Family! Can’t Live With Them, Can’t… Well, You Know…

July 28, 2016


I once had a conversation with a young lady that was buying her first home.  At least she thought she was.  But as the process continued, her lender called her to explain that she was going to have to sell her house in another state before she could qualify for the new loan.  She wasn’t aware she owned a home any where, but a little digging found that the home had been purchased in her name when she was only 6 months old.  The real buyer had even kept up the payments until recently. Read the rest of this entry »

LSS Teacher Wins Top Prize

July 27, 2016

Silke Hansen couldn’t believe her ears when her name was called.

“I was completely surprised – and speechless, which doesn’t happen too often,” she said, laughing.

The 24-year veteran teacher was awarded the South Dakota Distinguished Adult Educator of the Year earlier this month by the South Dakota Association for Lifelong Learning during the organization’s summer conference in Sioux Falls.

silke photo

“I was very happy, of course; I also felt honored and humbled,” she said.

Silke, a native of Germany, has taught for 11 years at the Center for New Americans, including classes in English, job-interviews, and citizenship.

Laura Smith-Hill, the director of the education program at the Center for New Americans, said Silke was nominated for the award by her colleagues. “Her nomination then went to a panel of adult education colleagues statewide who selected her from a competitive cohort to receive this great honor,” Laura said.

LSS teachers Beth Sandager and Susan Torres, along with Laura, nominated Silke for the award. In the nomination letter, they wrote: “Silke Hansen exemplifies the qualities of an outstanding adult educator. … She selflessly goes above and beyond to do what needs to be done to get students enrolled in classes, answer staff and student questions and support the daily details of a program seeing more than 200 students a day. She greets new residents with warmth and compassion. She continually seeks to understand the different cultures and backgrounds of our learners. Silke is giving, professionally collaborative and supportive to everyone around her.”

I took some time this week to interview Silke.  You will find her kind and caring answers below:

What do you like most about your job?

The people! Coming to work is like stepping into a mini United Nations every single day. I love learning more about other countries, cultures and languages and my students are the best teachers. Most of them have arrived here in Sioux Falls running for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their back – but they are always willing to share the little they have. They open their homes and their hearts – we laugh together and we cry together. I can never just run to the store and quickly grab some milk – too many people know me even if I don’t know all of them.  But I can’t forget to talk about the other group of people: my supervisor, my co-teachers and all my co-workers at CNA. We are a great team, we support each other through our daily ups and downs, with the same goal in mind – giving our students/clients the best start into their new lives.

Can you tell a story about a particularly meaningful or inspirational encounter you have had with a student?

Yes, I want to share about an older gentleman from East Africa. Shortly after his arrival in Sioux Falls he was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with diabetes; he almost died that day, his blood sugar was off the charts. But he got well and became my student.  As most of our clients, he has been through incredible heartbreak in his life. He is by far the most level-headed, grateful, helpful and humble individual I have ever had in my classroom. He speaks most of the major languages of Africa and he is like a walking history book. He is always willing to share his knowledge – and always in a neutral and respectful way. I have never heard him raise his voice. Yet he is not afraid to tell other students and/or clients if they ‘need an attitude adjustment.’ He has had some health issues recently but he tells me he will be back in August. I can’t wait!  

What is your educational background?

I have an MA in English from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. I have always been interested in international populations, going as far back as when I was in grade school in Germany. At USD I volunteered in the International Students Office, and here in Sioux Falls I am also involved with our ethnic populations.

Where were you born?

Frankfurt, Germany

When did you come to the U.S. to live?

 After high school

How does being an immigrant to the U.S. yourself help you in your job and in your dealings with your students?

Hearing their stories of why and how they came to Sioux Falls makes me realize how fortunate I was that I came to the US because I wanted to – I had an education, I spoke English, I was able to bring my belongings, I can go home whenever I want to, my family is only a phone call away. Most of our clients didn’t and still don’t have these privileges. It’s also a good reality check. Like everybody, I have days when I think a lot about my problems and issues. But then, looking at my students and reminding myself of their hardships, my own problems all of a sudden pale in comparison. 

What part of your job do you find the most rewarding, even though it may be difficult?

Seeing my students’ reactions. The old man who practiced diligently for many months writing the letters – and he finally managed to write it correctly. His face was just beaming! The woman who spent decades wandering around the African bush received a notebook and a pencil on her first day in my class. She clapped her hands and jumped up and down for joy! The young mother who couldn’t say ‘thank you’ enough that she finally has the chance to go to school. The difficult part sometimes is looking at my students, hearing them say ‘thank you, teacher’ over and over – thanking us for giving them a chance to learn, thanking us for giving them an education – something that most of us in the Western world take for granted every day.

Here at LSS, we couldn’t be more proud of our colleague!  Congratulations Silke!

Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson


Meet Terra and Katarina

July 25, 2016

“One of the best feelings in the world is knowing your presence means something to someone.”

That quote can apply to every student who has a mentor. Some though, it just seems to impact students 20160503_120235even more. They really thrive when they know their mentor cares.

Every match in the LSS mentor program is just a unique as the individuals who make up the 1,200 pairs that meet each week. Terra Zahn and her 3rd grade student Katarina have an incredible bond that you can just see. In fact, one Oscar Howe teacher said she wished she could join their meetings because they always have so much fun!

Terra, who works at vvi, was inspired to volunteer to mentor after encouragement from her former boss and personal mentor. He said it would be something she would be great at and told her to check it out. She was hooked after meeting Katarina in 2014.

When they first met, Katarina was not sure what a mentor was. “I thought I was in trouble when the counselor told me I was getting a mentor. Then they said I was not and it would be fun,” said Katarina. She now knows exactly what a mentor is and says, “A mentor is someone you can spend time with. You can count on them. They care about you.”

She said she was shy at first, but quickly felt at ease with Terra. Katarina’s teachers and counselors saw just how much she adored her mentor and came up with an incentive plan that Terra was a big part of. If Katarina returns things to school — homework, signatures on papers, books, etc — she gets to have a five minute phone call on Friday afternoon with Terra. She really wants to earn that phone call so she can discuss what they will do during their upcoming meeting. Terra was honored to be asked to help her in this extra way, but what she really loves is just seeing her each week. “The best part of mentoring is walking out and seeing her smile and know she is excited. That makes me excited too.”

Terra has loved every minute of her time with Katarina. “This is the most rewarding thing you can do with one hour each week,” said Terra. “I got into this thinking I would be there for someone else, but I have gotten so much back by mentoring Kat.” She also enjoys the little break in her week to just have some fun. “I don’t have to think about work or home – just get to hang out and play and talk.”

Lastly, Katarina wants to encourage anyone who is not a mentor to start. She says, “Adults should really mentor a kid. Once you get used to it, you’ll really like them because kids can have some really good ideas.”

If you would like to volunteer to mentor, please apply.

Beat the Heat (and Cold)

July 22, 2016

Oppressing.  Overbearing.  Sweltering.  Crushing.  Roasting.  Torrid.  Fiery.  Scorching.  Searing.  Parching.  No, this isn’t the latest marketing blitz for a new action movie.  It’s our weather.  Simply put, it’s HOT.  We can find relief by shutting ourselves indoors, but that is going to give way to another set of adjectives when the electricity bill comes.

There was a news story the other day about a nearby town in Minnesota that, in a 6-month span, saw a temperature swing of 180 degrees between the coldest wind chill and the hottest heat index.  No figurative speech there.  It was literally 180 degrees difference in temperature between the two extremes.

So what do we do?  Are we just subject to the wild swings of utility bills as we alternate between seasons of gas bills and electric bills?  Let’s be honest, that can be a little scary.  The weather can be so wild that the trained meteorologists can’t even figure it out perfectly and we are just left to pay the bills necessary to make it tolerable.

Well, there may be relief in sight.  Not from the wild swings of weather, but from the wild swings of the utility bills.

Most gas and electric companies offer budget- or average usage-billing.  Whatever they choose to call it, they take anywhere from a 3- to 24-month usage history and calculate your average monthly usage.  There may be a little more math in there to calculate anticipated rate changes and whatnot, but you get the idea.

Some months you will use more of said utility than you pay for.  Other months you will use less than you pay for.  Just be aware that month 12 of your billing cycle is the adjustment month.  Used more than you have paid for?  Your bill will be higher.  Used less than you’ve paid for?  Bonus.

Some people admittedly struggle with paying for more than they are actually using in a month, but that is a fairly short-sighted perspective.  In the end, you will come out even.  And the two providers that I checked (my providers) both offer the program free of any additional fees.

So why would you want to go through the hassle of the change if it doesn’t give you any great discount?

The biggest reason I would give is stability.  You know what that bill isbills default going to be each and every month.  You know how much you need in the budget and how much to set aside so you are sure you can even keep the lights on.  This can greatly reduce stress associated with unknown variable bills.

The second reason I would recommend it is if you are vulnerable to counter-swings.  Perhaps in the winter months when the gas bill goes sky high, your job is subject to cuts in hours.  Now, on top of a higher utility bill, you have a significantly lower income.  A budgeted utility program won’t make the bill go away, but will help prevent the exaggerated extremes of these counter-swings.

This is only one aspect of budgets that can be quite complex.  If you are struggling  or would simply like a second, objective set of eyes to look over your budget, the counselors at the Center for Financial Resources would be happy to help.  We all deal with utility bills of our own.  We understand.  You can either schedule an appointment online or call us at 605-330-2700 to set something up.

If the heat is getting to you, a little attention to your budget can keep the proverbial heat off of your neck.  But you’re stuck with the literal heat of the weather.  Sorry.  We’re not meteorologists.


written by Breck Miller
images courtesy

English Teacher Found the World in Sioux Falls

July 21, 2016

Amy Vander Lugt is not sure what she likes best about her job: her students or her co-workers.

“It’s really a tie,” Amy says laughing.

For 12 years, Amy has been teaching English language classes here at the Center for New Americans, and during this time, she has met students from more than 60 different countries.

“I always thought I would go to China to teach English,” Amy says, “but when I got my first job out of graduate school here at LSS, I realized that the world had come to me.”


What she has found here at LSS, she explains, is the enchanting and uplifting world of reconciliation.

“Here, everyone sits and learns together – Christians, Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists. There is no fighting. Everyone gets along.”

Amy says she is constantly impressed with the students’ sense of gratitude. “The students are so grateful for what they have. They’re willing to change and adapt and be thankful for what they have. They don’t complain, and they work so hard,” she says.

In addition to teaching English classes, Amy also teaches technology classes, gives new and outgoing students entrance and exit exams, and performs data management for the education program.

Amy says her co-workers are supportive and encouraging. “I have really great co-workers. We have a very positive work environment,” she says.

A Sioux Falls native, Amy graduated from Washington High School in 1996 and then majored in English at USD. After college, she studied Chinese in China for two years. That’s when she first met English language teachers.

“I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this was a profession,’” she says, laughing. Settled on the career plan of teaching English, she graduated with a Master’s in TESOL from Wheaton College, and then came to LSS straight from graduate school. The job turned in to a long-term career.

“I just really like working with people from other countries, finding common ground, getting to know them. I like opening people’s minds to different ways of thinking – and my mind, too,” she says.

If you would like to learn more about a career in teaching English to adults, feel free to contact Education Coordinator, Laura Smith-Hill at or 605-731-2040.

And if you would are interested in becoming an ESL classroom volunteer, please contact Volunteer Coordinator, Kristyne Walth at or 605-731-2009.

Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson



Creative Fun – Craft Kits

July 19, 2016

One question new and potential mentors have is, “So…what do you do with the kid?”

While mentors and students are limited by time and location, there is no end to the variety of activities. Going on a “walk and talk” through the school, playing basketball in the gym, reading one of the hundreds of books in the school library, playing a math game on a computer, scanning and talking about the headlines in the newspaper, eating lunch, playing chess and doing a craft project are all easy options.

To make craft projects easier, LSS has started supplying craft kits to schools for mentors and students to make during their time together. We rely on large volunteer groups to assemble the kits for us, like a group of Citi employees did last month. Here is a better look at what they did.

LSS supplied scissors, pieces of scrapbook paper, plastic bags, a carton of googley eyes, craft sticks and a bucket of foam shapes.

20160719_111843The Citi volunteers cut the scrapbook paper to size and divided the eyes, foam shapes and craft sticks and assembled them in 250 plastic bags.

20160719_111726LSS also included a fact sheet that included information about fish – any chance to make learning fun is a win! Wee will then distribute the kits to elementary schools for mentors and students to make together.

Take a look at how easy they are to make!

20160719_112233Trace your hand on a colorful piece of scrapbook paper and cut. Design the fish however you want. We used sticky foam shapes and the eyes. You can just color the fish too.

20160719_112917Glue the craft stick to the back of the fish.

20160719_113233And there it is!

Students can take the project home to enjoy. I did a project with my student at least three years ago and she recently told me that it is still hanging on her bedroom door! Simple projects like this are fun for students to bring home to show off. Many counselors have remarked that they set up a positive discussion between parent and child about what happened at school that day. Students also seem to open up when they are doing creative work with their hands. Crafting can lead to some great talks between mentors and students too!

If you have any craft supplies collecting dust in your closet, please consider donating them to LSS Mentoring. We prefer donations that include a large quantity of the same item to make sure we have enough to assemble a few hundred kits for distribution.

And if doing a project like this sounds like fun, you would be a great mentor! Give us a call at 221-2403 for more information.

Post by Michelle Madsen

Student expresses gratitude

July 15, 2016


Last month, Mamery Kone graduated from our Adult English Language program.

Before leaving, this 36-year-old student from the Ivory Coast expressed his gratitude to LSS for what he had learned. I’d like to publish today his letter in its entirety:

 “Since I got LSS program, I learnt to be humble and how to serve other people.

I don’t focus my life on what I can get any more, which was my purpose. Now I focus my life on what I can share to improve other people life.

Why did I change so radically?

People say LSS is a great program. That’s true!  For me the administration and teachers make LSS great. We all feel like a big family.  The teachers are wonderful.


The teachers with high level of education are taking time to give knowledge to those who are most in need (refugees and immigrants).

There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true Love and Sharing.

I call LSS teachers of Sioux Falls “THE MOTHERS TERESA”.

All the time I spent in the classroom with my teachers has been educational.

Teacher Elizabeth is like a General of the Army who guides his troop. She gives us everyday advices to be able to act at any kinds of situations in America.  She is very intelligent and knowledgeable.

Teacher Julia is the prototype of ideal mother who always wants the best for her children. She considers and respects every student with or without education.  She is thrilled to answer at any kind of question if class time is over.

Being with the both teachers, I learnt not to judge people.

I am also grateful to teacher Diana. Thank to her I knew about LSS.  Teacher Amy I remember the first time I met her.  She gave me one strategy that I am following: phonology, pronunciation is important.

How can we express our gratitude to all this team, to thank them for everything they are doing?”

Thank you, Mamery Kone, for all that YOU taught us! We wish you great success in all of your future endeavors!

Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson




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