A little spotlight for some large hearts

Earlier today at a news conference the 2016 Pathfinder Award Recipients were announced. I have had the honor to assist in a small portion of the process and each year walk away amazed and energized from the kind, brave and deliberate souls that reside across Greater Mankato. There are many, too many to ever name, honor and rise up. But today, two individuals and one business got a little spotlight for their large hearts and good deeds. Read on to learn more about each of them.


L to R: Bud Lawrence, Brian Benshoof (MRCI WorkSource) and Elora Greiner

Pathfinder Award Recipient:  Bud Lawrence

The Pathfinder Award recognizes adults or organizations that, in the spirit of Dr. King, are initiators or action takers in the struggle for equal treatment and human rights.  The award represents the ideal that all people should be treated fairly and equally without the fear of discrimination on any basis.

Bud Lawrence is being honored for his work and commitment to equality and his belief that education and fostering community relations is the key to ensuring that all people in our society reach their full potential. Bud has worked with the Mankato Area Public Schools to work on curriculum changes for the PowWow. The school district was committed to ensuring that the story and portrayal of the American Indian heritage was taught with historical and cultural accuracy. Bud assisted by identifying and contacting a diverse team of people to develop the resources needed.

Additionally, in April 2011 Hereditary Chief Ernest Wabasha and his wife Vernell met with representatives from the Blue Earth County Historical Society to discuss recommendations for programming in recognition of the 150 Anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. Vernell commented that the buffalo at Reconciliation Park was not complete. She would like to see the names of the 38 that were executed there. Bud was one of the individuals who worked tirelessly to produce a memorial that is intended to bring peace, reconciliation, and healing.  The dedication occurred December 26, 2012.

Either directly or indirectly Bud’s efforts have led to the construction of Heritage Hall at South Central College and the Traverse Des Sioux Treaty Site History Center. Bud is also an adviser for the Diversity Foundation, Inc.

Bud was honored in 1990 by the Martin Luther King Jr., Commemorative Board for his vision and his work in organizing the PowWow in hopes of reconciling the deep and bitterly emotional cultural divisions, a result of the Dakota Conflict, by bringing people together to work through those hurts. Since that time, his commitment to bringing people together across cultures has grown as has his impact on the Mankato community.

Reconciliation is a mainstay of Bud’s character. He has bridged the gap and continues to bring people together in peace.

Young Pathfinder Award Recipient: Elora Greiner

The Young Pathfinder Award was created in 2002 to recognize the hard work, commitment and courage displayed by area young people and organizations of young people as they strive, in the spirit of Dr. King, to achieve fair and equal treatment for all, healthy communities and peaceful resolution to conflicts.

This year’s recipient, Elora Greiner, was a freshman and new to East High School when she realized that East did not have a formal club or space for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community in which students could feel supported and safe. As a sophomore, Elora decided to found a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) chapter at East. Since forming the chapter, Elora, now a junior, and GSA have sponsored a Day of Silence, reached out to the community, attended Pridefest, and hosted booths representing their chapter. GSA has bi-monthly meetings and is hoping to use this platform to inform and support students, families, and instructors about fair and equal treatment of the LGBT community.

Elora is helping students in the LGBTQ community to feel connected to one another and to have a safe space to discuss unique issues facing this group of individuals. Elora is enhancing her leadership skills by serving on a Leadership Council at the state level with a GSA Network group sponsored by Out Front Minnesota.  Students and families have been referred to the East GSA group by school staff for help in finding a voice, overcoming fears and barriers, and finding available resources.

This year GSA is hoping to promote a “Hate-Free Week” dedicated to peacefully achieving equality for all who suffer or have suffered from discrimination.

Business Pathfinder Award Recipient:  MRCI WorkSource

The Business Pathfinder Award was established in 2003 and is presented by Greater Mankato Growth, Inc. to recognize businesses that strive for equal treatment, human rights and non-violence in the workplace.

This year’s recipient, MRCI WorkSource has worked with area employers to create opportunities for those who are at risk from becoming disenfranchised from the workforce since 1953. They have worked to find mutually beneficial employment solutions for adult rehabilitation and businesses. MRCI is one of Minnesota’s largest and most diverse providers of employment and day services.

Today, MRCI participates in the lives of more than 4,000 individuals located throughout southern Minnesota including the Twin Cities Metro Area. The organization has grown from playing a role in several local economies, to becoming a major contributor of the region’s economy. They serve more people today than ever before through innovative employment programs including Community Employment, Client Directed Services, Center-Based Employment, Day Training & Habilitation, and the Welfare to Work program, among several others.

Dr. King’s ideals included equality of access. MRCI provides a service that creates access to self-sufficiency, self-reliance and sense of self-worth.

On a daily basis, MRCI staff create opportunities that promote fair and equal opportunity to earn an income.  MRCI’s clientele would face significant challenges in maintaining employment without the additional coaching and support services provided by MRCI WorkSource.

MRCI also plays an educational role to area businesses. Some employers may not be aware of the extreme talent and capacity of their clients. By sitting down with a business owner and talking about the skill sets MRCI clients bring to the table, MRCI staff is able to eliminate undeserved stigmas associated with their clients.  MRCI staff work to make sure both the employer and employees understand each other to create and deliver the most successful partnerships.

31st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration
These Pathfinder Award recipients will be honored at the 31st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration on Monday, January 18 5:30 p.m at Minnesota State University, Mankato in the Centennial Student Union Ballroom. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the door.

Learn more at greatermankato.com/pathfinder-awards.