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Local Volunteer Honored in Washington, DC for Commitment to Youth

Donnette Wheelock began volunteering at The REACH more than two years ago. Her days at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota’s drop–in center for youth in Mankato are spent being a helping hand or a listening ear to youth experiencing homelessness. She also organizes food and clothing donations in the center’s pantry, making sure youth have a clean, welcoming place to find what they need. 

At a ceremony in Washington, DC last week, Donnette’s passion for helping young people find stability was recognized with the Unsung Heroes Media Partner Jefferson Award, following a nomination from KEYC TV in Mankato. The Jefferson Award is the most prestigious and longest-standing public service award in the country, according to its website. This year, 50 “Unsung Heroes” across the US were recognized at the national awards ceremony. 

While in DC to accept her award for contributions to The REACH, Donnette was also recognized for all her service to community. As a lifelong volunteer, she has given 14 years as a hospice volunteer, served as a founding member and current board member of the Rush City Education Foundation, sat on the Chancellor’s Advisory Council for the University of Wisconsin River Falls (UWRF) and the Mankato/North Mankato ACT on Alzheimer’s Group, supported the Blue Earth County Recycling Education Committee and provided funding for scholarships at high schools and the Falcon Scholars scholarship program at UWRF.

“We believe engaging in social good inspires purpose and drives lasting solutions for our communities and the nation,” said a Jefferson Awards Foundation spokesperson. “Sharing stories of America’s best citizens inspires all to take action and do more for each other. We are proud to celebrate Donnette for everything she has done and will continue to do for all people, especially youth, in Minnesota.” 

“The REACH is a place for youth to feel at home grabbing a snack and sitting down at the kitchen table to talk about their day,” Donnette said. “Many kids who come to The REACH have never had that simple, yet meaningful experience.” With help from volunteers like Donnette, The REACH offers youth a hot meal, clean clothes, help finding a job or a place to live, connection to community resources and most importantly, support from caring adults.

“Donnette extends love and respect to every young person who comes through our doors,” said Tasha Mouton with The REACH. “She brings treats and meals for youth and reminds them how important they are. Donnette is a wonderful person and a great example of the impact we make when we work together.  I am so glad her big heart for kids is recognized with the Jefferson Award.”

Since opening its doors in 2011, The REACH has been a place for young people experiencing instability to find safe, non-judgmental support and guidance. In preparation for independent living, On My Own classes teach youth ages 16 to 20 critical skills including cooking, money management and resume writing. Experienced case managers meet immediate needs including food, clothing, medical care, and emotional support.

Caring for youth takes an entire community and Donnette shares news of The REACH with her friends and family as often as she can. “Young people, especially those experiencing instability, need all the support they can get,” she said. “All of us want to see every youth do well and succeed.”

If you are interested in joining Donnette and volunteering with The REACH or would like more information about LSS of MN youth outreach services, please call 507.508.6611 or visit


About Jefferson Awards Foundation
Jefferson Awards Foundation’s mission is to power others to have maximum impact on the things they care most about.  Through celebration of others, action is inspired. Organizational programs and partnerships drive Americans to change their communities and the world.  For more information, please visit

About Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota began in 1865 when a Lutheran pastor and his congregation opened an orphanage for children near Red Wing. Today, with 2,300 employees and 8,000 volunteers, Lutheran Social Service helps one in 65 Minnesotans each year live and work in a community with safety, dignity, and hope. Through a wide range of services, the organization seeks to provide safety and supportive homes for children, counseling to restore health and wellness in families, community living for people with disabilities, and options that help older adults experience independence and full life in community. For comprehensive information about the work of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, please visit