DHS News Release - Tribal Nation and human services organizations honored for innovative ways they serve Minnesotans

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Oct. 12, 2023

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Scott Peterson




Tribal Nation and human services organizations honored for innovative ways they serve Minnesotans

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is honoring the dedication and innovative work of 10 partners that support Minnesotans to achieve their highest potential.

The winners of this year’s Commissioner’s Circle of Excellence Awards provide essential services to refugees, Indigenous youth and elders, families with children, people who have public health insurance and people who are starting their recovery journeys. Innovations include offering Indigenous food options and caring for pets so their owners can enter substance use disorder treatment.

Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead will present the first awards to Tri-City Connections at an event in Northfield on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Tri-City Connections is a partnership that serves the communities of Austin, Faribault and Northfield with a collaborative approach to improving early education and child care access for children and families, particularly children of color.

“Each year, we lift up partners who are making real progress toward an equitable Minnesota where all people can achieve their highest potential,” Harpstead said. “We are so proud of all the ways this year’s award winners are applying community knowledge and innovative ideas to solve persistent problems. Their work has a remarkable impact on our state.”

The annual human services awards honor outstanding initiatives and innovations that address critical needs in Minnesota’s communities and help strengthen equity in the human services system. This is the twelfth year of the awards, which DHS started in 2012. 

This year’s winners—representing seven initiatives—are:

  • Apple Tree Dental, Mounds View
  • Behavioral Dimensions Inc., St. Louis Park; and Dakota County Children’s Mental Health, Apple Valley
  • Lower Sioux Indian Community, Morton
  • MIGIZI, Minneapolis
  • Pink Cloud Foundation, Minneapolis
  • The Afghan Legal Clinic (The Advocates for Human Rights and Volunteer Lawyers Network), Minneapolis
  • Tri-City Connections (Austin Aspires and Growing Up Healthy), Austin, Faribault and Northfield

More details are below.

Apple Tree Dental, Mounds View: The nonprofit critical access dental organization has nine Centers for Dental Health and mobile programs that deliver year-round, on-site care in collaboration with about 150 organizations, ranging from Head Start programs and schools to group homes and long-term care facilities. Founded in 1985, Apple Tree serves patients of all ages and abilities, providing a full range of special care services for children and adults. More than 84% of Apple Tree’s patients are enrolled in Minnesota’s public health care programs. In 2022, Apple Tree provided 92,765 visits and screenings and delivered services valued at over $36 million.

Behavioral Dimensions Inc., St. Louis Park; and Dakota County Children’s Mental Health, Apple Valley: The Critical Care Unit for Behavioral Supports program is an intensive in-home behavior intervention program serving children and adolescents with complex mental and behavioral health needs who are at risk of being placed outside their home (for example, in foster care or long-term hospitalization). A team of mental health professionals and behavior analysts works alongside youth, their family and affected community members to stabilize continuous crisis events. The team provides intensive services in collaboration with Children’s Mental Health services in Dakota County. They also provide behavior consultation services to a wider range of people in Dakota County and several counties in central and southern Minnesota.

Lower Sioux Indian Community, Morton: Cansa’yapi Kan (Elders) is a program that works toward reinstating the role of elders within the Tribe as a strategy to transfer knowledge and promote healing and well-being for the elders in the community. This includes leveraging senior and intergenerational activities at the new Tribal learning center. A commercial and teaching kitchen has been added for congregate meals and activities. The program also features a chef and offers Indigenous-based food options. 

MIGIZI, Minneapolis: MIGIZI, meaning bald eagle in the Ojibwe language, provides a strong circle of support that nurtures the educational, social, economic and cultural development of American Indian youth. MIGIZI offers three programs for young people: First Person Productions, Green Tech Internship and CLAW After School.

First Person Productions is a paid media internship aimed at empowering young people to be the next generation of Native storytellers through film, podcasting and social media marketing. High schoolers who participate in the Green Tech Internship are paid to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics from an Indigenous perspective while getting hands-on experience in the renewable and green energy fields. The CLAW program nurtures the cultural identity, leadership development, academic achievements and overall well-being of Native youth. The comprehensive program provides both in- and out-of-school opportunities and support to help young people thrive.

Pink Cloud Foundation, Minneapolis: Partnering with more than 50 treatment centers, six state correctional facilities and nearly 100 recovery homes, Pink Cloud Foundation has become widely recognized as a top recovery resource in Minnesota for people in early recovery and their care providers. It provides sober housing assistance, support services and critical resources to people seeking long-term recovery from substance use disorder. In four years, the organization has helped place nearly 700 people into sober housing, launched innovative programming to offer pet fostering services to pet owners who need substance use disorder treatment, and increased awareness of substance use disorder through community outreach during the opioid crisis.

The Afghan Legal Clinic, Minneapolis: The Afghan Legal Clinic is a partnership of The Advocates for Human Rights and Volunteer Lawyers Network. The Minneapolis-based human rights nonprofits established the clinic in 2021 to provide individualized immigration legal services to Afghan evacuees in Minnesota who needed help with cases ranging from asylum and immigration visas to employment authorization. Staff and volunteer attorneys have helped hundreds of evacuees who otherwise would not have had the resources to apply for immigration status that allows them to stay in the U.S. temporarily or permanently. The clinic has navigated its work while adapting to the ever-changing legal, legislative and funding landscape—and engaging directly with community organizations and evacuees to keep the community informed.

Tri-City Connections (Austin Aspires and Growing Up Healthy), Austin, Faribault and Northfield: This initiative includes Austin Aspires, which serves Austin, and Growing Up Healthy, which serves Faribault and Northfield. The three communities work collaboratively to improve early education and child care access for children and families, particularly children of color. In each community, bilingual early childhood navigators lead outreach to pregnant people and families with young children. Tri-City Connections also offers resource hubs and neighborhood events to improve families’ access to resources and social connections and gives feedback to partners about systems-level changes to improve services for local children and families.

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