Thomas Jefferson Award

Paula Yensen recognized for lifetime of public service

Dr. Paula Yensen is the recipient of the 2013 Thomas Jefferson Award for Lifetime Achievement, awarded by The Democratic Party of McHenry County. Dr. Yensen is Executive Director of United Way of Central Kane County in St. Charles, Illinois.

Dr. Yensen has been an activist for civil rights, women’s rights and social justice for over 35 years. While living in Lansing, Michigan in the 1970’s and ’80’s, she founded the Women in Poverty Task Force, and served as the Title IX coordinator for the nationally recognized Project on Equal Education RIghts (PEER). Dr. Yensen was Secretary of the Ingham County Women’s Commission, which founded the Lansing domestic violence shelter. The Commission also created The Sexual Assault Task Force, which worked with the Michigan State Police to create the evidence collection protocol for rape victims that is now the national standard for law enforcement.

She helped write and distribute the Divorce Handbook for women, and taught women on welfare in the Lansing YWCA’s Step Up program. Dr. Yensen was a regional coordinator in the campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, and organized demonstrations in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

At Michigan State University, she led one of the first protest marches in the nation focused on the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. Reclaim the Night was the largest campus demonstration since the Vietnam War, and it led the University to make significant improvements to security.

Dr. Yensen was Chair of the Equal Opportunity Committee for Ingham County, founder of the Economic Justice Task Force and a founding member of the Fair Housing Center in Lansing. She organized efforts to force better working conditions at restaurants in Ingham County, in partnership with the UAW and a state-wide Hispanic women’s coalition.

Since moving to Illinois, Dr. Yensen has served two terms as a Village Trustee in Lake in the Hills and was recently re-elected to serve a second term on the McHenry County Board. She is also a National Operational Volunteer for Girl Scouts USA, and teaches at Harper College.

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