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Helping Our Kids

As the 2020-21 academic year comes to a close, kids, teachers, administrators and parents will likely remember it as a year marked by unprecedented challenges, unforeseen obstacles and a roller coaster of uncertainties. But, perhaps more than that, they’ll also remember moments of overwhelming kindness that emerged again and again — proof that even in the darkest of days, people helping people through the power of philanthropy can provide the light we all need to move forward.

Two years ago, local business owner and community advocate Steve Hildebrand challenged the community to help eliminate what he calls the “poverty disadvantage” facing thousands of students throughout Sioux Falls.

He created a Facebook post detailing the levels of poverty within the Sioux Falls School District and outlined three things the community could do to help create promising futures for kids at 14 Title One schools throughout the city: contribute to a “Book a Month” club, support an effort to purchase winter coats for kids, and help to fund more field trips.

“I launched that post at about 6 a.m. And all day long and for days and weeks going forward, people just kept bringing checks in,” Hildebrand said. “And soon we had all three of those goals met. And that’s when we started to understand that the community might really support this.”

From there, Hildebrand worked with the Community Foundation to establish the Promising Futures Fund, designed to support efforts intended to increase a child's educational experience, increase outside experiences, such as field trips, tours, events, speakers, etc., and provide inspiration and hope so students can see themselves in a world outside of poverty.

The reality is, the more opportunities we provide for these kids to have a great education and a better upbringing, the better chance we have of increasing the number of people we have for the workforce. We’re going to reduce crime. We’re going to find kids in poverty that grow up to be doctors and lawyers and scientists and do great things. All they need is an opportunity to take the right path in life. And that’s really where our focus is. We just want them to have the same opportunities — we want them to be great readers and be great at math and to have hope for their own futures, which is such a big predictor of success.

— Steve Hildebrand

A Christmas to Remember

The Promising Futures Fund helped make the holiday season extra special for kids at Lowell Elementary. (Submitted photos)

Kids at Lowell Elementary, a Title 1 school near downtown, were hoping for a field trip on the last day of class before Christmas break but those plans were paused due to COVID-19. So instead, the student council came up with an idea to provide gift boxes for each classroom to create fun experiences. Lowell Principal Diane Kennedy approached Hildebrand with the idea and asked if the Promising Futures Fund could help.

Hildebrand rallied support from local businesses to help bring the idea to life at Lowell, Horace Mann, and the Elementary Immersion Center.

At Lowell, student council members wore elf hats while delivering surprise gift boxes to each classroom. Each box was filled with games and craft projects, as well as gifts for the students and teachers.

“I loved the idea, especially because a lot of these kids were going to go home and have not necessarily a great Christmas. A lot of them live in pretty tough circumstances and some of these kids would rather be in school than at home,” Hildebrand said. “I loved the idea of giving them a fun Christmas send-off and the kids had a blast. It was really a fun, good day for them.”

Full Bellies, Full Hearts

A snack at school

After new safety guidelines implemented in the wake of the pandemic required school-provided snacks to be pre-packaged, a number of Title 1 schools throughout Sioux Falls found themselves in a tough spot.

Previously, the schools had participated in a government program through which fresh fruits and vegetables are sold at reduced costs. The schools then purchased that produce to serve as nutritious snacks to their students each school day.

The logistical and financial challenges of finding affordable, pre-packaged snacks pushed the schools to make a decision: they could only provide snacks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

That meant no snacks for kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In addition, in an attempt to decrease the number of kids in the lunchroom at the same time, per social distancing recommendations, schools have had to add in more lunch periods throughout the day. As a result, some kids may eat lunch early in the day; while others may eat in the afternoon.

For kids in need, a family’s evening meal may be small or even nonexistent. If that child isn’t able to get to school in time for breakfast, the only way he or she is receiving proper nourishment is because of school-provided lunches and snacks. With no healthy snacks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and an adjusted lunch schedule, we knew kids were going hungry and we knew we needed to do something. The Promising Futures Fund brought this issue to our attention and we quickly created the School Snack Project Fund to help.

A major gift from Great Western Bank, lead gifts from the Foundation’s Community Fund and local donors Dusty and Kathy Miller, and gifts from donors throughout the community provided more than $50,000 to the School Falls School District to help provide daily school snacks through the remainder of the school year.

“We’ve heard countless stories of teachers and principals from these schools who were paying for snacks for their classrooms out of their own pockets,” said Patrick Gale, the Foundation’s vice president for Community Investment. “Our teachers and administrators already go above and beyond for our kids — that’s especially apparent this year. The fact that they’re doing this is just another illustration of how much teachers love and care for their students. And, it’s another reason the Community Foundation has been so proud to support this project.”

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Steve Hildebrand visits with Lowell Elementary Principal Diane Kennedy.

Community Advocate Partners With Foundation to Help Create Promising Futures for Local Kids

When the time came for Steve Hildebrand to move his idea to create Promising Futures for local kids from the drawing board into action, he had a decision to make. Rather than starting his own private foundation, he chose to utilize the philanthropic expertise of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation. Learn why a donor advised fund was the right giving vehicle for this important movement.

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