YWCA names Women of Distinction

Kristine Goodrich, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·3 min read

Apr. 15—The Free Press

MANKATO — A doctor, a teacher, an interior designer, a workforce development leader, a young activist and a Somali restaurant are receiving honors from the YWCA Mankato.

The nonprofit that supports women and equity has named Diane Halvorson, Dr. Erin Westfall, Clarice Esslinger and Heather Clark as the 2021 Women of Distinction.

The Rising Star award is being given to Margarita Ruiz, and J's Sambusa restaurant is receiving the Distinctive Difference award.

The honorees will be recognized at a July 15 reception, silent auction and dinner at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center.

Tickets to attend virtually or in-person are on stale through April 30 at https://ywcamankato.org/women-of-distinction or 507-345-4629.

Diane Halvorson

As executive director for the South Central WorkForce Council, Diane Halvorson is being recognized for building partnerships and advancing equity.

She develops regional partnerships to identify and address the region's workforce development needs, focusing on initiatives that support populations experiencing racial and employment disparities. She is mentor and advocate for women in the workforce development field.

Halvorson has served on boards and committees and held many leadership positions with the Minnesota Association of Workforce Boards, advancing the work of diversity, equity and inclusion statewide.

Erin Westfall

Dr. Erin Westfall is being honored for her passion for health equity and community engagement.

Westfall is a family medicine physician and associate program director in the Mayo Clinic Health System and the University of Minnesota Family Medicine and Community Health Residency Program.

She has been instrumental in developing a robust community health curriculum for the residency program. She has spearheaded numerous clinic community partnerships, including a Somali health literacy outreach pilot, improving pediatric health literacy education with the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota, and helping develop the St. Peter Community Free Clinic.

Within her clinic at MCHS, she developed a medical-dental integration clinic to address oral health disparities and a FoodRx program that connects patients who have food insecurity to healthy produce.

Clarice Esslinger

Teacher Clarice Esslinger is recognized for embracing immigrants' strengths and resiliency and connecting them to the broader community.

She teaches English with the Mankato Area Public Adult Basic Education Program and facilitates parent groups and prepares immigrants for citizenship. She trains volunteers, connects them to employment opportunities and invites many community members to engage with the students and families.

She also serves on the Mankato Area Cross-Cultural Connection Committee, helping plan events that bring diverse populations together to discuss issues. She also is active at her church and its support of the Connections Shelter and getting food to families and mentoring young women.

Heather Clark

Heather Clark is an interior designer and mentor. She is a commercial interior designer for Oleson + Hobbie Architects.

She serves on the YWCA Women's Leadership Committee. She mentors women entering interior design and construction and is the board for ACE, a free after-school program for high school students interested in architecture, construction and engineering.

Clark previously owned and operated the Salvage Sisters boutique shop and was president of the Old Town Association promoting businesses there.

Margarita Ruiz

Minnesota State University student Margarita Ruiz is receiving The Rising Star award. The 22-year-old is a Student Government senator and finishing a bachelor's degree in applied sociology.

She has volunteered for political campaigns and is co-campaign manager for the Jeff Brand for House campaign.

Ruiz is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and was a Poder Fellow with Unidos MN, a Latino social justice group. She plans to continue to work to address immigrant rights and wealth inequity.

J's Sambusa

J's Sambusa restaurant in North Mankato is receiving the Distinctive Difference Award, which recognizes a business or organization.

Owners Nasra Ibrahim and Harbi Hassam immigrated to the United States from Somalia and opened the restaurant serving Somali ethnic food last year. During the pandemic, they have been working with a Twin Cities organization to provide free lunches to any community member in need.