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Expert Voices

Reflections on the Founding of CVT

Published June 26, 2015

By Chelsea Matson, Humphrey Policy Fellow in CVT’s Washington D.C. office.

Looking back on 30 years of work, the success of CVT is due in part to the extraordinary efforts of its founders and the groundwork they laid for its future. The following is a brief look at the beginnings of CVT and the role founders played in that process.

Our story begins in 1983 with a simple question. As a law school student and volunteer for Amnesty International, Rudy Perpich Jr. asked his father, the late Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich, “What are you doing for international human rights?” In response, Governor Perpich, with input from his policy director Tom Triplett, created a task force with a mandate to discover how Minnesota could fill gaps in international human rights work. The task force was chaired by Robert Stein, then Dean of the University of Minnesota Law School and Dr. Gene Mayberry, CEO of the Mayo Clinic.  Members included Sam Heins, Robert Sands, and David Weissbrodt. According to Mr. Stein:

I think there’s a tradition in Minnesota of progressive activism. Many people don’t just sit back, but feel strongly about public policy issues and decide to get actively involved. It may relate to an even earlier era in the early 20th century. There were several progressive leaders in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. It established a strong base of public support for individuals in need. [CVT is an] example of responding to that need.

Inspired by Governor Perpich’s visit to the Copenhagen International Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (IRCT), the task force, in a memo written by Mr. Weissbrodt, recommended the creation of a center dedicated to multidisciplinary rehabilitative care of torture survivors. Based on this recommendation, the task force began to work on making this dream a reality. As co-chair of the task force, Mr. Stein led the charge on researching the unique needs, feasibility, and basic operations of a torture rehabilitation center. Mr. Sands wrote the Articles of Incorporation and obtained tax exempt status for CVT. Mr. Heins set up its legal organization and a relationship with the University of Minnesota that would prove valuable in the future.

With the structure firmly established, CVT now needed funding to get the organization off the ground. After several failed attempts to obtain funding, the team submitted a modest grant request to Terry Saario, then head of the Northwest Area Foundation. Ms. Saario reviewed the request and encouraged a different approach. Recognizing the important and ambitious work that CVT wanted to undertake, Ms. Saario asked for a comprehensive, more visionary proposal that would meet CVT’s needs and allow it to grow. With this new proposal in hand, Ms. Saario recommended and received approval from the Foundation’s board on a $300,000 multi-year grant to support CVT.

For the next two years, CVT operated out of the International Clinic of St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center (now Regions Hospital). Yet the institutional setting was not conducive to the care of torture survivors and the CVT team looked to find a permanent home. Leveraging their legal backgrounds, relationship with the University of Minnesota, and with the active support of Governor Perpich, Mr. Sands and Mr. Heins negotiated the lease of 722 Fulton Street, a home on the Minneapolis campus. This home became CVT’s first healing center and was immediately embraced by torture survivors.

Demand for CVT’s services grew rapidly with the establishment of their new healing center. To meet this demand, Barbara Frey, working as the volunteer managing director of CVT, helped transition the organization to a professional staff structure. Mr. Triplett, serving as chair of CVT’s board for three years beginning in 1987, led the search for CVT’s new executive director, Doug Johnson. According to Mr. Triplett,

[CVT had] been around five or six years at that time, but the public environment for even talking about torture was a little iffy… So what we were looking for in Doug, was not only an administrator of the organization, but someone who could take it to the next level…[Doug] was the one who pushed hard for reaching beyond Minnesota’s borders. Because at the time, we knew we had hundreds of torture survivors in Minnesota. We thought with our limited resources, let’s just focus on that…Doug realized we were filling a void. There was the Copenhagen Center and that was pretty much internally focused in Denmark and northern Europe. But there was no worldwide entity. Doug was instrumental in alerting us that not only is there a need, but CVT can fill that need.

Mr. Johnson remained in that role for 23 years, overseeing CVT’s international expansion and the opening of CVT’s Washington D.C. office. Mr. Weissbrodt, a longtime human rights advocate in Minnesota and CVT board member for 22 years, was also instrumental in establishing that office.

CVT would not have developed the clinical expertise, national and international reach, and public policy successes it has today, without the expertise and hard work of these nine individuals. Over the past 30 years, CVT has helped over 30,000 torture survivors heal and rebuild their lives. We have healing centers on three continents and train partners in every region of the world on how to care for torture survivors.

Every year, CVT presents the Eclipse Award to an individual or organization in honor of their service for the protection and healing of torture survivors, and the prevention of torture. This year, in honor of their extraordinary contributions, CVT is pleased to present the Eclipse Award to our founders.

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