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Bemidji United Way recognizes 5 women at annual awards breakfast

Five local women were recognized for their contributions to the community on Thursday morning during the Women United Tribute Awards Breakfast. The keynote speaker for the event was Kristi Booth, regional director at Minnesota Public Radio and former executive director of United Way of Bemidji Area.

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Women United Tribute Award recipients pictured from left are: Riki Sheela, former Bemidji State nursing professor; Cynthia Borgen, former Beltrami County public health director; Ashlea McMartin, clinic manager of mental health services for Sanford Bemidji; Robin Wold, director of Hope House; and Barb Houg, executive director at Peacemaker Resources. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- Five local women were recognized for their contributions to the community on Thursday morning during the Women United Tribute Awards Breakfast.

The United Way of Bemidji Area, in partnership with Bemidji Area Business Women and Bemidji State University, held the 5th annual event in BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.

Cynthia Borgen, Ashlea McMartin, Robin Wold, Riki Scheela and Barb Houg were this year's award recipients.

“Women United is a group of community-minded women who provide the opportunities and support it takes to build successful lives through United Way’s building blocks of health, education, and basic needs,” a release from the United Way said. “The women were nominated for bringing passion, expertise and resources needed to make an impact in the Bemidji community.”

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Kristi Booth, regional director for Minnesota Public Radio, gives the keynote address at the Women United Tribute Awards Breakfast on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Bemidji State’s Beaux Arts Ballroom. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The keynote speaker for the event was Kristi Booth, regional director at Minnesota Public Radio and former executive director of United Way of Bemidji Area. Booth shared about her personal journey to being a woman in leadership and the women who mentored and inspired her, the release said.

Denae Alamano, executive director of the United Way of Bemidji Area, presented the awards to the recipients:

  • Cynthia Borgen, recently retired as Beltrami County’s director of public health, led the community through the pandemic in a calm and respectful way. “Cynthia’s upbeat and positive nature, as well as her reassurance that we would get through COVID, was a phenomenal support system to individuals, business owners and social service providers, who were trying to continue to provide services in responsible ways,” the release said.

  • Ashlea McMartin is a fierce advocate for mental health, including promoting trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive care and increasing access to services, all while preventing emotional burnout on her team at Sanford Behavioral Health. “Ashlea has worked tirelessly to not only impact individuals on a personal level through clinical therapy, but she has also spearheaded regional initiatives to improve systemic approaches to mental health. Ashlea lives the motto ‘when our community is better, we are ALL better’ in both her personal and professional life,” the release said.

  • Robin Wold is the executive director of Hope House, where she uses her humble, calm, non-judgmental and understanding nature to serve those who have severe and persistent mental health disabilities. “Robin has assisted not only the individuals in understanding their illness and how to navigate the world in the face of that illness but has also provided endless emotional support to them and their loved ones because she knows that severe and persistent mental illness affects not only the individual but also their family and friends,” the release said.

  • Riki Scheela, an emerita professor of nursing at BSU, has spent her life educating future generations of nurses. “Riki has a strong sense of responsibility, and her innermost desire is to make the world a better place. Riki’s work with the community included working at Upper Mississippi Mental Health with the rehabilitation of sexual abuse offenders. Her ability to see the world through a different lens allowed her to create a modeling/remodeling theory of rehabilitation that has impacted individuals who don’t often get a second chance,” the release said.

  • Barb Houg is executive director at Peacemaker Resources, where her leadership in developing educational and prevention-based programming has changed countless lives for the better, especially children in over twenty school districts who have experienced the social-emotional educational program. “Barb’s long-term quest to ensure that people have the opportunity to navigate life in healthy and meaningful ways has led to a more equitable and nurturing community,” the release said.

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Women United Tribute Award recipients pictured from left are: Riki Sheela, former Bemidji State nursing professor; Cynthia Borgen, former Beltrami County public health director; Ashlea McMartin, clinic manager of mental health services for Sanford Bemidji; Robin Wold, director of Hope House; and Barb Houg, executive director at Peacemaker Resources. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Women United also announced their new project for 2022, which will be working with Village of Hope, Bemidji’s local family homeless shelter and a United Way partner agency. The goal is to create a new transportation program that will allow Village of Hope residents and other homeless individuals in the Bemidji area a safe ride to get groceries, attend court hearings or go to medical appointments.

During the event, updates were also shared about Women United’s two prior projects. Attendees heard about the new shelter project for Northwoods Battered Women’s Shelter and the mobile food pantry for the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.

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Women United members rallied around the Bemidji Community Food Shelf’s need for a mobile food pantry last year and presented a donation to food shelf director Michael Olson, left, and former director Mary Mitchell during the Women United Tribute Awards Breakfast on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Bemidji State’s Beaux Arts Ballroom. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Alamano presented food shelf director Michael Olson and former director Mary Mitchell with a check for $24,173 of funds raised by Women United members.

The 5th Annual United Way Women United Tribute Awards was sponsored by First National Bank Bemidji, Paul Bunyan Communications, Hill's Plumbing and Heating, Sanford Health, Northwoods Lumber and Amity Graphics.

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Attendees clap for the award winners during the Women United Tribute Awards Breakfast on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Bemidji State’s Beaux Arts Ballroom. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Related Topics: UNITED WAY OF BEMIDJI AREA
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