Northeast Youth and Family Services presents 2015 Service to Youth Awards

The recipients of Northeast Youth and Family Services 2015 Service to Youth Awards. From top left, Jack Marchiafava, Robert Madison, Aleksander Westlund, Dr. John Thein, Patricia Bentley, Marre Jo Sager, Cheryl Wason and Isaac Tuma.
The recipients of Northeast Youth and Family Services 2015 Service to Youth Awards. From top left, Jack Marchiafava, Robert Madison, Aleksander Westlund, Dr. John Thein, Patricia Bentley, Marre Jo Sager, Cheryl Wason and Isaac Tuma. (photo courtesy of NYFS)

Each year, Northeast Youth and Family Services honors people in the area who demonstrate a commitment to the community and the young people who live within it with its Service to Youth Awards. NYFS President and CEO Jerry Hromatka says there's a simple reason why.

"So often we hear about things that aren't going right in the news," he says. "And these are things that are going right."

For 2015, NYFS, which describes itself as "a community-based non-profit agency, [that] prepares youth and families for healthy lives," gave eight individuals the Service to Youth Award during a Feb. 12 event at the organization's Shoreview headquarters.

This year's recipients are Patricia Bentley, Robert Madison, Jack Marchiafava, Marre Jo Sager, Dr. John Thein, Isaac Tuma, Cheryl Wason and Aleksander Westlund.

Nominations for the award are submitted by the public. Hromatka sums up the qualifications for the award succinctly, saying, based on volunteering or other work that affects the community, the award goes to someone who "has done something in their job that has gone above and beyond."

"It's just inspiring, they're humble," Hromatka says, adding that award recipients are the type of folks to say, "I've been doing this for 30 years and it feels good to be thanked."

There are various categories for the awards: youth, volunteers, educators, elected officials and law enforcement. 

In sifting through nominees, Hromatka says NYFS hears from organizations like the Rotary Club of Arden Hills-Shoreview, which gives its Paul Harris Award concurrently, and the Mounds View and Roseville school districts. 

"We're just a catalyst to recognizing people who do good for the youth," he says.

'Feels pretty darn good'

A social worker with Ramsey County Project Enhance, Patricia Bentley works in the Mounds View Public Schools District and says the award gave her a chance to remember the influence her parents had on her. 

Bentley's mother taught Sunday school for years and her father was once named Citizen of the Year in Anoka County.

"I think it's always wonderful to have those moments of reflection of how you come to this point in your life," Bentley says, adding, "It was a part of how I was raised, to give something back."

Robert Madison, activities director at Mounds View High School and an Arden Hills resident, says he's both "honored and humbled" by the award, on the weight of those who have received the award before him.

Nominated by Dr. Jeffery Ridlehoover, the principal of Mounds View High, Madison says he didn't see the nomination, nor the award, coming.

"There were people conspiring on my behalf," he says. "I was probably the last to find out."

Irondale High School student council president and swimmer Jack Marchiafava was nominated by Irondale Principal Eric Nelson, who calls him the "epitome of a well-rounded student."

Marchiafava--a winner of this year's Triple A from the Minnesota State High School League--says he was pleasantly surprised by the Service To Youth Award.

"I just didn't know that these kinds of awards existed to honor people like this," he says. "It feels pretty darn good to know that I won it, that's for sure. It's very rewarding."

Service to schools

Mounds View Public Schools Board Member Marre Jo Sager, nominated by former board member Dave Stimpson, has served on the board for 21 years and was on the Northeast Metro 916 School Board for 16 years. She volunteers with Toys for Tots and judges spelling bees.

Says Stimpson, "A trained facilitator, Marre Jo brings a focus on having a good process to all her endeavors."

Retiring Roseville Area Schools Superintendent Dr. John Thein was nominated by former Roseville area State Rep. Mindy Greiling. Thein has worked in the school district for some 27 years, and, according to nomination documents, is one of the longest-serving school superintendents in the metro area.

"People like to judge awards by who has received them," Thein says. "And I'm just so honored to be recognized with such a wonderful group of people."

Isaac Tuma is an officer in the White Bear Lake Police Department, who was nominated by the department's Chief Julie Swanson. Tuma has been a DARE officer for three years, and for the past two has been the school resource officer at White Bear Lake North Campus High School and Central Middle School. 

"It is difficult for any police officer to go anywhere in the city and not have a kid ask if we know officer Tuma," Swanson says.

Nominated by his dean at Mounds View High School, Andra Storla, Aleksander Westlund is a student at the school who has served on Youthworks mission trips, volunteered for Feed My Starving Children, and traveled internationally to help at orphanages.

Storla calls Westlund, "one of the most courageous and empathetic students I have ever had the pleasure to work with in my past 22 years in education."

"I wouldn't have been able to do it without my parents or my deans from Mounds View pushing me to be the best who I can," Westlund says of receiving the award. "I can't wait until college where I can continue to give back to the youth and those around me."

Paul Harris Award winner

Cheryl Wason, a longtime German language teacher in Mounds View District 621 and now an adjunct German professor at the University of Minnesota, was instrumental in linking Shoreview and Einhausen, Hesse, Germany, as sister cities.

Wason is the recipient of the Rotary Club of Arden Hills-Shoreview Paul Harris Award for her work with young people and bringing the cities together. 

She first went to Einhausen while on active duty in the U.S. Army in 1977 while playing in the army band, a visit that she says inspired her to learn German and become a German teacher. She later took a group of her German language students there in 1989.

From that starting point, Wason was approached by Einhausen officials on finding a sister city in Minnesota, and later, Shoreview emerged as a candidate. In 2001 the Shoreview-Einhausen Sister City Association was incorporated as a nonprofit and the sister city partnership was formalized in 2003.

"I'm just really honored to be a recipient of [the award]," Wason says. "I've certainly so much enjoyed teaching youth at Mounds View High School and being able to open them up to international travel and living with families."

Wason is leading the Shoreview Northern Lights Band on a trip to Einhausen this July, something she describes as "one of my dreams." She plays baritone saxophone in the band.

Wason says her relationship with Einhausen has come full circle. She says she's committed to doing her part in working on Rotary's goal of greater international understanding and working towards world peace.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

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