2013 Outstanding Commission Executive Director

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Audrey Suker, ServeMinnesota

2013 Innovation & Leadership Awards –  Outstanding Commission Executive Director
Nominated by ServeMinnesota

“Audrey Suker is an inspiration to all of us that lead State Service Commissions. She maximizes the power of national service and state commissions to leverage resources for the academic success of children every day.”
— Emily Haber, Chief Executive Officer, Massachusetts Service Alliance

Audrey Suker is the CEO for ServeMinnesota, Minnesota’s state commission. She has held this position for 14 years and espouses innovation and impact as her guiding principles. Previously, Suker was Vocational Services Director at Courage Center, a nonprofit for people with disabilities, and Rehabilitation Field Office Manager for the State of Minnesota. She received a Masters in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud University and her Bachelors in Sociology from the University of Minnesota-Morris.

Under Audrey’s entrepreneurial leadership, ServeMinnesota has more than tripled the number of AmeriCorps positions available to Minnesotans and increased state support for AmeriCorps from $900,000 annually to $5 million and private support from $75,000 to $2.5 million. Her vision for leveraging the power of AmeriCorps to solve unsolved problems led to the creation of Minnesota Reading Corps, the largest state AmeriCorps program nationally and a statewide initiative to ensure that all children are reading proficiently by 3rd grade. By strategically using resources to address issues, her work with the state legislature, corporations and foundations is a model for other commissions. To maximize the potential of AmeriCorps resources, she orchestrated the organization’s transition to an independent nonprofit in 2002.

With this new nimble structure the organization has achieved a leadership position nationally, ranking 3rd in competitive federal funding among all 50 states. In 2002, Audrey partnered with a state legislator to address Minnesota’s growing literacy deficiency and created Minnesota Reading Corps, a statewide early literacy program changing academic outcomes for thousands of students. It’s grown from a small pilot serving 500 children nine years ago with 24 members to reaching 30,000 students with more than 1,000 members in nearly 700 sites across Minnesota. Through research-based literacy strategies, AmeriCorps members tutor students, age 3 to grade 3, to ensure they reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade – a critical benchmark in academic success. Its proven model has been validated by the U.S. Department of Education. She has developed strong partnerships with Target, several local United Ways and other state commissions to replicate the program in six other states.

“Minnesota Reading Corps is an essential component of our strategy for accelerating learning. Their track record of improving literacy outcomes for struggling readers creates the foundation that is absolutely necessary for lifelong learning.” – Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner

“My son Jack started Minnesota Reading Corps a couple months back. He went from a grumbling, unhappy reader to an enthusiastic, confident reader in a matter of a few months. He worked very hard, and couldn’t have done it without the help and wonderful attitudes of [his teacher and Reading Corps tutor]. He loves school and is performing beyond what we had hoped for. What a monumental year 1st grade has turned out to be. We are SO proud of him, and as important– he is extremely proud of himself.”— Parent of a Reading Corps participant, Cottage Grove, Minnesota

Audrey is very appreciative of leaders in the field who helped the Minnesota commission get off the ground and clearly sees it as her role to help other commissions in their growth and development. She believes that as stewards of AmeriCorps resources, state service commissions are positioned to accelerate the scaling of effective programs and they have the leadership to help bring private resources to the table. Audrey serves on the ASC board and has been gratified for their enthusiastic participation in helping other commissions connect and partner on effective programs.

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