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Building Community Within Our Community

Joe and Jennifer Kirby
Joe and Jennifer Kirby and their dog, Holmes, in downtown Sioux Falls. Photo by Emily Spartz Weerheim.

When Joe and Jennifer Kirby came to us with the idea for a downtown dog park, we were honored to serve as their philanthropic partner to help make their dream come to life.

When it’s completed later this summer, the park will serve as far more than just an outdoor space for dogs — it will also act as a catalyst for building and strengthening the community we all call home.

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Individuals and families who live near the city’s core will soon have a new outdoor space to enjoy with their furry friends once a new dog park opens in the heart of downtown later this summer.

The Kirby Dog Park at Fort Sod, located at the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue, is the brainchild of local philanthropists Joe and Jennifer Kirby.

After spending winters in southern California where small neighborhood dog parks are common, the Kirbys moved downtown two years ago with their Jack Russell Terrier, Holmes. While they love living amid the energy and momentum of downtown, they’ve missed having a central spot to gather with neighbors and fellow dog owners.

This rendering highlights the features of the Kirby Dog Park at Fort Sod, located at the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue.

After talking with the City of Sioux Falls’ Parks and Recreation Department about the possibility of creating a downtown dog park, they learned the City and Downtown Sioux Falls had already been thinking about such a project. At that time, the Kirbys stepped forward to offer their support for the project so it would happen sooner rather than “someday.”

Passionate philanthropists, active community advocates and longtime Community Foundation donors — they established the Joe and Jennifer Kirby Charitable Fund here more than 20 years ago — the Kirbys then approached the Foundation with the idea.

Working in collaboration with the Kirbys, the City of Sioux Falls, and the Parks and Recreation Department, the Foundation helped develop a philanthropic strategy that enabled the couple to utilize their existing charitable fund held at the Foundation to provide funding to develop the park.

Andy Patterson, president of the Community Foundation, worked with the Kirbys on the project.

The Foundation is often called a facilitator of dreams — that’s because we can match-make between visionary donors like the Kirbys, charities we know well, important grant programs and an innovative city that’s hungry for projects with the potential to enhance the vibrancy of our community. When Joe and Jennifer shared their idea for a downtown dog park with us, we jumped at the chance to help because we believed in their vision. No question about it — this is going to be a great addition to downtown.

Andy Patterson, Community Foundation President

For the Kirbys, the idea for the park is about far more than just having a space for dogs to run and play. It’s about the power public parks have to bring people together in community.

“Getting outdoors with your dog and going to a park — there’s no better way to build and strengthen a community. The dogs play and the people stand around and talk. They talk about commonalities and shared interests. They talk about issues. They talk about how to make the community better,” Joe said.

Patterson agreed.

“Over the years, Joe and Jennifer have helped plan and raise funds for multiple parks and community facilities throughout the City,” Patterson said. “This is a couple who truly sees the important role philanthropy can play in building and fostering community through unique and creative ways.”

The dog park, Patterson said, will not only help enhance the vibrancy of an already thriving downtown, it will also help shape the identity of the neighborhood more and more people are choosing to call home.

Currently, downtown Sioux Falls is home to nearly 2,500 residents — individuals and families who love the downtown vibe, as well as easy access to a diverse and growing collection of locally owned restaurants, shops and entertainment options. Wide sidewalks and unique features like the River Greenway make it easy for downtown residents to enjoy the sights and sounds of their neighborhood.

“When you live downtown, one of the best things about having a dog is that it makes you get out and walk. Getting outside regularly keeps you in touch with the outdoors and with the neighborhood. It’s good for all aspects of the human body,” Jennifer said. “After we moved downtown and saw so many people walking their dogs, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a space downtown where dogs can be off leash and people can talk with each other?’ We think this is going to be great for downtown.”

Joe Batcheller, president of Downtown Sioux Falls, Inc., agreed.

“The Kirby Dog Park will be a significant difference-maker regarding the liveability of downtown,” Batcheller said. “As downtown has become more of a 24/7 neighborhood with new mixed-use developments, amenities like dog parks have become essential in attracting new residents. We’re a fortunate community to have such civic-minded people like Joe and Jennifer Kirby who are making this dream a reality.”

Enhancing the quality of life for those who call the Sioux Falls area home is something the Kirbys say guides their community involvement, as well as their philanthropy.

As chair of the Board of Directors for the Levitt at the Falls, Jennifer led the fundraising efforts to help launch the City’s newest outdoor music venue last year. For its inaugural season, the Levitt surpassed attendance predictions, welcoming than 58,000 music lovers who enjoyed 30 free concerts by professional musicians from throughout the U.S.

The Kirbys also partnered with the Foundation to offer their support for the Levitt, directing a meaningful contribution from their donor advised fund to help launch the project.

As they reflect on this project, and their philanthropy in general, the Kirbys said their partnership with the Community Foundation has been key to helping their charitable ideas come to life.

“We have a strong focus on local giving — giving that will make a significant impact,” Jennifer said, noting the Foundation’s deep roots in the community, as well as its expansive knowledge of the needs and opportunities that exist throughout the area, can help charitable gifts make an even greater impact.

“The Foundation is well-positioned to articulate what the community’s needs are to potential givers,” Joe said. “We’re blessed to be in the ‘giving back’ phase of life. When we see needs in our community, we ask ourselves if there’s something meaningful we can do to help.”

For the dog park project, “it was really easy working with Andy. We let him know what we were interested in doing and it was really smooth and seamless,” Joe said. “Working with the Foundation made it possible.”