The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota named Katharine L. Kelly and Vanessa Goodthunder as recipients of the 2022 Mary Lee Dayton Catalyst for Change award. They were presented with the award at the annual Leadership & Legacy Celebration honoring valued donor-partners on September 29.
Kate and Vanessa lead with their hearts and truly embody our values of hope, generosity, courage, inclusion, and belonging. Their bold leadership and passionate commitment to gender and racial justice is transforming Minnesota for the better.
During the inspiring hybrid event, attendees heard from community partners from The ANIKA Foundation, Dakota Wicohan, and Project DIVA International, celebrating 20 years of girlsBEST, and enjoyed an artistic performance by Thomasina Petrus, who beautifully captured the great joy and privilege of being in beloved community with one another, working towards a wonderful world.
Established in 2009 in honor of Mary Lee Dayton, who made the first $1 million gift to any women’s fund in the world, WFMN presents the Catalyst for Change award annually to recognize philanthropists and community leaders who generously use their resources and leadership to advance gender and racial justice in Minnesota. As Mary Lee Dayton said, “Women know what they’re doing.”
The Women’s Foundation is greater because of the philanthropy, leadership, and generosity of Katharine L. Kelly. Her leadership to help build, launch, and lead MN Girls Are Not For Sale as co-chair was critical to its success and impact in changing our state’s response to child sex trafficking. As a member of the WFMN board from 2012 to 2021 and a fierce advocate for women’s rights and reproductive rights, Kate has been a trusted advisor and mentor to leaders across the state as an active community volunteer and member of the boards of WATCH, Midway Contemporary Art, and Planned Parenthood North Central States. True to Mary Lee Dayton’s legacy as the namesake of this award, Kate leads with her passion.
Presenting the Catalyst for Change Award, Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said Kate’s impact on people’s lives is extraordinary. As a leader on WFMN’s and Planned Parenthood’s boards, Kate has driven the work of committees and task forces and used her tremendous influence to open doors, raise funds, and to lead by example.
“Today, you do some of the most important work of all as a volunteer,” Sarah Stoesz shared, when she dons a bright pink vest that says “Escort,” and shows up at clinics to stand with patients seeking health care. “She puts her body out there, and she puts her huge heart out there. She keeps people physically safe, and she keeps them psychologically safe. It’s just who Kate Kelly is.”
Kate said, “Sitting at the board table at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota is wildly inspiring. The range of voices and diverse perspectives, not to mention the addition of men to our board was so energizing and incredibly enriching. She is encouraged by the commitment the foundation has made to reproductive justice and said, “Women’s rights and reproductive rights are human rights and instrumental for our ability to live our lives freely and to determine our futures.”
Vanessa Goodthunder was also honored with the Mary Lee Dayton Catalyst for Change award. As a member of WFMN’s Board of Trustees and a longtime community leader and partner, Vanessa uses her expertise in Dakota language and culture, as well as her lived experiences, to create a space for Indigenous children, youth, and communities to heal and reconnect to who they are. Vanessa has served in leadership positions alongside the Young Women’s Cabinet and in the Office of Governor Mark Dayton and Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith. Today, Vanessa serves as director of the C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi – a Dakota Immersion Early Head Start and Head Start. She was the youngest Head Start director in the country at age 23 when she was hired in 2017 to help start the Lower Sioux’s first school and the State of Minnesota’s First Dakota Head Start.
Vanessa discovered both her passion for Dakota language and culture and her voice as a participant in Daḳota Wic̣oḣaƞ programming through the Wikoska peer mentoring leadership program. She has said that she is a high school social studies and Dakota language teacher in her core. As she moves through the world, she shares her language, stories of her people, and how history influences us all.
Vanessa has said: “I truly believe that our language has our sense of belonging and our language has our history. It has our culture. It has our geography. It has all of our stories and it’s who we are.”
Presenting the award to Vanessa, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, said “Her vocation is a testament to how building pathways for Indigenous, Black, and young women of color creates systems of change. And when young people like you and me walk into a space or a building that was not created by us or for us, when they enter a system created to eliminate us, I hope that they remember you, and think of you, Vanessa.”
In accepting the award, Vanessa said: “Always raise your hand. Always be who you want to be and who you are. A lot of people are going to say no … I know it hurts. But keep going anyway.”
The Women’s Foundation’s future is strong because of the vision and leadership of each partner who acts, lives, and gives to create a state in which all women and girls can experience economic opportunity, safety, and leadership. We are grateful for the leadership of Kate Kelly and Vanessa Goodthunder. Their legacy of generosity, support, and unwavering belief in the power of women and girls, and gender-expansive people is the foundation of how we catalyze change and continue building a world of justice, equity, and opportunity.
We are grateful for their leadership and countless contributions to our community. We could not accomplish so much without you.