The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 10, 2014

Our View: Pathfinder winners lead the way

Why it matters: The Greater Mankato area continues to build a culture of diversity, inclusion

The Mankato Free Press

---- — An educator, a food service company and local high school student leaders received deserved recognition Thursday as pathfinders who help build community bridges of inclusion that promote the Mankato area as a place where diversity is welcomed and social justice for all is a goal.

Bev Mountain, Sodexo Inc., and the executive board of the Mankato East High School Student Council were recognized with the Pathfinder Award that in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. recognizes “initiators and action takers in the struggle for equal treatment, human rights and non-violence.”

The awards are given each year by the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Board in association with the Greater Mankato Diversity Council and other community partners.

Each of the award recipients took action in some way to promote the goals and the spirit of King’s work locally. Mountain is program coordinator for the Mankato Area Public Schools Adult Basic Education program where much of her focus and energy has been getting skills and education to anyone who needs them, from those suffering from poverty and loss to new immigrants.

She has worked with the program for 20 plus years that helps people speak and write English, get the General Equivalency Degree for high school graduation and gets all people, no matter their background, started on a path to education, employment and self-sufficiency.

Mountain has been a tireless advocate for these programs and the people they help, noting she was once in a position to need the same kind of help years ago. Her colleagues see her as someone who is “first concerned with the needs of people we serve and then she figures out a way to meet that need.”

Sodexo Inc. provides the food service to Minnesota State University and has long been an advocate for diversity in its hiring and inclusiveness in its workplace environment. The company has operations in 80 countries and was recently recognized as the No. 1 company in DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for diversity.

The company has made a commitment to many philanthropic efforts and sees a multicultural workforce as the key to global competitiveness. Sodexo continues to hire diverse employees and again will donate all food and services to the Martin Luther King Jr. Pathfinder Award celebration this year.

Sodexo “distinguished itself by hiring people with disabilities and ensuring equal opportunities for all people,” said Michael Fagin of Minnesota State University Ethnic Studies and who nominated the company.

It might be easy to take for granted Sodexo’s efforts, but the simple things like hiring a diverse workforce go a long way to providing a great example to other companies in the Mankato area and in its communities across the world.

The executive board of the Mankato East High School Student Council was recognized as the Youth Pathfinder Award Recipient for its efforts to create a Mankato East Sharing Tree program that raised more than $8,000 and served about 150 students.

Raising money, buying gifts and other items for people in need at your own school is no small feat. Students spent dozens of hours working toward making sure those in need at their school had things from warm mittens to small gifts. These kind of programs create a bond between students across race and economic status not only through friendships, but through a deeper cultural understanding of what their fellow classmates might be going through on their educational and life journey.

Their Mankato East counselor, Mel Hoffner, said the students had an “incredible impact” and “inspire others and me to increase our commitment to serving others both in our school and local community.”

The greater Mankato area is fortunate to have a number of people and organizations who can fit the criteria to win these awards every year. This year’s recipients deserve the recognition and serve as an example to us all. We congratulate them.