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Local Heartland manager to receive national anti-poverty award this week

WILLMAR -- Rhonda Otteson of Willmar will receive the 2010 Sargent Shriver Achievement Award this week at the National Community Action Partnership Conference in Boston.

The award is given each year to an individual who has overcome tremendous challenges to leave poverty and give back to his or her community.

The award, which will be presented Thursday, recognizes Otteson's work with Heartland Community Action Agency to improve the lives of people who are working their way out of poverty. She is the organization's housing services manager.

More than 1,100 community action agencies around the nation send representatives to the national conference where the Shriver award is presented.

Otteson's journey to the Shriver award has been a long one. She was at one time a participant in Heartland programs, as a college student working part time and raising two daughters. She became involved as a parent and a leader in the Head Start program and participated in the Circles of Support program. Circles provided mentoring for families who were working to move out of poverty.

When Otteson finished her college degree, she moved into a job with Heartland as a coordinator for Circles of Support.

She later finished her master's degree and was named housing services manager in 2009.

"Rhonda is a true leader and has made a real difference in the lives of so many other families she has supported through her work at community action," Heartland Executive Director Joan Macik said in a news release.

Community action agencies were established in 1965 as a program of President Johnson's War on Poverty. In Minnesota, 28 community action agencies provide services to all 87 counties. In addition to Head Start, they provide Energy Assistance, Weatherization, affordable housing, food support, senior services, emergency assistance and other programs.

-- Staff reports