Due to the pandemic, the Annual Human Rights Awards program has been cancelled. Instead this year’s honorees are being acknowledged without the traditional breakfast ceremony.

In lieu of the ceremony, the Iowa City Human Rights Commission is proud to recognize the following individuals and organizations that were selected for the 37th Annual Human Rights Awards.

The Isabel Turner Award goes to Leslie and Scott Carpenter for their work towards the rights of individuals to get fair treatment

Serious Brain Disorders Advocates Leslie and Scott Carpenter are parents of a child with Serious Brain Disorder. After struggling with getting consistent care for their son for several years, they are working tirelessly to improve Iowa's mental health system. Leslie is president elect of National Alliance on Mental Illness Johnson County (NAMI). She and Scott fundraise annually for the NAMI walk; work to educate local, state and national officials on policies that will help individuals with Serious Brain Disorders; and formed Iowa Mental Health Advocacy with the intent to change how our federal, state, and local governments provide services and support for those with serious mental illness. Their current projects include changing federal mental health care policy, implementing Assisted Outpatient Treatment in Iowa, and securing funding for regional Mental Health and Disability Services and children's mental health care.

The Linda Severson Award goes to Ron Berg, Prelude: Behavioral Service for contributions to human rights by an individual in a service organization

Ron Berg is retired after more than 30 years with Prelude. He began his involvement as a graduate student intern, which grew into a full-time counselor position. Berg was named Associate Director in 1985, Vice President of Clinical Operations in 2002, and CEO in 2010. During his tenure, he has led Prelude in becoming one of the most comprehensive non-profit behavioral health agencies in Iowa. Ron has been instrumental in developing multiple programs to benefit those seeking help with addiction and mental health issues, including Synchrony’s Employee Assistance Program and the GuideLink Access Center, which will open in January 2021. People struggling with addictions often face more discrimination than any other group. It is easy to blame them for their own “lack of control.” Ron Berg has spent a lifetime fighting these stereotypes and advocating for those he serves.

The International Award goes to Mohammed Abu Hasan.

Mohammed Abu Hasan has spent his life caring for others, both in his adopted home of over 20 years and overseas. Ha assists those in his home country when he travels there, donates resources for international students to finish school, and writes articles about global warming to raise awareness. In his business, he offers free consultations and treats his employees humanely. He distributes food, clothing, and money to people who are homeless, and saved a person from freezing last winter by giving them a ride as they stood outside in -20-degree weather. He cares about his fellow humans, whether in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.

The Bill Reagan Community Award for contributions to human rights by an organization go to the Iowa Policy Project.

Founded in 2001, the Iowa Policy Project (IPP) provides timely research on policy issues of critical importance to the people of Iowa. Specifically, IPP focuses on tax and budget, energy and environment, and economic opportunity issues. Their clearly written reports and presentations equip Iowans with the facts and context they need to evaluate policy alternatives. Using quantitative research, IPP has produced hard data that allows the disenfranchised to challenge governmental policies and decisions. IPP gives ordinary individuals the tools to challenge discrimination and injustice in Johnson County and throughout Iowa. IPP recently announced that it is merging with the Child and Family Policy Center to form Common Good Iowa.

The Rick Graf Award for long-term commitment to a specific cause for the benefit of a specific group of persons goes to Eric Harris.

Eric Harris has been a tireless advocate for voting rights for Iowans who have been convicted of felonies. After Governor Reynolds issued an executive order restoring voting rights to most Iowans who have been convicted of felonies, he went right to work on registering newly-restored voters in cooperation with the South District Neighborhood Association and the League of Women Voters. He has also worked with organizations including the ACLU of Iowa and Inside Out Reentry Community. His advocacy has contributed so much to our state, city, and individuals who are now empowered to exercise one of the most important individual rights: the right to vote.

The Heather Shank Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Senator Bob Dvorsky.

Retired State Senator Bob Dvorsky represented Iowa City throughout his 32 years in the Iowa Legislature and has a long record of supporting human rights. He was a longtime advocate for corrections and prison reform, public education, affordable housing, disability rights, labor rights, and much more. In 2006, he helped push through the first State law protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations, credit, housing, and education. Senator Dvorsky continued to push to strengthen these protections, and fought to add marriage equality to the law. In 2009, he was lead sponsor of a human rights bill that updated and restructured the Iowa Department of Human Rights. Senator Dvorsky has been a vocal opponent of reinstating the death penalty in Iowa. During his years in the State Legislature, any member of any marginalized group had a friend in Des Moines. He was also the driving force behind passing the Johnson County Human Rights Ordinance in 2005-6. He influenced local officials and wrote about his support publicly. 

Outside of the legislature, Senator Dvorsky worked with the Department of Corrections and was extensively involved with Hope House. There he worked with residents to assist in transitions and was a pioneer in incorporating job coaching, resume/interviewing skills, and other ways to help the formerly incarcerated to achieve employment. 

He has been the Board President of Housing Trust Fund since its inception 20 years ago and has overseen its growth from a small start-up to a community lifeline providing $5-10M in funding annually.

Date of publication

Monday, November 23, 2020