McKnight honors Lao community leader Sunny Chanthanouvong


Lao Assistance Center Executive Director Sunny Chanthanouvong, recently received the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Services Award from the McKnight Foundation.

The McKnight Foundation recognizes up to six Minnesotans who demonstrated “an exceptional personal commitment to helping others in their communities but who have received little or no public recognition.” The awards were first presented in 1985. The only other Lao Minnesotan to receive the award in its 28-year history so far was Kouthong Vixayvong in 1991.

The awards recognize anyone “directly involved in providing human services, especially those working to make their communities more responsive to the needs of poor or disadvantaged people in Minnesota.”

The $10,000 awards honor Minnesota residents who give their time to improve the lives of people in their communities. This year’s recipients include mentors, healers, community builders, and advocates for the immigrant population.

The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations. For 60 years of grantmaking, collaboration, and strategic policy reform, they use their resources to attend, unite, and empower those they serve.

“Each year I am humbled by the exceptional individuals we meet through the Human Service Awards,” said McKnight’s board chair Ted Staryk. “Each has followed his or her own unique path to service, making profound and lasting differences that are as personal as they are inspiring.”

Sunny Chanthanouvong of Elk River is the executive director of the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. Formed by ethnic Lao refugees in 1981 to respond to the emerging needs of newly arrived Lao refugees who were not Hmong, the Center provides services for youth, adults, and elders around employment, health, housing, citizenship, and culture.

Beyond his long days at the Center, Sunny is also a volunteer, a member on several boards, and a facilitator and advocate for his community.

Chanthanouvong was nominated this year by Carlos Gallego of Think Small.

“Sunny is an inspirational and tireless leader within the Lao community,” Gallego wrote. “He is a knowledgeable and articulate voice, expressing the needs of those he serves.”

Related: Leading to civic engagement: Sunny Chanthanouvong receives McKnight Award (Bryan Thao Worra, 2013)