Edina, Minn., Aug. 5, 2020 – Edina Mayor Jim Hovland recently presented six Mayor’s Commendations to outstanding volunteers and service organizations in the community.
Mayor’s Commendations are typically presented in the spring at a Volunteer Recognition Reception. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 reception was canceled. Instead, Hovland surprised each of the winners in July and early August.
Melody Zhou and Minnesota International Chinese School
Melody Zhou was awarded the Mayor’s Individual Service Commendation, awarded to an individual for outstanding and exceptional volunteer service to the community at large. The Minnesota International Chinese School was awarded the Mayor’s Service Organization Commendation, which is given to an organization that has made outstanding contributions to the community.
Zhou is Principal of the Minnesota International Chinese School, with one of its three locations in the state at South View Middle School. The school’s mission is to equip students as global citizens in a better, more diverse world. The school celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and currently boasts enrollment of about 300 students. Outside of the school, Zhou, school staff and students serve as cultural ambassadors throughout the year, organizing an annual Chinese New Year celebration, a unit in the Fourth of July parade and forums.
This spring, as COVID-19 cases crested in China and spread to the United States, Minnesota’s Chinese American community took immediate action. Zhou volunteered her time and talents as a leader within a local coalition to procure oxygen generators, infrared thermometers, and much needed personal protective equipment for hospitals in Hubei Province.
Then, as the pandemic reached Minnesota, Zhou and the school pivoted and began to acquire masks, gloves and hand sanitizers for area police departments, fire stations and other in-need organizations. Not long after, they also distributed masks to the community at large.
Steve and Sarah Kumagai
Steve and Sarah Kumagai, longtime members of the Edina A Better Chance (ABC) Foundation Board of Directors, were also awarded the Mayor’s Individual Service Commendation.
ABC is a national organization dedicated to providing strong educational opportunities to students of color. The ABC goal is to increase the number of well-educated minority students and make it possible for deserving students to reach their full potential. The Edina ABC chapter has been operating since 1972. In 2005, the Edina ABC chapter reached a milestone and became the first ABC chapter to graduate 100 students.
The Kumagais became involved in Edina ABC when their daughters were attending Edina High School. They began by hosting a scholar for weekend visits and their involvement grew from there. For more than 25 years, they have supported Edina ABC. Sarah has long served on the Student Committee, which reviews student applications,
mentors students and helps resolve student-based behavior issues. Steve has shepherded the Student Scholarship Committee and works with every scholar to come up with a workable plan to complete college with as little debt as possible.
Skip Thomas was awarded the Mayor’s Outstanding Senior Commendation, which is given to a resident 55 or older for outstanding volunteer service within the community. An Edina native, Thomas scored the winning goal in the first Edina High School hockey championship in 1969 and has been giving back to the community ever since! He volunteered for more than two decades as a youth athletics coach in Edina and has delivered Meals on Wheels for about 25 years. A real estate agent and active member of the Edina Chamber of Commerce, Thomas was the Edina Business Person of the Year in 2008. He is also an active member of the Rotary Club of Edina and boasts 26 years of perfect attendance! He is a Deacon and a regular usher at Christ Presbyterian Church, too.
Junior Varsity Board of Her Next Play
The Mayor’s Youth Commendation was given to members of the Junior Varsity Board of Her Next Play. The Youth Commendation is awarded to a young person who has demonstrated a commitment to improving the quality of life in the community. Her Next Play is a non-profit based in Edina with a mission to develop the next generation of women leaders through sports. Her Next Play programs inspire girls to stay in sports, develop as leaders through sports, and help athletes launch their careers. The Junior Varsity Board is made up of middle and high school girls who provide a powerful voice for the organization.
In a little over a year of existence, the JV Board has been very active. They know that playing sports builds powerful leadership skills, but girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys in middle school. The JV Board developed and led the Edina Girls Sports Summit, held in September 2019 on a day off of school. The Summit celebrated girl athletes, inspired them to stay in sports, developed them as leaders, and promoted a positive sports’ culture. Over 130 middle school girls participated.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Her Next Play to adapt to support the community of female athletes virtually. With the cancellation of spring sports, the Junior Varsity Board provided input and feedback that led to the launch of the “Play Bold Huddles” for middle school and high school athletes to be active and work on leadership and mental skills. Weekly huddles were held in May and offered to all the girls who participated in the Edina Girls Sport Summit.
Members of the JV Board are Ava Allenberg, Addie Barmann, Molly Bennett, Hailey Bergeson, Carolina Cultu, Joely Emerson, Lila Emerson, Zoya Hasan, Zoe Kelman, Lucia Lazarus, Claire Wegmann-Krider and Olivia Wegmann-Krider.
Edina Meal Fund
The Edina Meal Fund was named winner of the Mayor’s Commendation for Service to Youth. Awards were presented to the Edina Education Fund and Edina Give and Go. The Commendation is presented annually to an individual or organization making a positive impact on the lives of Edina youth.
The Meal Fund is an existing program within Edina Public Schools, covering cafeteria expenses for district families unable to zero out their balances. When the pandemic forced the closure of brick-and mortar schools in mid-March, the Edina Education Fund and Edina Give and Go came together to raise about $100,000 to provide families in need with dinners and weekend food. Thanks to generous local donors and partnerships with Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People and The Sheridan Story, tens of thousands of meals have been served since the program got off the ground.
Anna Dhennin and Nick Lovejoy
The Mayor’s Community Involvement Commendation is given to a City employee for outstanding volunteer service to the community above and beyond his or her position with the City. This year, awards were presented to GIS Coordinator Anna Dhennin and I.T. Systems Administrator Nick Lovejoy for volunteer work to assist in the pandemic.
Lovejoy has been using his personal 3D printers and supplies to make bands and face shield frames for first responders. Lovejoy is part of the Makers’ COVID-19 Response Network, which uses free open-source computer aided design, or CAD, files for printing Dhennin spends her days working as the City of Edina’s GIS Coordinator, where she turns data into easily digestible maps for staff and residents. With the outbreak of COVID-19, Dhennin found a way to use her talents to give back to her community. She is working with URISA GISCorps, a volunteer group of Urban and Regional Information Systems Association. Dhennin, along with GIS professionals across the country, are working to update a data layer that tracks COVID testing locations and then can share that data with other applications and websites.
For more information or to read full stories about most of the winners, visit EdinaMN.gov or contact Communications Director Jennifer Bennerotte at jbennerotte@EdinaMN.gov.