Marcia Ferris' strong belief in human rights had its origin in her family farm upbringing and in her Christian faith. Those beliefs also played a role in her selection this week as the winner of the Crow Wing County Human Rights Award for 2011
Recalling her youth in Osakis, Ferris said concern for others was a big part of what she remembers from those days.
"There was an expectation that everyone would help one another," she said. "I grew up in a church that did a lot of service."
Ferris was credited with being one of the primary movers behind the establishment of the Crow Wing County Human Rights Commission. She said others who helped included the late Dean Wiesner, Ed Shaw, Gordon Lee and later, Carol Rose, who worked with the panel after it was established.
"I think local resources are the best," she said. "Local is better. Nothing against the (Minnesota) Department of Human Rights but it sound very intimidating to people."
Ferris' nominating letter cited her long history of volunteering and advocating for human rights. She has volunteered at the soup kitchen and worked with the Interfaith Hospitality Network that provides overnight shelter, food and family support through Brainerd area churches.
Through her volunteer work, she said she has gained insights into those who are less fortunate.
"There are people in our area that our hurting," Ferris said. "Not everyone is doing well. Some people are trying very hard and still not succeeding."
A member of Brainerd's United Church of Christ, she served on her church's state Social Justice Committee for 10 years. She also coordinates the adult forum at her church. She has invited Central Lakes College international students and others to increase people's awareness on poverty and other issues.
Ferris also serves on the Central Minnesota Council on Aging and said she is very conscious of senior and disabled issues.
The Brainerd area's growing minority population has increased her belief in the need for inclusivity. She pointed to the Brainerd School District's recent controversy regarding the school calendar and whether a day off should be labeled as Good Friday or just as a day off.
"We're not all white Christians here in this community," she said.
Ferris' preference for inclusivity ranges from handicapped ramps to having both male and female members on a committee.
"The more voices on the discussion, the better," she said.
She said there are links to between her belief in human rights and her political activism. Ferris is chair of the Crow Wing County DFL. Her term ends this April.
Similarly her job as a senior corps manager for Lutheran Social Service complements her interests.
"I'm very fortunate that my career dovetails with my passions," she said.
She even has a personal mission statement that ties in with her tendency to introduce people she knows to one another. "My mission is to serve as a connector to enable good things to happen in the world around me."
The official presentation of the county's Human Rights Award is expected to be made in March.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.