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Finland, MN group finalist for Touchstone Civic Engagement Award

The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation nominated the Friends of the Finland Community, in its efforts to put up a new community center, as a finalist for the 2011 Touchstone Civic Engagement Award Tuesday.

"When is construction of a community center in a small town an excellent example of civic engagement? When that small community lacks a building or even a true town center around which area residents can rally, learn, and celebrate," a news release from the foundation read. "The Friends of the Finland Community requested funds for work that produced the Finland Community Center and its programs. The project was designed to help make the Finland area a more livable place by creating community spaces, starting social programs, supporting economic initiatives, enhancing natural surroundings and supporting Finland's comprehensive community plan.

"In 2010 and 2011, the building has been used for events including the annual St. Urho's Day celebration, a series of meetings to assess the area's social services and economic needs, a Wilderness First Aid class, and a meeting of Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness."

Two groups that help feed the hungry, an organization that teaches environmentally wise practices to businesses and nonprofits, and a group that brought together people from all 19 bands of Ojibwe on Madeline Island were named winners of the foundation's 2011 Touchstone Awards.

The foundation provided grants in 2009 for the work of each group. In addition, the award carries a $2,500 prize.

The four winners come from three categories: generosity, civic engagement, and inclusiveness.

The two winners of the generosity category were the Grand Marais Arts Colony and Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. Winner of the civic engagement category was Sustainable Twin Ports. Winner of the inclusiveness category was the Madeline Island Anishinaabeg Gathering.

The Grand Marais Arts Colony was chosen for its Empty Bowls hunger awareness project, which helps stock the shelves at the Cook County Food Shelf each year. Area artists, students and community members craft ceramic bowls to be filled with soup and bread.

Second Harvest food bank was nominated for increasing food distribution in response to more urgent needs of recent years. From 2008 to 2010, Second Harvest encouraged more local giving, enabling the food bank to distribute 25 percent more food. That meant 4 million pounds of food went to those who most need it, while volunteer hours increased and financial contributions from individuals and businesses increased 32 percent.

Sustainable Twin Ports was honored for helping to create a sustainable community. The group teaches sustainability principles to local businesses and nonprofit groups. Sustainability involves managing the use of resources by individuals or groups with the least possible harm to the environment. Twenty-three organizations have taken Early Adopters training since Sustainable Twin Ports began the program.

The Madeline Island Anishinaabeg Gathering brought together more than 650 people from all 19 bands of Ojibwe for educational and celebratory event on the island on Sept. 25, 2009. Madeline Island is the sacred center of the Anishinaabeg world, though band members have seldom lived on the island in the past century. The gathering committee organized a day of presentations, traditional performances and feasts that revived that historical spirit. A similar event also was held this fall.

The other nominees were Range Transitional Housing Inc. for the Hibbing Transitional Housing Project (generosity); the College of St. Scholastica, for its Alworth Center for the Study of Peace and Justice (civic engagement); Friends of the Finland Community (civic engagement); CHOICE Unlimited: BOLD Choice Theatre Company (inclusiveness); and the Duluth Task Force on Police Accountability (inclusiveness).