Creating Promising Futures

Three years ago, his goal was to raise awareness and inspire philanthropy for kids in need.

Today, his work is building a brighter, stronger community for all.

Meet our 2022 Friend of the Foundation honoree, Steve Hildebrand.

Today in Sioux Falls, the gap between kids who have, and kids who have not, is growing by the day.

Steve Hildebrand is working to close it.

Since starting Promising Futures, a grassroots effort to create equity for kids in poverty, Hildebrand has inspired thousands of individuals, families and businesses to invest in a mission to end what he calls the “poverty disadvantage” in Sioux Falls.

Since its founding in 2019, gifts to the Promising Futures Fund, held at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, have helped to advance educational opportunities, have supported outside experiences, such as field trips, tours and events and, perhaps most importantly, have provided inspiration and hope for kids at 16 schools throughout the city with the highest rates of poverty.

“Just because a kid was born poor doesn’t mean he or she should have less opportunity than any other kid,” Hildebrand said. “I’m very blessed to get to do what I do. The money we’re bringing in brings a lot of joy — it’s money for books that kids wouldn’t get to read otherwise, it’s opportunities for field trips and outside experiences these kids might not ever get, it’s expanding a kid’s horizon and increasing their opportunities for a better education and, ultimately, for a better life.”

Steve Hildebrand visits with Nikkie Duin, principal for Anne Sullivan Elementary School. Photos by Emily Spartz Weerheim.

‘Changing the trajectory’

For Hildebrand, creating equity for kids in poverty is about more than helping kids — it’s helping the future of our community.

“A big reason so many people have embraced this is because if we want to curb crime, if we want to curb poverty, if we want to curb homelessness, we have to focus on kids at an early age,” he said.

Today in Sioux Falls, 10 of the city’s 23 elementary schools are designated as Title 1 schools, which means they serve a high number of kids from low-income families. Across the Sioux Falls School District, the poverty rate is a staggering 47 percent.

For these kids, life is hard. At home, parents and guardians are working hard just to get by. There often isn’t extra time or money to spend on books or enrichment activities. As the city sees growing numbers of immigrant families, the school district increasingly serves parents and students who do not speak English.

“A school district with a large immigrant population and nearly half of its students living in poverty is not the same old school district,” Hildebrand said.

“We’re seeing kids who are coming to kindergarten who likely haven’t ever been read to before. They may have never held a book before.”

The ability to read, he said, determines their ability to succeed.

“Reading for kids in poverty is likely their biggest challenge in life,” Hildebrand said. “The vocabulary a kid develops before kindergarten is critical. If a child isn’t read to before kindergarten, if they don’t have books to page through, if they don’t speak English — their life is really considered to be compromised at that point. “

Research agrees.

Steve Hildebrand visits with Lowell Elementary Principal Diane Kennedy.
Steve Hildebrand visits with Lowell Elementary Principal Diane Kennedy.

According to “The Report on the Condition of Education 2022” from the National Center for Education Statistics, “living in poverty is associated with poor educational outcomes — including low achievement scores, having to repeat a grade and dropping out of high school.”

The future of our community, Hildebrand said, depends on our ability to prevent these kids from falling through the cracks.

“By third grade, if a child isn’t reading at grade level, their life begins to get very hard. We should devote as many resources as possible to make sure these kids are as capable of reading as any other kids, so that when they get to high school they’re passionate about reading, they’re passionate about education and they’re passionate about their futures. We want these kids to believe in their ability to achieve their dreams — to become great doctors, great scientists, great teachers, great restaurant owners — whatever they want to be. And whichever career they choose, they will be meaningful participants in the Sioux Falls economy.”

If there’s ever been a time to join together to help create promising futures for our kids, it’s now, Hildebrand said.

“Our community embraces our work in a big way because we are in a situation where we have rising rates of crime, rising rates of illegal drug use – these things ruin lives and cost a community large amounts of money to deal with,” he said. “We’re also a community that, for a decade or more, has needed good, quality workers in every sector of our economy.”

Working together, we can change the trajectory of a child’s life, and the trajectory of our community’s future, Hildebrand said.

“It’s a whole lot easier to take care of those who are here and work to give them a good future verses trying to get people from other parts of the country to move here to be our workforce,” he said. “If we grow our own properly, we’re creating an incredible workforce because, at the same time, these people are committed to our community because they have roots here.”

‘I was one of these kids’

The Hildebrand family (submitted photo).

Hildebrand knows first-hand what can happen when a community rallies around kids in need. Growing up in Mitchell, South Dakota, Hildebrand is the youngest of nine kids. His father died at a young age, leaving his mother to raise the family alone.

The community stepped forward to help.

“If we needed a ride to a school event and my mom couldn’t take us, the community was there for us. If a farmer had a bunch of extra produce, he’d drop it off to my mom to help feed us. It was this sense that, as a community, they weren’t going to just leave these kids in this unfortunate situation. But, the community was going to be there to ensure we had the same opportunities everyone else did,” he said.

“I’m proud to say we had every opportunity every other kid had — and that’s because our community saw the need and stepped forward to help.”

After college, Hildebrand went on to build a successful career as a political strategist. Later, he returned to Sioux Falls to launch Josiah’s, a popular downtown restaurant.

It was at Josiah’s on a fall day in 2019 when he sparked a conversation with a group of retired teachers and school administrators about the impact of poverty on kids and the community.

After visiting with principals and teachers at several Title 1 schools in Sioux Falls, he, along with Jan Nicolay and Cathy Piersol, launched the idea for Promising Futures via a post on Facebook. The movement took off and eventually, Hildebrand made the decision to sell the restaurant and focus entirely on helping kids and schools.

Initially, he considered forming a nonprofit, but ultimately made the decision to partner with the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.

As its fiscal sponsor, the Community Foundation receives and receipts charitable gifts for the Promising Futures Fund and provides reporting and administrative support. The Foundation also helps inform donors who are passionate about kids and education about the work of Promising Futures.

“The staff at the Foundation have really opened the doors for Promising Futures to grow by helping us build connections across the area and with the Foundation’s community of donors. It’s been a wonderful collaboration,” he said.

“Our collaboration with the Foundation has been very meaningful. More people in this community need to know not just of the work the Foundation does, but the opportunities that exist for collaboration,” he said. “I’ve become the No. 1 fan of the Foundation. What we can do together is so impactful.”

Beyond Promising Futures, Hildebrand and the Community Foundation have collaborated on other projects to help kids in need, including a project to revitalize Hayward Park. Next up, he said, is a plan to revolutionize after school and summer care for kids.

In partnership with former Boys & Girls Club CEO Rebecca Wimmer, they have spent the last 18 months developing a new blueprint for after school programs for kids in K-12. As Co-Chairs of the new Access for All program, they are launching a multi-million dollar effort that will, amongst other things, provide first-time access for thousands of low-income kids in our school district to after school and summer care. You will hear much more from them in the coming months.

A Chance to Dream Bigger Dreams

From taking 2,200 elementary schoolers to see ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ at the Washington Pavilion, to organizing college visits for eighth grade students, to creating opportunities for kids to attend summer camps, Hildebrand’s ability to inspire gifts and to work across schools to organize and choreograph activities and initiatives is nothing short of amazing.

That’s because Hildebrand doesn’t just talk about wanting to make a difference, he makes the difference, said Erika Paladino-Hazlett, principal for Whittier Middle School.

“People like to talk about things a lot. I’ve seen a lot of people over the course of the 25 years I’ve spent in the district talk about how to help. But Steve doesn't talk about it. Steve does it.”

One example, Paladino-Hazlett said, is Hildebrand’s work on behalf of Promising Futures to organize college visits for eighth graders at Whittier.

“Those experiences provided our students with a vision,” she said. “We always talk about how ‘you can't be what you can't see.’ So for students who have never seen higher education or technical schools, it’s hard to see (how middle and high school creates a path to the future). So for Steve to provide opportunities to visit campuses, to connect with college presidents, to talk with students — that’s huge for our students. They can begin to see themselves in a college classroom, playing on a college field or a college court, earning a college degree. I think the vision he’s giving to our students is amazing.”

Cynthia Mickelson, a board member for the Sioux Falls School District, agrees.


2022: Steve Hildebrand
2021: Paul and Mary Ellen Connelly
2020: Garry & Dianne Jacobson
2019: Bill & Lorrae Lindquist
2018: Sue Brown*
2017: Al Schoeneman
2016: Jerry & Mary Pat Sweetman
2015: Miles & Lisa Beacom
2014: Paul & Koni Schiller
2013: Stephen & Mary Lynn Myers
2012: Tom & Barb Everist
2011: Helen Madsen
2010: Joe & Elaine* Floyd
2009: Jeff & Katie Scherschligt
2008: Steve & Allison Garry
2007: John & Eileen Quello
2006: Karl* & Margaret Cash Wegner
2005: Jerry & Pat Walton
2004: Tom & Mary Jane Reardon*
2003: Dale & Dorothy Weir*
2002: The First National Bank in Sioux Falls
2001: Sarah Richardson Larson
2000: Dick & Barbara Auld*
1999: John Foster*, Larry Ritz*
1998: Dan & Arlene Kirby
1997: Marvin K. Bailin*
1996: Bill Barlow*


“It never ceases to amaze me how he pours his heart and soul into this thing. He truly is a servant leader — he's doing the work to get all of these things done. He pushes me, he pushes our school district, he pushes our principals and teachers to think outside the box,” she said. “If we had to hire people to replace Steve, we'd probably have to hire at least three people — the time he gives is just truly remarkable, starting from the very first program, the Book a Month Club.”

Inspired by research that shows if kids in poverty can choose and own a book, they’re more likely to attempt to read the book. The Book a Month Club serves 240 classrooms across the Sioux Falls School District. Individuals and businesses can sign up to sponsor a classroom, which pays for a book a month for every student throughout the nine-month school year.

“The kids pick out their books and they own the books. If they’re starting the program in kindergarten and do it through fifth grade, they will own 56 books,” Hildebrand said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to flood these kids with books and to, hopefully, help them become passionate readers.”

The Definition of Philanthropy

Philanthropy, at its core, is about people helping people, and there’s no better definition of that than Steve Hildebrand, said Andy Patterson, president of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.

“Steve is the real deal — he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks it. Actually, he runs it. He races it,” Patterson said. “He is a visionary who isn’t afraid to roll his sleeves up and work hard to get something done."

“Beyond all he does to inspire others to give in support of Promising Futures, beyond all he does to organize and manage the organization’s programs and initiatives, he’s also giving of his own resources to help our kids — to help our community," Patterson said. "We couldn’t be more grateful for all he does and we are absolutely honored to recognize him as our Friend of the Foundation award recipient.”

The Friend of the Foundation Award will be presented at the 2022 Donor Reception on October 6.

Learn more about the Promising Futures Fund.