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Excellence in Emerging Leadership Award



Nominated by Lane Centrella

Jessi McKinnon is the kind of leader you want to have anywhere. Not only does she have what seems to be a natural-born aptitude for institutional organization and leadership; she has a warmth, commitment, and empathy that inspires the people working around her to rise, to give more, and to grow. She is steadfastly committed to growing as a non-profit leader, to breaking down barriers to volunteering, and to building a movement of accessible volunteerism—of giving what you can, where you can. She is not afraid to learn WHAT she needs to learn, and I am routinely impressed by her steadfast commitment to learning more. It is common to find her attending an online webinar on the intersection of disability and volunteerism on her lunch break, or to get a 10 pm text about her latest idea for a volunteer recognition program. When she talks about her organizational ideas, she lights up; in her eyes you can see the work she has already put into forging strong, engaged volunteer networks, and the passion she holds for this work. If vocation is where the world’s deep needs and one’s deep joys intersect, Jessi’s vocation is leading volunteers in nonprofit work. Some may indeed consider it a higher calling. And for what it is worth, I have never encountered anyone more efficient—8 hours of work can somehow transform into a mere 30 minute endeavor when you lay it on her desk. Perhaps Jessi is dazzlingly efficient because she has to be. I know it is cliche to say about a burgeoning female leader, “how does she do it all?” But that is often what I find myself thinking about my friend. In one year, I have seen her: turn an outdated physical rolodex of a handful of volunteers into a committed network twice that size for Southern Valley Alliance; orchestrate and execute a fundraising event that brought in the bulk of the funds for her choral organization; transform from an avid admirer into the interim executive director of Voices of Hope; and be an incredible advocate and ally to her community. Jessi leads by example, engages with authenticity and warmth, and inspires vicariously through her own passion and drive for this work. She blazes a path that draws you in; that is impossible to resist following. And you can see her in the distance, standing at the summit, calling to you with a smile to come and join her.

Judie Russell Award for Excellence in Volunteer Program Development



Nominated by Kate Russell

Brianna Stapleton Welch embodies the spirit of volunteerism and program development in a remarkable and exemplary manner, making her a deserving candidate for The MAVA Judie Russell Award for Excellence in Volunteer Program Development. Through her tireless dedication and unwavering commitment to community betterment, Brianna has consistently demonstrated her ability to elevate volunteer programs to new heights and create lasting impact. First and foremost, Brianna possesses a deep passion for serving others and fostering a sense of community engagement. Her genuine enthusiasm and empathy inspire those around her to get involved and make a difference. Brianna approaches each endeavor with a deep sense of purpose and compassion, working to instill a sense of empowerment and belonging among volunteers. Furthermore, Brianna's innovative approach to volunteer program development sets her apart as a visionary leader in the field. She recognizes the evolving needs of both volunteers and the communities they serve, and she continuously seeks out creative solutions to address these needs effectively. By leveraging technology, social media platforms, and community partnerships, Brianna has been able to expand the reach and impact of Little Free Library’s volunteer program, ensuring greater inclusivity and accessibility. She has worked for over a year to build a community engagement program from the ground up and has already achieved great success and growth. While Little Free Library has a unique model with over 100,000 volunteer library stewards, it has recently become increasingly clear that Little Free Library needs a different kind of volunteer program, one that anyone (regardless if they have a Little Free Library or not) can participate in. With over 180,000 Little Free Library book-sharing boxes worldwide and a commitment to place libraries in underserved communities, Little Free Library needs a dedicated and robust volunteer program to help sustain these book-sharing boxes and community hubs. Brianna, using her many years of volunteer management experience, constructed Team LFL and will continue to use her expertise to guide the program and its volunteers to truly make a difference. Her tenacity ensures that this program will only grow and flourish under her watch. Moreover, Brianna demonstrates a strong commitment to ongoing learning and professional development within the field of volunteer program management. She actively seeks out training opportunities, stays informed about emerging trends and best practices, and shares her knowledge and expertise with others in the field. By staying adaptable and responsive to changing dynamics, Brianna ensures that her volunteer programs remain relevant, impactful, and sustainable in the long run. Above all, Brianna's dedication to volunteerism and community service is truly inspirational, serving as a role model for others to emulate. Her genuine humility, integrity, and servant leadership style have earned her the respect and admiration of colleagues, volunteers, and community members alike. By recognizing Brianna Stapleton Welch with The MAVA Judie Russell Award for Excellence in Volunteer Program Development, we not only celebrate her individual achievements but also acknowledge the transformative power of volunteerism to create positive change in the world.

Mary Wiser Award for Leadership in the Field of Volunteer Resources


Nominated by Renee Vail

Thousands of people across Minnesota have found a connection to nature because of Sara Holger. Sara has been committed to volunteer engagement for decades, understanding the crucial role volunteers play in our communities. She has taken initiative to seek training on ways to better manage volunteers and she has invested countless hours of her personal time in connecting volunteers with meaningful projects and programs that enrich the quality of their lives and the communities around them. Sara is passionate about helping people find meaning through the outdoors and is well deserving of this award. From 2007 – the present, Sara has trained and mentored hundreds of volunteers through the Minnesota Master Naturalist program. These volunteers, many of whom are older retired adults, have found a renewed sense of purpose in giving back through community service projects that promote natural resource conservation. Volunteers trained under Sara’s guidance are now volunteering with a variety of projects that enhance nature in their local communities including habitat restoration, wildlife surveys, nature programming, serving on boards and committees for conservation agencies, and finding ways to share nature with their families, friends, and neighbors. As the Lead Interpretive Naturalist at Whitewater State Park from 2012 – 2023, Sara oversaw a robust volunteer program and worked tirelessly to grow the program and expand it’s reach to local communities outside the park. Each year, she oversaw several hundred volunteers, helping match each group and individual with opportunities that complimented their skills, knowledge, and interests. Over the years, volunteers have expressed their gratitude for her guidance and mentorship with several even pursuing natural resources careers because of their volunteer experience with her. A highlight of Sara’s career was the Centennial Anniversary of Whitewater State Park in 2019 when she organized a series of monthly special events to celebrate the park. Hundreds of volunteers assisted in the planning and implementation of those events including a candlelight owl prowl, fly fishing retreat for disabled veterans, Boy Scout camporee reunion, and a Great Big Sing Along with the Okee Dokee Brothers. Friends of Whitewater, a group of volunteers who support the park, played a large part in the event’s success. In fact, Sara helped revive the Friends Group in 2012 and continues to play a lead role in supporting them. Sara has also worked with hundreds of volunteers through a non-profit organization she founded in 2005 called Project Get Outdoors that works to connect under-represented youth with nature. These community-based programs are led by volunteers in communities across Minnesota. Sara designed tools, resources and training programs to empower local community volunteers to lead nature-based programs for youth. She built innovative collaborations with various organizations that recruit volunteers including the Master Naturalist Program, AmeriCorps, the Conservation Corps of Minnesota & Iowa, and several colleges and universities. Across Minnesota there are volunteers at YMCAs, libraries, museums, zoos, parks, schools and childcare sites working to introduce kids to nature because of the training and guidance Sara has shared, much on her own time as a volunteer.