Special Edition: News from DHS

Minnesota Department of Human Services logo

Special Edition


January 2024

News from DHS archive

Commissioner's Circle of Excellence Awards logo

Ten Minnesota human services organizations representing seven initiatives received Circle of Excellence awards from Commissioner Jodi Harpstead last fall. 

The 2023 award winners 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.

In announcing the winners last fall, Harpstead said: “Each year, we lift up partners who are making real progress toward an equitable Minnesota where all people can achieve their highest potential. 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 awards honor outstanding initiatives and innovations that address critical needs in Minnesota’s communities and help strengthen equity in the human services system. This was the twelfth year of the awards, which DHS started in 2012.

The commissioner traveled to the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Morton, Minneapolis, Mounds View, Northfield and St. Louis Park to present awards. 

More information about the Commissioner's Circle of Excellence Awards is on the DHS website.

Apple Tree Dental, Mounds View

Commissioner Harpstead presents award to Dr. Michael Helgeson, Apple Tree’s co-founder and chief executive officer

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. 

To learn more, check out a DHS video about Apple Tree Dental and its work.

Behavioral Dimensions Inc., St. Louis Park; and
Dakota County Children’s Mental Health, Apple Valley

Mark Oster, Dakota County; Commissioner Harpstead; Jay O’Neill and Dr. Liz Hooks, Behavioral Dimensions

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. 

To learn more, check out a DHS video about Behavioral Dimensions and Dakota County and their award.

Lower Sioux Indian Community, Morton

Commissioner Harpstead with Lower Sioux Indian Community staff and guests

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.

To learn more, check out a DHS video about Lower Sioux Indian Community and their award.

MIGIZI, Minneapolis

Commissioner Harpstead with MIGIZI staff and guests

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.

To learn more, check out a DHS video about MIGIZI and their award.

Pink Cloud Foundation, Minneapolis

Commissioner Harpstead with Travis Winship, Pink Cloud Foundation founder and executive director

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.

To learn more, check out a DHS video about Pink Cloud Foundation and their award.

The Afghan Legal Clinic, Minneapolis

Harpstead; State Refugee Coordinator Rachele King; John Weber of Volunteer Lawyers Network; Katherine Veldhuizen of Advocates for Human Rights

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.

To learn more, check out a DHS video about The Advocates for Human Rights and Volunteer Lawyers Network and their awards.

Tri-City Connections (Austin Aspires and Growing Up Healthy),
Austin, Faribault and Northfield

Austin Aspires' Jayne Gibson, Commissioner Jodi Harpstead and Growing Up Healthy's Jennyffer Barrientos

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.

To learn more, check out a DHS video about Tri-City Connections and their awards.

Quick links

Videos and more photos of the 2023 winners also are on online: 

Accessible formats

For accessible formats of this publication, write to dhs.communications@state.mn.us, call 651-431-2000, or use your preferred relay service.