People and Places — September 2021

Refugees who make a difference are honored Refugees who have made a positive difference throughout Minnesota were honored this summer […]

Refugees who make a difference are honored

Refugees who have made a positive difference throughout Minnesota were honored this summer by the Minnesota Department of Human Service (DNS). Twenty-two people were honored for their unique contributions. Ten honorees were from 2020, when the ceremony was posted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 12 are the 2021 Outstanding Refugee Award winners.

Because the department was unable to host an in-person ceremony due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, department leaders recognized the 2020 Outstanding Refugee Award recipients during this year’s ceremony.

“Few of us can relate to the experiences refugees have gone through but we can certainly recognize and, in the case of these awards, honor those who have persevered and made a better life not only for themselves but enriched Minnesota with their ideas, talents and work ethic,” said Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead.

Preceding the ceremonies, the department sponsored a virtual symposium highlighting the state of resettlement in Minnesota.

Now in its fifth year, the annual Outstanding Refugee Awards celebrate the courage, resilience and entrepreneurship of refugees, and their contributions to Minnesota.

The department uses federal funds to help refugees succeed in school, secure employment, become U.S. citizens, learn about their new communities and connect to community resources. In 2020, Minnesota welcomed 291 people with refugee status primarily from Burma, Somalia and Ukraine. Between January and May 2021, Minnesota welcomed 40 refugees.

Awards are given in different categories. The Civic Engagement Award recognizes individuals who make their communities stronger through civic participation. Three of the 2021 winners have ties to the disability community.

Kahin Adam of St. Cloud is a psychotherapist and community health specialist for CentraCare. Adam also works in trauma informed care, and helps clients find resources including mental health resources. He is part of a team that provides cultural competency educational information for healthcare workers.

Mohamed Abdulkadir of St. Peter is a refugee training specialist at MRCI. As a refugee employment specialist for the past decade and on the staff for MRCI for 16 years, he helps newcomers to the area find work and overcome daily challenges of living in a new country, and he works directly with employers looking to hire staff.

Fatima Molas of Columbia Heights is chairperson of Multicultural Autism Action Network. The network focuses on children with autism and their families, who are part of multicultural communities, providing support and education. Parent-advocate Molas is active at the Minnesota Legislature and is involved in networking with other autism service organizations.

Other winners in this category are Michael Yang of St. Paul, Southeast Asian community specialist for City of Minneapolis Neighborhood and Community Relations; Mamady Konneh of Golden Valley, CEO for We Network Now; Maylary Apolo of Austin, legal assistant at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota;  and Armin Budimlic of Rochester, executive director for the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association,

The Entrepreneurship Award recognizes individuals who contribute to their communities in business, the arts or education. Winners are Salman Elmi of Blaine, president and founder of Tavolo and Top Figure and Ayan Abukar of Bloomington, executive director for Action for East African People.

The Young Leader Award recognizes young people who have achieved great milestones and are making a difference in their communities. 2021 winner is Nasra Farah of Waite Park, speaker, writer and board member for Unite Cloud.

For the New Beginnings Award, which recognizes individuals who have been in the United States for two years or fewer, and exemplifies the resilience and courage it takes to rebuild their well-being and make Minnesota their home.

Abdikarim Hassen of Rochester is volunteer for Family Service Rochester. Family Service Rochester, founded in 1965, offers an array of services to help families with serious child welfare and/or family violence concerns. Major service expansions are in the areas of child maltreatment, child welfare, children’s mental health, domestic violence and providing our services to ethnically diverse populations.

Another winner is Cani Adan of Moorhead, program manager for the Afro American Development Association

For more information about refugee services, visit the DHS resettlement webpage at To learn about previous recipients of Outstanding Refugee Awards, visit the department’s Outstanding Refugees webpage at

Lehman Recognized

The Polk County Development Achievement Center (DAC) has recognized Bernice Lehman for an extraordinary record. Lehman retired last year at age 96, after involvement with for the DAC for spanning 48 years, two months, three weeks and two days. Her cousin David Dale of Fargo said it was the COVID-19 pandemic more than anything else that spurred the decision to finally end her decades at the DAC in October 2020.

“Bernice and (her brother) Ken were inseparable and were very helpful to one another. If one’s language was difficult to understand, the other one assisted them,” said Polk County DAC Director Jo Bittner. “Bernice was always cheerful, ready to try anything and so much fun. She loved to joke around. Bernice was such a hard worker and so determined to do her best. She is now enjoying her well-deserved retirement!”

The siblings began attending the DAC in 1972 and enjoyed numerous activities there. They took part in Special Olympics for many years, and enjoyed stays at Camp Sunshine.

The following information about the Lehmans was provided to the Crookston Times by their cousins David Dale and his sisters, Pam Dale and Mary Briggs.

“Bernice loves animals, especially cats; she always had a lot of cats on the farm,” David Dale said. “She can’t have real cats where she lives but she has a few stuffed ones that she carries with her. Bernice is very social, she loves visiting with people and you always get one of her big hugs when she sees you. She always had a smile.”

Bernice Anna Lehman was born October 18, 1924 in Virginia, Minnesota to Edward and Elsie Lehman. She and her brother Kenneth “Kenny” Lehman were born with born with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. The family lived on a farm near Fertile. Bernice Lehman attended rural schools near Fertile for four years.

Elsie Lehman was a homemaker and died in 1953 from breast cancer. Edward Lehman was a farmer and an Army veteran with service in World War I.

In 1970, they sold the farm and the family moved to a house in Fertile. After Edward Lehman died of cancer in 1972, Charles Gustafson was appointed guardian of Bernice and Kenny Lehman.

More tragedy struck in October 2005. Gustafson disappeared while on a hunting trip in Wyoming. He was never found.

The sister and brother lived in Fertile from 1972 until 1981, with foster parents and family members checking on them. Bernice Lehman would cook for her brother and have lemonade and cookies ready for guests.

In 1981, they moved in with foster parents/cousins Alice and Raymond Dale at Herald Station, a small community six miles southeast of Crookston. She enjoyed baking and helping to prepare meals with her cousins. She also loved helping with household chores and staying busy.

She also enjoyed embroidery, coloring and reading to Kenny. Kenny Lehman died in 2016.

After a fall and broken ankle in September 2004, Bernice Lehman moved to an REM Group Home in Crookston.

DHS appointment is announced

Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jodi Harpstead named Cynthia MacDonald assistant commissioner for health care and as state Medicaid director. MacDonald took the post this summer.

MacDonald worked for DHS in the past and went on to work in nearly every facet of the health care system, from the private sector to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, where she worked on implementation of the Affordable Care Act /2021

MacDonald worked for DHS in the late 1980s and early 1990s as an ombudsman for older Minnesotans. She then became manager of the managed care negotiations and contracting section, and helped lead the team that developed one of the nation’s first 1115 Medicaid waivers, as well as MinnesotaCare and Minnesota Senior Health Options. She was also chief negotiator with the managed care plans.

She has also held senior leadership positions at Blue Cross and Blue Shield Minnesota and MN Community Measurement, and served as CEO of Metropolitan Health Plan in Hennepin County.

She was vice president for Health Care Service Corporation, serving multiple states, before being recruited by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to work on implementation of the Affordable Care Act through state-based insurance companies. She then returned to blue cross Blue Shield, and most recently, was recruited by Anthem Blue Cross where she was the CEO of the Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota Medicaid region.

MacDonald holds a degree in human services administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a law degree from William Mitchell Law School.

Day activity centers around Minnesota have announced changes.

Day activity centers around Minnesota have announced changes in lead staff. The Winona County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) recently announced that Brenda Volkman is the new executive director. Volkman has been with the DAC in various leadership roles since starting there in March 2002, including serving in posts with transportation and human resources.

Volkman is a lifelong resident of the Winona area. She and her husband Gerald live in Goodview. Together they have three children, nine grandchildren, and a golden retriever named Max. Outside of work she enjoys boating, fishing and vacationing up north.

After 25 years of service at Range Center, Inc. Chief Financial Officer Jim Zahorsky retired at the end of August. He plans to stay on as a consultant for another year, to support staff including new CFO Jed Heubner.

The Range Center is in Chisholm.

State appointees are named

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have announced appointments to groups including the Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing, and the State Rehabilitation Council.

Michele Isham of Sartell was reappointed to the Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing as East Central Advisory Committee Representative.

The Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing serves as the principal agency of the State to advocate on behalf of the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing Minnesotans by working to ensure those persons have equal access to the services, programs, and opportunities available to others.

Karen Leddy of Mound was reappointed to the State Rehabilitation Council as a business, industry and labor representative.

Tyler Sadek of  Minneapolis was also reappointed to the council as a business, industry and labor representative.

The State Rehabilitation Council’s duties include guiding decisions about Minnesota’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), coordinating between VRS and centers for independent living and other state councils with interest in issues pertaining to disability and employment, and reporting to the Governor and the U.S. Department of Education on the status of vocational rehabilitation programs.

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