal hygiene products, a first aid kit with Narcan, and dressing for wounds. His compassion has earned him the trust of his community, especially parents who are trying to help their children reclaim a healthy life.

Meet Abdi