LSS: The Pulse of Diversity in Sioux Falls

Oldenkamp Betty - WEB 2014Every day, we look into the eyes of our neighbors—calming fears and providing hope. Although many connections are made because of sorrow and crisis, there are also stories of joy and celebration.

  • Through open adoption, a young birth mom who once struggled to make a good decision for her unborn child celebrated the first birthday with her child and the adoptive parents.
  • A couple thinking their 20-year marriage was over celebrated their anniversary, all because they came in for marriage counseling.
  • A family of four on the verge of losing their home learned there was a solution for their financial difficulties through LSS’s Center for Financial Resources.

The people we serve are as unique and diverse as the circumstances that brought them to LSS. However, of all of our services, the most controversial and least understood is our work with refugees. LSS has had its hand on the pulse of diversity in Sioux Falls as early as 1948 when we resettled displaced Europeans as a result of World War II.

In the last 65 years, the world has changed and so has the refugee population. In recent years, LSS resettled displaced people from Bhutan and Iraq. More are starting to come from Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

The United States along with other countries participates in a global humanitarian mission to care for the world’s refugees. The President of the United States determines how many refugees will be allowed into our country each year. Last year, that was 68,000, 35% to 40% of whom were children. The U.S. Department of State and a group of national agencies determine the number of refugees placed in each state.

In South Dakota, LSS is the only agency that provides direct resettlement services for refugees. The number of refugees resettled in Sioux Falls each year remains relatively consistent, in the 400 to 500 range, which is less than one percent of the total population of refugees resettled in the United States annually. LSS provides six core resettlement services, including community orientation and education, case management, employment services, English language training, immigration services and interpreter services.

Each week, nearly 400 refugees walk through our doors to attend classes. Some of the classes are tailored for specific jobs such as customer service and food safety. Last year, LSS helped 376 refugees prepare for and successfully maintain employment in Sioux Falls.

Based on federal requirements, refugee resettlement services are designed to encourage early self-sufficiency, not long-term dependence. We have eight months from the moment they step off the plane in Sioux Falls to get them acclimated to our culture and employed. Although they remain eligible for core services for up to five years, refugees do not receive federal cash assistance for their living expenses after eight months.

We acknowledge that refugee resettlement brings challenges for law enforcement, education, social and health services. We believe it also brings great value that is difficult to quantify—adults who are eager to work and will accept less desirable jobs; children who acclimate quickly and grow up to be teachers, social workers and doctors; youth are exposed to language and culture in their classrooms that prepares them to learn, work and succeed in a global economy; our community benefits from a great diversity of cultural traditions; and a growing number of ethnic small businesses enhance our landscape.

LSS recently changed the name of our refugee resettlement services to the Center for New Americans. Referring to our clients as New Americans reinforces their new status and a new start rather than the trauma of their past. It is a name that reflects the possibilities in their future.

We understand that for some people change is uncomfortable and that they may fear losing what is familiar. Our hope is that through exposure and personal experiences will come understanding and transformation.

As LSS approaches its 100th anniversary of providing multiple and diverse services and responding to the changing needs of the Sioux Falls community, I find it comforting to reflect on our mission—strengthening individuals, families and communities. We believe it is God’s love that compels us to serve and to value all people. Our core values—to be compassionate, appreciative, respectful, ethical and strategic—are grounded by our faith in God. They will guide our hands and feet, our hearts and words as we serve our neighbors as God intended.

Betty Oldenkamp, President/CEO, Lutheran Social Services

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