Macalester College Alumni
2008 Award Recipients
Joan Swanson Velasquez ’63
Distinguished Citizen Citation
Joan Swanson Velasquez graduated from Macalester with highest honors, then earned her master’s degree at Case Western Reserve and her Ph.D. in social work at the University of Minnesota. She also served in the Peace Corps in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she opened a daycare center, taught English, and met her husband Segundo.
In St. Paul, Velasquez was a Ramsey County social worker, and ultimately director of research and evaluation. In the mid-1980s, she co-led the team implementing the nation’s first electronics benefits system (EBS), which allowed low-income clients to swipe a card to pay for their food. More respectful of clients and less subject to fraud than food stamps, EBS was honored by the Ford Foundation.
But most people know Joan and Segundo Velasquez as the founders of Mano a Mano, a nonprofit organization that each year collects and transports to Bolivia 250,000 pounds of medical equipment and supplies otherwise headed for landfills. Bolivia, tied with Haiti for poorest country in the western hemisphere, saves lives with this used equipment. Mano a Mano now has expanded its reach, building 82 clinics and 30 schools, and recently its third agricultural reservoir, providing water not only for people, but for the crops that sustain them.
“Joan is an inspiration to anyone who works to provide health care to those in need,” says classmate Wayne Brezina, who nominated her. “It’s her life’s passion.”
Joan has been recognized as an outstanding alumna of the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, a co-madre of Chicanos/Latinos Unidoes en Servicio, and, with Segundo, as KARE-11 TV’s Volunteers of the Year.
2008 Sargent Shriver Award Winner: Joan Velasquez
A distinguished panel of past recipients has selected Joan Velasquez (Bolivia 67-69) to receive the 2008 Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service. Joan and her husband Segundo (pictured at right) co-founded Mano a Mano, a non-profit organization that has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Bolivians. The award will be presented on October 4th in San Francisco in conjunction with the NPCA's Group Leaders Forum and Annual General Meeting.
Joan Velasquez, a Minnesota native, graduated from Macalester College with highest honors and earned her master's degree at Case Western Reserve University before entering the Peace Corps in 1967. Joan arrived in Cochabama, Bolivia in the midst of political turmoil, with no solid assignment. She went door to door to determine where she could best help, and discovered that the community was still traumatized by the death of a young child. The child had died in a home fire while her parents were at work. Joan's response was to single-handedly create and direct a day care program that, as her Shriver nominator Christine Ver Ploeg told us, continues to thrive today and "remains a model for day care programs throughout the entire country." While in Bolivia she also taught English and met her husband, Segundo.
When she returned to the United States, Joan worked as a Ramsey County social worker in St. Paul, Minnesota. After she received her Ph.D. in social work from the University of Minnesota, she became the director of research and evaluation for Ramsey County Human Services. In the mid-1980s, she co-led the team implementing the nation's first electronics benefits system (EBS), which allowed low-income clients to swipe a card to pay for their food. More respectful of clients and less subject to fraud than food stamps, EBS was honored by the Ford Foundation.
In 1994 she retired from her job as research director and co-founded (along with her husband Segundo Velasquez) a non-profit organization to serve the most impoverished villagers in rural Bolivia. Mano a Mano was originally premised on the simple notion that medical inventory that would otherwise be wasted could be routed to Bolivia. Minnesota volunteers began collecting and shipping what has now grown to 2,500,000 pounds of medical surplus. These pieces of medical equipment and supplies--older model wheelchairs, gurneys, exam beds--otherwise would be headed for landfills. Bolivia, tied with Haiti for poorest country in the western hemisphere, saves lives with this used equipment. On the receiving end, Cochabama volunteers continue to ensure that these medical supplies reach the neediest Bolivians. "Joan is an inspiration to anyone who works to provide health care to those in need," says Macalester classmate Wayne Brezina. "It's her life's passion."
Joan pressed forward and within two years of launching Mano a Mano, she and her husband, along with their Bolivian counterparts, were overseeing a massive clinic-building program that as of now has created a health care infrastructure of 89 community clinics in previously unserved areas of Bolivia. As her Shriver nominator wrote: "Through this network more than 700,000 Bolivians have access to healthcare for the first time. All mothers and all but 29 infants whose births were attended by Mano a Mano medical personnel survived childbirth, a stunning accomplishment in rural areas in which, statistically, one would have expected that, with 6,911 deliveries since beginning its clinic program, 45 mothers and up to 690 infants would have lost their lives."
Mano a Mano has also built schools, roads, public showers, bathrooms and laundry tub facilities in Bolivia. It attained an aviation program to airlift the critically ill or injured, and completed 21 airstrips to connect isolated communities. Mano a Mano has also recently completed its third agricultural water reservoir, providing water not only for people, but for the crops that sustain them. It has done all of this operating though a largely volunteer network keeping its administrative and fundraising costs at less than 5%.
Joan continues to work as a co-director of Mano a Mano. Volunteer Patricia Ohmans wrote, "Writing grants, filing reports, supervising staff, meeting with funders: this is the essential work that Joan has done for more than a decade--quietly, diplomatically, and brilliantly." Joan has been recognized as an outstanding alumna of the University of Minnesota School of Social Work, one of Macalester's Distinguished Citizens, a co-madre of Chicanos/Latinos Unidoes en Servicio, and, with Segundo, as KARE-11 TV's Volunteers of the Year.
As her Shriver nominator wrote, "Joan's Peace Corps experience laid the groundwork for contributions that have now improved the lives of not hundreds, but tens of thousands, of the Bolivians she fell in love with so many years ago."