Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards

2022 award nominations are closed.

2022 award recipients will be announced at MCN's 2022 Annual Conference, October 13

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.
  • Recognition at the 2022 MCN Annual Conference, October 13 & 14.

2022 Nominations were open Monday, May 2, 2022 - Monday, May 30, 2022, 11:30pm CST.

Binger logo
2022 nominations are closed. Thank you to everyone who nominated their Unsung Hero! 

Stay tuned for the announcement of 2022 Award Recipients in October.

For questions, please contact

Congratulations 2021 Award Recipients!

View past recipients 
Features by Pollen Midwest

Ruth Evangelista 300x300
Ruth Evangelista - Bloomington
Ruth knows the data: the benefits of early childhood education last long into adulthood. She also knows the importance of creating access to quality early childhood care and education for communities that don’t receive adequate support. As a founder of La Red Latina de Educación Temprana (The Latino Early Child Care Provider Network), she has a simple vision for quality childcare: “Happy and educated children.”

“I love to take care of children, but I need resources — tools,” she told Ruth. “I want to do what’s best for the children.”

So, Ruth started talking with the other caregivers. She worked with them to identify their needs and created La Red to find ways to meet them. Under Ruth’s leadership, La Red now provides support and education for caregivers, including nutrition best practices, resources for meeting children’s unique needs, cultural and linguistic trainings, and guidance on adhering to state and federal laws.

Ruth believes that anyone, with the right support, can be capable of providing quality child care, regardless of formal training.

Learn more about Ruth's community-centered childhood education work.

Richard Howell 300x300
Richard Howell - Duluth

When Richard Howell was released from prison in 2009, he got turned down for housing again and again. He experienced first-hand the ways our rental and housing markets exclude returning citizens who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. “How am I supposed to be a productive citizen if I don’t have the basic need of housing?” he asks. It’s an urgent question for a state with around 5,000 returning citizens in a given year.

Rather than lose hope, his experience inspired Richard to work to find rental housing for people with felony backgrounds, while also helping them stabilize their lives.

“I wanted people to have a way to move forward,” he says.

This is one example of many where Richard sees opportunities where others see problems.  Richard sees opportunities everywhere — for connection, for change, or for new and better systems. He has launched addiction recovery programs, organized housing for people with felonies, collected resources for people to help them survive COVID-19, and now works helping young people transition from school to jobs.

Learn more about Richard's work building opportunity in community.

KingDemetrius Pendleton 300x300
KingDemetrius Pendleton - St. Paul

KingDemetrius Pendleton always has a camera with him.

“My camera is my weapon, my choice,” he says. “When you are documenting the truth, the truth deserves no apology. Once you see something, you can’t deny it. And once you know the truth, you’re able to act on it.”

A photographer and journalist, KingDemetrius understands the power and importance of stories. In 2015 when police killed Jamar Clark in North Minneapolis, KingDemetrius brought his camera out to the site. As he bore witness and spoke with others who were there, he noticed the difference between what he was seeing and hearing, and what mainstream media was portraying. He recalled the words of Malcom X: "The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and make the guilty innocent."

Since then he has been photographing and livestreaming events revolving mainly around racial justice.

Learn more about KingDemetrius' community voice and truth telling work.

Rawhi Said 300x300
Rawhi Said - Rochester
When Rawhi Said was two years old, he and his family came to Minnesota as refugees from their native Bosnia. “This state and this community have really given me and my family a lot,” he says.

In 2016 Rawhi began working as a community health worker for the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association (IMAA), an organization that provides assistance for refugees and immigrants. Two years later, IMAA tasked Rawhi with creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program.

In 2020, as the pandemic deepened, more students transitioned to online learning, and many people began working from home. This exposed the depths of the digital divide in Rawhi’s community. Rawhi responded with a Whole Family Systems program, working with families to understand and navigate their digital needs.

Whether helping people see things from a new perspective, or working to make the internet accessible to everyone, serving as a Commissioner for the Olmsted County Human Rights Commission, Rawhi’s work centers around equity.

Learn more about Rawhi's work centering equity in greater Minnesota.