Christmas: A Time of Unexpected Hope

December 22, 2022

I can’t help feeling emotional around Christmas time. Not just because of the joy of the season, the happiness of seeing friends and family, the sadness remembering loved ones we’ve lost, or the excitement of giving and receiving gifts, but because of the STORY. The story of Mary, a young woman, unexpectedly pregnant, unmarried, and undoubtedly afraid.

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A ‘Little Angel on Your Shoulder’ Helps Families Find Their Strength

December 2, 2022

Life can be challenging, and it’s easy for families to get overwhelmed when chaos surrounds them. Often, it can be difficult to just approach a situation, let alone solve a problem or make the necessary changes.

That’s why LSS CARES Wraparound Services was created. CARES Wraparound is an early-intervention service that coordinates care based on the family’s strengths and needs.

The goal-setting, resources and accountability provided by LSS were exactly what Erin and Cory’s family needed recently.

When Erin’s son, Wesley, was 4 years old, he started showing signs of autism. Coupled with frequent trips to the hospital for intestinal issues, the diagnosis couldn’t have come at a more difficult time.

2018 was a year of upheaval for Erin. She had just transferred to a new role at a local grocery store after moving to Sioux Falls only a few years earlier. A budding-but-challenging relationship with Cory, her future husband, had just started. Then, her dad passed away. And now, even with help from her mother, she was solo parenting a child with autism and trying to keep herself together.

Depression, anxiety and an increasing sense of hopelessness took hold.

“I was not in the mood to deal with anyone,” Erin said.

It’s the kind of personal trouble that might sound familiar to many. And what could have come next could have been a cautionary tale with a sad or even horrific ending.

Instead, Erin and Cory were directed to LSS and its new LSS CARES Wraparound Services. And through goal-setting, accountability and a lot of work, they are now on a path to “stability so we can prosper,” Erin said.

‘It was chaos’

After six years in the Army National Guard, Cory was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given medical discharge from his service. Originally from the Hinton, Iowa area, he moved to Sioux Falls and began working as a cook at a local grocery store.

Cory had two children of his own, who he was co-parenting with their mother. Juggling work, parenting and his medication was taking a toll.

When a new co-worker, Erin, came into his life, he wasn’t exactly in the best space to be starting a relationship.

“It was chaos,” Cory said. He had just spent a night in jail over a misunderstanding with his kids’ mom and was living out of his truck. “I was miserable.”

But annoyance led to finding common ground as parents, which led to hanging out. And the next thing Cory and Erin knew, they were moving in together.

Looking for help through hardship

Fast-forward three years, and Erin and Cory still had each other, but neither felt they were getting better. The pressures of the pandemic weren’t helping.

Wesley was having continued health issues and had to have a gastrostomy tube installed to deliver the medicine he needed. He was spending a lot of time with grandparents while Erin was working through her challenges. Cory’s children also were spending time with their grandparents while they were out of school.

Cory was experiencing severe depression. Erin felt suicidal and spent some time at Avera Behavioral Health.

Individually, and as a family, they were in desperate need of help.

‘They actually, genuinely cared’

Wesley also was seeing a therapist at school, and after a session, the counselor told Erin they could help Wesley, but it sounded like the whole family could use support. LSS and its new CARES Wraparound Services was suggested. From basic goal-setting and skill development to partnering with other providers and resources, ensuring that the family’s voice is heard is at the center of the plan.

“They actually, genuinely cared,” Cory said about starting with the program in April.

CARES Wraparound started with small goals for Erin and Cory — things like making an appointment or getting laundry done. That advanced to a week-by-week plan for everything from work to groceries and then monthly objectives. Sprinkle in daily contact through texts or calls, and being in the Wraparound program has felt like having an organized hype man in your corner, Cory said.

“It’s kind of that little angel on your shoulder,” he said. “It’s just kind of that person beside you saying ‘OK, I know you don’t want to do this, but hey, we talked about it, and we need to do it!’”

Challenges still remain, but the support of CARES Wraparound Services, along with help from Erin’s mom and stepdad, have set Erin and Cory’s family down a path toward stability and success.

“There is no way to feel better about the situation until you take that leap and do something scary,” Erin said. “It seems like they always have whatever you need. They know someone, or they have resources for the help.”

“The anxiety I felt before we started was suffocating,” she continued. “The unknown is scary, but it’s awesome to find help.”

CARES Wraparound is an evidenced-based, strength-based and family-centered model that reaches families before stressors they experience lead to child welfare or juvenile justice involvement. Referrals are made through school social workers or counselors.

An LSS CARES Wraparound team member will contact families after a referral is made to set up an introductory meeting for them to learn more about CARES Wraparound Services. Families have the choice to enroll, and there is no obligation to participate.

Email LSS CARES Wraparound Services at or call 605-403-8038 for information or to find out if CARES Wraparound Services are available in your community.

LSS CARES Wraparound is made possible through a grant from Lutheran Services in America and is a part of Lutheran Service in America’s Family Stabilization Initiative.

National Adoption Month

November 18, 2022

What comes to mind when you hear that it is National Adoption Month? For some people, it’s a time to celebrate the adoption of a child, and that child becoming a permanent member of a family. For others, it’s an acknowledgement of a concept that, although provides permanency for a child, also means loss for that child, and for that child’s birth family. Adoption doesn’t happen without loss.

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LSS Announces Valeria Wicker to Lead the Multi-Cultural Center

November 17, 2022

photo of Valeria Wicker
Valeria Wicker to Lead the Multi-Cultural Center, Sioux Falls

LSS is proud to announce the appointment of Valeria Wicker to lead the Multi-Cultural Center in Sioux Falls. Wicker began her new role on November 1.

LSS and the Multi-Cultural Center of Sioux Falls began integrating programming in October. Onboarding Wicker is a positive step in the right direction to a full transition by year-end. “We are excited to have Valeria in this role. She will do a great job in community building and empowerment in Sioux Falls. We are confident Valeria will strengthen existing relationships, develop new connections and create opportunities,” says Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen, LSS President/CEO.

Wicker comes to LSS from South Dakota State University, Brookings, as a program coordinator for work with Lakota/Dakota programming. She has ten years of experience in education including more than five years with tribal nations. Wicker has a Master of Arts in Teaching, a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish/American Studies, and is fluent in Spanish.

Wicker honors diverse backgrounds and seeks out opportunities to mentor youth and connect with families to keep our community strong and resilient.

“I feel very privileged to be at the helm of the Multicultural Center. The vision of the MCC is very similar to my personal conviction that society is at its best when its wealth of cultures, backgrounds and experiences are valued and thriving,” says Wicker. “In more than 25 years in existence, MCC has offered interpreting and workforce development services, a safe space for youth, and an affordable gathering place. It is part of the rich tapestry of this great city.”

Wicker has lived in Sioux Falls for one year and in South Dakota for almost seven. “I recognized in the MCC a piece of myself. My life, too, has been a meeting of cultures.”

LSS continues to actively listen to the growing needs of our community, and Wicker will play a significant role in shaping multi-cultural services moving forward.  “We will continue to gather insight from individuals and groups from all cultural backgrounds in Sioux Falls, and strategically plan and apply those insights to ensure that the MCC is a valuable and vibrant resource for our community,” continues Kiesow-Knudsen.

Integrating the Multi-Cultural Center into LSS continues to align well with the LSS vision. Wicker supports and is committed to working to make Sioux Falls and South Dakota a welcoming community for individuals from all backgrounds. There will be more exciting developments to come as LSS continues the integration process.

LSS is a private non-profit social service agency. Our vision is that all people in South Dakota will be healthy, safe and accepted. This can be seen through a variety of transformative core services including adoption and pregnancy counseling, foster care, kinship services, childcare & education, disaster response, behavioral health services, re-entry services, Center for Financial Resources, residential services for children and youth, alternatives to detention, independent living services for young adults, mentoring, Better Together, Center for New Americans, Resource Family Services and CARES wraparound services. LSS serves people of all ages, races, faiths and economic levels with professional, confidential and affordable services.

LSS services are licensed by the State of South Dakota and accredited by the Council on Accreditation. LSS is a United Way agency.

Thank you for the love ‘Grandma’ Darlys Zeller

October 24, 2022

Darlys Zeller was recognized as our 2022 LSS Distinguished Volunteer of the Year for her work volunteering in our Intermediate Correctional Intervention Program, ICIP, which is a program of LSS Re-Entry Services for women.

Darlys often makes special treats for the women in the ICIP program in Rapid City and has become known as “Grandma” as they enjoy her treats and spending time with her.

Kristeen Larson-Eckert, ICIP Supervisor, LSS Re-Entry Services; Darlys Zeller, 2022 Distinguished Volunteer of the Year; Jessica Lillebo, Director of Donor Relations, LSS Philanthropy Services; Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen, LSS President/CEO

Thank you, Darlys, for spending your time and talents helping our clients feel worthy of your love, time and attention!

Darlys was given a personalized treat pan with the words, “Thank you for the love ‘Grandma’ Darlys Zeller”.

ICIP is a residential treatment program that works with justice-involved women. The program serves women who struggle with substance abuse issues and past trauma by helping them learn new coping skills. The program offers independent living skill-building and resources to help the women re-enter the community. Learn more about LSS Re-Entry Services.

I Became His Person

October 20, 2022

LSS Foster Care Services

Hannah and Henry joined LSS at our annual donor recognition luncheon in September to share the heartwarming story that brought them together. Henry joined the home of Hannah and her husband as a baby after he had suffered traumatic injuries at just 12 days old.

Hannah and Henry with Jill Jensen, LSS Permanency Services Director, at the Annual Donor Recognition Luncheon in September.

Henry needed a safe and loving home to help him heal, grow and survive. He is now five years old and has a safe home, four other adopted siblings through LSS Foster Care Services, and he is loved deeply by his forever family.

LSS foster parents are such a blessing! Thank you to the Ferdig family for serving as such an important part of Henry’s journey and sharing your story.

“My heart connected with his in those horrific moments of pain and healing. I became his person,” said Hannah. “Henry’s pain was that he needed someone to love him no matter how long the nights were, no matter how he screamed and how he communicated his needs.” Hannah’s pain was that she experienced and grieved nine miscarriages. “I asked God for a baby so many times that I’d given up hope and hoped again for 20 years.”

“Henry and I were the perfect match because I needed him and he needed me,” she continued. “We grew and healed together. We’re so thankful to LSS for their professionalism and bravery, and for truly loving us through the really tough roads that we’ve walked. They helped us create our family and we’re forever grateful.”

Learn more about LSS Foster Care Services. With training and support, you can become a foster parent. Join us on the last Tuesday of each month at 5:30 pm MT / 6:30 pm CT via Zoom to learn more, or call us today at 888-201-5061. It starts with a conversation. The Zoom meeting ID is noted in the graphic below.

LSS Names Downtown Sioux Falls Location Fishback Campus for Opportunity

October 17, 2022

The LSS Campus on Eastbank in downtown Sioux Falls has recently been renamed the Fishback Campus for Opportunity in honor of Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback. They served as lead donors for the Campaign for Hope in 2016, and are long-time supporters of LSS.

The Campaign for Hope allowed for the purchase and remodel of 300 East 6th Street in support of an LSS campus offering multiple services including LSS Childcare & Education Services Here4Youth Program, LSS Re-Entry Services, and the LSS Center for New Americans.

“We are pleased to speak on behalf of LSS and its fundraising drive,” said Van and Barb. “We have enjoyed a close working relationship with its people and programs. The list of wonderful, committed folks and the services they provide to many individuals in need and under different circumstances is long. LSS is making a critical difference.”

Van and Barb’s support has continued beyond the campaign. They generously offered a matching gift opportunity for the first annual LSS Day of Giving last May—South Dakota CARES.

“We are grateful for Van and Barb for financially supporting our mission as well as their commitment to sharing the LSS story and advocacy in spreading awareness of our services and the impact they make,” said LSS President/CEO Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen.

“The opportunities are truly endless,” continued Kiesow-Knudsen. “As we enter a new century of service, our board, executive team, and program leadership will undergo strategic planning. Our bar is raised on new fundraising initiatives that we are excited about.”

“I encourage everyone to reach out, ask questions and gain a better understanding of any one of our services and fundraising initiatives,” continued Kiesow-Knudsen. ”Don’t be surprised if you come away inspired by the resiliency of those we serve, and with deep gratitude for the many blessings in our own lives.”

Community Impact

The LSS Fishback Campus for Opportunity enhances the region’s workforce availability by providing job training, skill development, and the resources for clients to be self-sufficient and successful.

Letu Mideksa is one of many individuals who accessed resources through the campus and the LSS Center for New Americans. She came to the United States as a refugee from Ethiopia in 2017 and graduated from Southeast Technical College last May as a licensed practical nurse.

Letu is currently employed at Sanford Health as an LPN. Letu spoke at the annual Taste of Cultures event on the importance of the Fishback Campus for Opportunity and the LSS Center for New Americans, and their impact on refugees and resettlement in South Dakota and the state’s workforce.

”I want to use my education to help relieve other people’s pain,” she said. Like Letu, there are many successful community members who arrived as refugees. Through their perseverance and dedication, along with the tools and support from LSS, they have the confidence and skills to be successful.

Positive Changes Are Possible With Support

October 14, 2022

LSS CARES Wraparound Services

Life is challenging, and sometimes families need support to make positive changes. That is the premise of LSS CARES Wraparound Services.

“Often, families feel stuck while chaos surrounds them, or that success is just out of their reach,” said Program Supervisor Shannalee Mask. “Wraparound services help families make positive changes in their lives regardless of their life circumstances. Families are not alone.”

Started in 2021, CARES Wraparound Services is an early intervention service that follows a high-fidelity wraparound approach to service delivery by providing care coordination based on the family’s strengths and needs. Services are family-driven and team-based.

The primary principles that guide LSS CARES Wraparound interactions are that the family’s voice is heard, and their choices and decisions are respected. Referrals are made through school social workers or counselors, and families have the choice to enroll. There is no obligation to participate.

Services are available in Sioux Falls and Watertown. To learn more about LSS CARES Wraparound Services, visit us at or email

Uniting For Ukraine

October 13, 2022

To welcome Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion, the U.S. government announced Uniting for Ukraine last April. The program provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members to temporarily relocate to the United States for a two-year period.

Uniting for Ukraine is different than traditional refugee resettlement models. Ukrainians participating in this program must have a sponsor in the United States who agrees to provide financial support for the duration of their stay. Family or community members can apply to sponsor Ukrainian families.

Ukrainian arrivals are relocated throughout the state due to the reliance on their sponsors. Currently, 101 Ukrainians have arrived in South Dakota. While many Ukrainians reside in the Sioux Falls area, approximately 22 percent are in the Rapid City area. Similar to all refugee arrivals, LSS is working to support Ukrainian arrivals and their sponsors.

For more information on how you can help Ukrainian arrivals, contact LSS Center for New Americans at 605-731-2000 or email

Life Lessons Made Easier With Guidance

October 11, 2022

Before she could walk, Cherokee was neglected and physically abused by her parents. She was removed from her home at the age of three and placed with relatives, where she continued to experience neglect as well as physical and sexual abuse until the age of five.

Cherokee thought she found a safe haven when she was adopted by her grandparents, but the physical and emotional abuse intensified and continued for another seven years. She remembers feeling her only release was self-harm, and she had thoughts of suicide starting as early as the age of seven years old. Cherokee was removed from the home and placed in her first foster home at twelve.

These are the milestones Cherokee acknowledges when talking about her life story; they are embedded into her history. She is able to recount the chronological events, but her experiences were real, painful, and largely too traumatizing to put in print.

Cherokee’s journey is complicated. She received help through residential treatment and foster care in South Dakota, and that is where Cherokee crossed paths with LSS. She was encouraged to attend our independent living workshops and conferences, where she met and connected with Denise Bechard, LSS Independent Living Services.

“I can’t imagine what my life would be without Denise,” said Cherokee. “I knew some stuff but a lot of what I’ve learned, I learned from Denise and my foster mom. A lot of the conversations that my foster mom and I had were sparked by what Denise and I talked about. Denise was life-saving.”

“It’s life-saving because when you become an adult, that’s what you need—to balance your checkbook, to budget, to open a bank account, to look for places to live and to sign a lease. Even teaching me how to research and look for resources helped.”

“If I was struggling with a situation, Denise would be the one I would call and we would talk it through,” said Cherokee. “Denise was that adult in my life who gave me guidance, support and discipline. By discipline, I mean that stern talking to like, ‘You know what you need to be doing and how to be acting, so act like it.’ Sometimes, we need to hear that.”

“Denise taught me the steps to adulting—how to adult,” said Cherokee. “I’ve had things come up that I have no idea what I’m doing. She guided me through situations. I would not be able to do half of the things I’ve done as an adult without her helping me.”

LSS Independent Living Services and Foster Care Services often work hand in hand. “Denise has been there through all parts of my life. It’s not just talking about how to adult, it was talking about how I was doing in my progress and giving me personal advice,” said Cherokee. “She was there when my Grandma died, when I moved from one foster home to another, and she was there during my stay in residential care.”

“I’ve helped others not involved with this program who have had to learn everything on their own. I’ve helped them research jobs, look for a place to live, and balance their bank account. Now I think those things are not that difficult. But it is if you haven’t been taught.”

Today, Cherokee is coping with her past experiences and trauma. She is succeeding, is self-sufficient, and aspires to be an advocate and support for young people. Cherokee is optimistic about what her future holds.

LSS Independent Living Services

LSS Independent Living Services offers a strong and consistent support system to young adults ages 16 to 21 while they learn skills to be self-sufficient adults. This service is comprised of four unique programs.

Community Resource Program provides skills to youth in foster care through one-to-one education, workshops, and conferences.

New Alternatives helps young adults learn to manage severe mental illness by providing housing, case management, counseling, nursing care, and medication management in a safe place to live with 24-hour staffing.

Young Voices is a youth-led statewide peer group that seeks motivated individuals to provide VOICES to those in foster homes, placements or independent living arrangements.

REACH, Resources & Education Adolescents Choosing Healthy Behaviors targets youth ages 10-19 who are considered to be “at-risk.” REACH projects have been proven to encourage healthy relationships, avoid risky behaviors, delay sexual activity among youth, reduce pregnancy, and reduce incidents of sexually transmitted infections.

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