Learning through Sharing: World Refugee Day Recap

June 30, 2016

Last Monday, June 20th was World Refugee Day, an international day to raise awareness of the situation of the 21.3 million refugees in the world today.  To recognize the day, the Center for New Americans hosted an open house where former refugees shared their stories of struggle and starting over. Members from LSS and the community came together to listen to and learn from these stories and try food from around the world.

Felix Ngirabakunzi, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told the terrifying tale of the war coming to his village and forcing his family to flee.  Through perseverance, hard work and the grace of God, he and his family made it to Uganda where he received help through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees organization.

Felix Ngirabakunzi, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told the terrifying tale of the war coming to his village and forcing his family to flee. Through perseverance, hard work and the grace of God, he and his family made it to Uganda where he received help through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees organization.



Community members learn how organizations like LSS help refugees when they arrive. LSS offers case management services, educational services, interpretation services, immigration services and employment services to immigrants and former refugees in the community.


Deborah Deng, from South Sudan, explains the challenges and barriers facing new arrivals in America, like learning a new language, finding employment, and meeting others in the community.


Mohamed Ahmed, from Somalia, describes the difficult conditions of refugee camps in Kenya.  Mohamed lived in the Dadaab refugee camp for 24 years before being resettled to Sioux Falls three years ago.  Government corruption and food shortages are common circumstances affecting refugees around the world.



Jackrabbit Mentors

June 28, 2016

There are thousands of South Dakota State University Jackrabbit fans all around the world. For at least 60 Sioux Falls area K-12 students, they are especially thankful for their Jackrabbit friends. Those students have the honor of being mentored by an SDSU alum.

LSS Mentoring Services recently completed our annual survey, and in it we asked about higher education. Mentors are a smart bunch, with 75% earning a Bachelor’s degree and 23% of those completing a graduate degree. We asked where they went to school and the most common answer was…South Dakota State University!

We caught up with two SDSU alums who mentor, Dan Kippley and Kristina Schaefer, to talk about their experiences.

  1. Why is mentoring important?
    Kristina: It’s simple: by being a consistent presence in a child’s life, you have the opportunity to be a source of encouragement and support — and really make a difference in a child’s life.  It is an hour a week, and it one of the best hours I spend each week.Dan: Mentoring school age kids does have an impact on both the mentee and mentor. The second-grader that I see once a week offers a contagious smile that is always uplifting. By sharing a lunch hour, once a week, it is beneficial. My mentee’s school attendance increased dramatically according to his teacher.  Many young students today do not have the benefit of a lot of adult interaction.  A mentor helps fill that void.
  2. What other (if any) volunteer efforts are you currently or have you been involved with? 
    Kristina: I also coach Girls on the Run and volunteer at my daughter’s school.Dan: I am involved in service clubs, and the Chamber of Commerce.
  3. How is mentoring different from other volunteer opportunities?  
    Kristina: One of the great things about being a mentor is that you do not have to be an expert or possess any special skills – you simply have to show up.  While being a mentor, you can play a board game, do a craft project, read, or just talk – no preparation required. Plus, the school counselors and LSS are there to guide the students (and you) through any challenges – your job is simply to show up and be a consistent, stable presence in the mentee’s life! Almost everyone eats lunch, so why not spend one lunch hour a week making a difference?  It’ll be the best lunch hour you spend all week.Dan: Mentoring is less time consuming and by far more rewarding than the other activities I have been involved. I find myself looking forward to my lunch hour the day I visit the elementary school. The one on one experience with the student is gratifying. You quickly realize that you as a person can and do make a difference, one person at a time!
  4. Was volunteering important to you as a college student? Were you involved in any service projects while at SDSU?  
    Kristina: Volunteering has always been important to me.  I grew up with parents who volunteered their time in the community, so the importance of volunteering was instilled in me at a young age.   While in college, I was active in several groups that gave back to the community. I also worked at First Bank & Trust during my time at SDSU and was able to participate in several volunteer projects with the bank as well.Dan: While at SDSU, I served as a volunteer youth soccer coach the first year the program started in Brookings because there were not enough parents volunteering. That was around 1981. How soccer has evolved! The dozen 10 year olds quickly knew more about soccer than I did and we had a lot of fun learning together.
  5. What is one goal related to academics you have for your student? 
    Kristina: I currently have two mentees, one entering fourth grade and one entering her freshman year of high school, so we have very different academic goals. For my fourth grader, our primary focus is reading. My other student is entering high school, so we talk about selecting classes that prepare her for her eventual college career – and it can be stressful to think about when you are “only” a high school freshman.Dan: Reading and writing. The school counselor suggested that my mentee would benefit from reading more. Sometimes we will play games after lunch, and I will listen to my mentee read the instructions off the box on how to play the game, or I have him read other things to me. He even wrote a story about a fictitious character and had me save him from drowning in the story!

THANKS to Dan and Kristina for sharing your experiences with us! We are so appreciative of you and the other Jackrabbits who make time to mentor a student.

If you would like to get involved in mentoring, please call us at 605-221-2403 or visit our website for more information.

Picnicking with Better Together

June 24, 2016

Hot dogs, potato salad and apple pie were shared among new friends at Tuthill Park this week. Looking at17167.LSS.coffeenews.together.1 the group, you would have thought it was a long-standing reunion. There was never a dull moment and lots of conversation, laughs and stories shared.

The picnickers were all part of the LSS Better Together program, an effort that matches Sioux Falls area senior citizens with volunteers for the purpose of relationship building and companionship. Here are some pieces of conversation overheard at the event: Read the rest of this entry »

Forget ‘Up’, Keeping IN With the Neighbors

June 20, 2016

In my neighborhood there is a home that appears to by occupied by at least a couple of young women.  By ‘young’, a typical crabbier old guy might classify them as ‘those stinking kids that need to get a real job and grow up’.  I’m not there yet.  But when I walked past and realized they had a live band playing in the back yard the other night, I thought, “Oh boy, this could get interesting.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tragedy in Orlando and What I Know

June 17, 2016

On June 12, 2016 forty-nine people were murdered in an Orlando nightclub with 53 other victims injured in the shooting. As the world watched in horror, the text messages, videos and stories of the victims splashed across social media and television. I was standing in line at the grocery store this week with a cart full of child-friendly snacks when the elderly woman in line behind me looked at me sadly and commented that it must be hard to raise children in a world like this where people are killed so often and horrible crimes are committed. I was a little tongue tied at the unexpected deep conversation over fruit snacks and gave a polite and short response. Now that I’ve had some time to think, I have an honest response that may have surprised her.

I have the unique blessing of getting to spend time with hundreds of children each day and therefore thousands of children during the course of my career. That means that I know something beautiful. This is a perspective that makes me hopeful for our future. These kids are incredible!

  • Our kids are deep thinkers. They do not accept information without processing it and examining it against their beliefs and values. They will not be brought into a “bad crowd” because they have good heads on those sweet little shoulders. Those that have faith have a deep and lasting faith and want to learn more and share with others.
  • The children that are growing up in “the world today” are caring and giving. They want very much for the world to be a better place and they are willing to work hard to make that happen, particularly when they find a cause that they feel strongly about. They are a generation passionate about giving to others rather than getting ahead. I predict that they will surpass any other generation in charitable giving and volunteer hours. They are already off to a good start!
  • The class of 2023 (5th graders) and the others in their generation want to include others and care about the feelings and self-esteem of those around them. The “in crowd” is a fading trend and kids spend time with many different friends enjoying a variety of enriching activities including fitness activities and the arts.
  • Speaking of activities, our kids are breaking the stereotype that kids are glued to technology. I see kids using technology for a purpose and to connect with others but not spending as much time on mindless games. They use technology to create, connect, learn and positively impact the world.
  • Last, and far from least, our kids are resilient. They hear about a tragedy like the one in Orlando and they care. They shed tears and have empathy for the families of the victims but they do not crumble in fear. They have hard things happen in their lives including divorce and stress. They have unprecedented access to information but they have the confidence, coping skills and connections with caring adults that it takes to make it in a world where sad things happen. For many, they find hope in a God who loves them and holds them through anything they may face. Our kids may face harder things than we ever had to but they have what they need to make it through.

I know that not all children fit this description but in my experience, the vast majority of “kids today” will be healthy, happy, caring and productive adults tomorrow.  I am blessed to raise my children today. Our future is bright. I know, because I get to hang out with them.

With gratitude,

Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services

PS- Do you want to enjoy time with these great students too? We are hiring. http://www.lsssd.org/who-we-are/employment.html


Please Join Us for an Open House!

June 15, 2016

The LSS Center for New Americans will be hosting an open house in recognition of World Refugee Day.  We hope you can join us to celebrate the diversity in our community and recognize those who have faced persecution around the world.  Please join us:


Monday, June 20th, 2016

Tours of LSS – 11:30 am – 12 pm

Conversations – 12 pm – 1 pm

LSS Center for New Americans, 114 S Main Avenue, Suite 100


Hear from former refugees about their journey to South Dakota, their transition to American life and how those in the community can lend a hand.  Light refreshments and information about refugees and the Center for New Americans will be available.


World Refugee Day is an annual international event that raises awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world.  In 2000, the UN passed a resolution creating the observance in honor of the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention.  This convention is the basis of refugee work, as it defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.

What a Year!

June 14, 2016

Report cards have been sent, pools are full of young swimmers and the once colorful bulletin boards in schools are now bare. Before we pack the 2015-16 school year away, we wanted to share the good that happened between mentors and students.

And we are happy. Yes, there were a few failed classes, a few matches that did not click just right, and the reality of 250 students in our community going the school year without the mentor they so wanted and needed. But today, we want to highlight all that was done to move in the right direction.

First, mentors represent over 1,200 people in Sioux Falls who want to bring out the best in others without expecting anything in return. They are there to simply say I see you. And after the tragedy in Orlando, we know how important it is for young people to feel valued, safe and that they matter in their community. And having 1,200 people in Sioux Falls make that commitment is, as David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR told us last year, “rare air.”

The connections that mentors and students made are pretty special too. In our year-end survey, 93% of volunteers said they made a strong connection with their student. Mentors are already looking towards a stronger connection with their student. Over 90% of mentors are excited about mentoring next year.

The counselors that we work with, the ones who see mentoring played out each and every day, are loving what mentors are doing with students. 98% of counselors said that the effectiveness, the need and impact on students was very important at their school.

To end, here are a few quotes from mentors and school counselors.

It is a high point in the week for the student. It helps build their sense of self as a worthwhile and lovable person. – School Counselor

I am so glad that I got involved with LSS. I cannot wait until next year to continue mentoring. – Mentor

Our mentors are the best. They provide a consistent, caring relationship for students who need an adult in their life that they can trust, rely on, and talk to. – School Counselor

Every time I meet with my mentee, the smile he has on his face, which immediately puts a smile on my face…priceless! – Mentor

Our students love receiving attention from a trusted adult. It is such a blessing for the students to have someone they can talk to and share their thoughts and feelings. The consistency of weekly visits leads to student academic growth and behavioral improvement! – School Counselor

Mentoring is a great way to gain perspective. It’s good reminder that you never know what people around you are going through and a little extra kindness and support can go a long way. – Mentor

You do a great job of communicating with us and supporting our mentors! Thank you for all your hard work! – School Counselor

The mentoring program is fantastic! Please, never stop making positive impacts on these children’s lives. They may or may not know it, but they need you.- Mentor


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