Here’s To Heather

February 1, 2017

LSS is blessed to have many dedicated long-time employees who believe in the mission and the work that we do. Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare & Education Services, contributed nearly 19 years of service to fulfilling the mission of LSS, and her story is extra special.

Heather DeWit and Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen

Heather DeWit and Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen

Heather’s very first job, while she was still in high school, was with LSS at the Circle of Hope daycare. She later transitioned to start the agency’s first after-school program for school-age kids in partnership with Southern Hills United Methodist Church. That program began with fewer than ten kids in one small room. At the time, LSS did not have a vision that included childcare. Heather created that vision.

Under Heather’s direction, childcare services expanded from one small room to six different locations in Sioux Falls, offering not only after-school services, but also infant-toddler and pre-school services. Last year, these programs provided 17,000 weeks of care for approximately 300 children each day. None of this would have been possible without Heather’s drive, vision and leadership.

Recently, Heather was presented an opportunity to take on the role of Director of Children’s Ministries at her church. The decision to leave her very first employer (19 years later) was difficult to say the least. But, as Heather shared at her farewell party last week:

heatherDr. Seuss said, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened!’ But that doesn’t quite cover it for me. I am still smiling because it is still happening and will continue to happen for a very long time.

Because LSS decided to say yes to the dream of After-School and Summer Programs that put kids first, yes to Preschool that prepares children for lifelong learning, and yes to helping infants and toddlers learn and grow with caring adults, we have a new generation of healthy, happy, caring and smart kids that are making the world a better place. I would say that is the definition of still happening. I still can’t believe that I was able to go along on that journey.

So, my smile won’t fade and my role as a cheerleader for LSS won’t either. I am, and will remain, forever thankful to the people who gave me a chance, trusted me and taught me and, of course, thankful to those that are continuing the good work of LSS.

Heather’s supervisor, Vice President of Community Services Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen, said of Heather:

Heather has taught me so much about servant leadership, compassion and faith in our time working together. She has touched the lives of thousands of young people over the years — some of whom later returned to work for our programs. She has taught me to have high expectations for our children, to help bring out their best, and to see them for who they are and the promise they hold for our future.

Join me today in thanking Heather for all that she has done in the last 19 years. We will miss her at LSS, and are happy to see that she has found a new calling. On behalf of all of the children and families for whom you have made a difference, LSS thanks you. 

Thank you, Heather!


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

DSC_5673


When Wiping Out is Worth It

December 29, 2015

I could probably have asked another staff person to help the kids at the skating rink today instead of going myself. I decided that it is just too important for me to miss! As a Director and as a parent I try very hard to be intentional about my actions. I try to do what is best for the kids and what fits with the mission, vision and values of Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota. Sometimes I overthink it. I have a lot to do each day. So, why in the world would I spend the better part of a morning going in circles at Skate City with school age kids?

  1. The kids like to see me being silly. They like it when I do the YMCA and giggle with them. They need to know that I can have fun with them and enjoy their company.
  2. I stink at skating. That’s right. I said it. I am not athletic or coordinated so skating isn’t my strongest skill. I can Hokey Pokey with the best of them and am great at skating with kids that are having a hard time, but I don’t look graceful when I skate and I’m slow. Kids who struggle with skating need to see that it is ok to try things that are hard and to practice a new skill before they are good at it. For that matter, all kids need to see grown ups struggling or doing things that are hard. It lets them know it is alright to do the same.
  3. I am part of the team. I get to skate with the kids and help my co-workers as we spend time with the kids. We work as a team to ensure every kid has a fun, safe and memorable time.
  4. It is tradition. The kids can count on me joining them on this field trip whenever I am able to. They request the same songs and do the same things.
  5. It is fun!!! (When I asked the kids why they think I go along, this is what they said. I agree!)

My purpose in telling you this is to encourage you to have fun with the kids in your life. (If there aren’t kids in your life, maybe you would make a great mentor!) Do the things you aren’t skilled in and learn with them. Laugh and be silly. Create fun.

Have fun!

Back on Solid Ground,

Heather DeWit

skating

Not my best look but it is important to be in pics even when they aren’t perfect. That sounds like another blog post idea!


Teaching Children to be Thankful

November 19, 2015

From now until Thanksgiving, the LSS blog will be looking at ‘Thankfulness’ in each of the posts. Written by various programs, check back each day for a different perspective on why or what we celebrate.

“It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” — author unknown

I find myself in awe each day at all that I have to be thankful for. If there is any truth to the quote above, that explains why I am so very happy! If I made a list of my hopes for my daughters, happiness would be toward the top. However, with the busy time that begins in November and zooms through to the new year, it is easy to get overwhelmed and forget about our many blessings. For children, that issue is compounded with the excitement and activity that comes with the holidays. Click below to read our blog post filled with tips for teaching children to be thankful.

https://lsssdblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/teaching-children-to-be-thankful/#more-365

Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services

Thankful


Sometimes

November 3, 2015

Sometimes four-year-olds say things like, “you’re not my friend.”
That is when we teach them to include others.

Sometimes one-year-olds grab toys from their friends.
That is when we teach them to share.

Sometimes ten-year-olds roll their eyes.
That is when we teach them about being respectful.

Sometimes infants cry.
That is when we respond to their needs to teach them that they are safe and loved.

Sometimes three-year-olds scream and kick.
That is when we teach them that kind words communicate better.

Sometimes five-year-olds forget to clean up after art.
That is when we teach them about responsibility.

Sometimes two-year-olds pinch a friend.
That is when we teach them about kindness and apologies.

Sometimes kids do things we wish they wouldn’t.
That is when we teach them.

These moments are not failures; they are opportunities for learning.
We are all growing and learning, even the “grown up” people.
We can only grow if someone gently and kindly helps us to learn.

Sometimes I get to be that someone for a child.
Sometimes I get to learn from someone else.

I am thankful for both opportunities.

Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services

Preschool Reading


4 Tips for Keeping Kids Safe Online

September 24, 2015
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am part of a unique generation. We are tasked with parenting the first generation that doesn’t know life before the World Wide Web but we remember existence before Google and Facebook. I managed to survive most of my childhood without daily access to the internet. However, most in my generation are now actively using technology as a part of our daily lives. We began with the green screen of Oregon Trail and now some of us voice text our kids using a smart watch.

I find myself feeling pretty confident that I’ll be able to keep up with my daughters in the technology department but realize that attitude could lead me right into an app-disaster. With that in mind, I’ve decided to come up with a short list of reminders for myself and the rest of us in the generation that remembers floppy disks that were actually floppy.

  1. Baby Steps and Quality Time:
    Safety online isn’t really that different from safety in the rest of the world. Just like we wouldn’t allow our 2-year-old to cross the street, we also don’t wait until our child’s 12th birthday and send them off into traffic to practice street crossing on their own. We give our kids the privileges and responsibility that they can handle gradually by teaching them and guiding them and certainly not all at once. Enjoy time together using technology. There are many apps and web pages in which you and your child may have shared interest. This provides moments to be a positive role model.
  2. Get Smart:
    Educate yourself on what your child is doing. Fortunately, we have Google at our fingertips! If you want to allow your child to play online games, be sure you understand the game and what the options are for chatting with friends and accessing content that isn’t part of the game. For example, in Minecraft kids can join games with others and chat with them. Just watching your child play for a minute or two wouldn’t necessarily tip you off to that fact. It doesn’t make it a bad game. It just changes the conversation you will want to have with your child before playing. Ask your child questions and listen to their answers. Start a conversation and stay involved.
  3. Set Expectations:
    Some of the best educational games are on the same website as games with violence so helping your child understand what the rules are for your family online is critical and frequent checks are important. As my kids get older and play at a friends’ house, we are talking more about what to do if they are away from us and run into a computer situation that doesn’t fit with our rules. This isn’t different from when we talk about what to do if something in the “real world” makes them uncomfortable away from our parenting umbrella. As they get older and do research for school, they may run across inappropriate content in a search so we talk about the best thing to do if that happens as well. We also talk about what they can share or tell in person or online as well as how we treat others.  Some parents have written contracts with these expectations. At https://thesmarttalk.org/ a parent and child can follow the steps on the page for creating a contract together with some conversation and bonding on the side. Of course, if those expectations aren’t followed, parents follow through with appropriate consequences including reduced privileges.
  4. Monitor:
    It is critical to keep an eye on what is happening. Our house rules ask our kids to use technology in the living room or dining area rather than bedrooms. We also set the expectation that any passwords for apps or devices need to be shared with a parent. As our children get older, they will likely have more freedom since they have been very trustworthy so far. For now we take a peek every so often just to be sure they are still doing ok and haven’t bumped into anything they can’t handle. Children need to understand that parents have the responsibility to keep children safe. Even though the child is trustworthy and makes good choices, others on the internet may not be appropriate, so good parenting requires supervision with the goal of keeping kids safe.

Happy clicking everyone!

Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services


Ten Years and a Playground at Southern Hills

July 21, 2015
My daughter at the 2005 building of the old playground.

My daughter at the 2005 building of the old playground.

Ten years can go by in a flash unless you happen to be a playground! Ten years ago the After-School Program students at Southern Hills worked hard to raise money for a playground. They wowed me with their determination and parents, church members and the community came to help assemble a playground that we were all excited about! My oldest daughter was a newborn so as my husband and I were helping to set up the play set we were also dreaming of the day that the little cutie in the stroller would be old enough to play on the slide. Then….I blinked and somehow ten years happened.

Time really does fly when I am having fun and while ten years means my daughter is much bigger and has enjoyed many years on that play set, it also means that hundreds of children have played on the equipment and we wore it out! It is time for a new playground and that means a little fundraising to make it happen.

We need your help!

  1. Donate if you can please. Every penny counts in crowd funding so give a little or give a lot! Click the link to watch a fun video from some of our oldest school age students and to place your donation: https://weraise.wheatridge.org/en/projects/22404-More-Slides-at-Southern-Hills
  2. Share the project on Facebook, Twitter or in person! Invite your friends and family to give. We have shared it on our Facebook page so please follow us or visit our Facebook to share! https://www.facebook.com/LSSLearning
  3. Repeat and act fast! Please share often and in a variety of ways. Watch as the funds grow and share update with those who will be excited with the kids! Our fundraiser ends on July 31 so please move quickly!

The new playground will provide a number of improvements:

  • There will be more to do! More slides, monkey bars, swings, climbers, tether ball poles and more will add to the fun! New equipment will give us all more exercise and help us learn and grow strong!
  • No more pea rock! We will have a nice wood mulch surface so the little ones can’t get rock in their mouths and you won’t have them coming home in shoes.
  • No more mud! With some great landscaping work, we should be able to avoid muddy shoes without having to stay inside.

The picture below shows the play set, swings, tether balls, etc. that would be part of our new adventure!

playground set one

Our stretch goal will get us an even bigger play set!

Please let us know if you have any questions!

Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services

My daughter is ten and will be able to help us install the NEW playground! Time sure flies!

My daughter is ten now and will be able to help us install the NEW playground! Time sure flies!


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