Nadifa – A Success Story Continues

May 22, 2018


A while ago I introduced you to Nadifa Mahamed, who came to Sioux Falls in 2010 with her family as refugees from Chad, West Africa. Nadifa came with no English but a powerful drive to learn, to learn everything she didn’t have the opportunity to learn back in Africa. She navigated the American school system and graduated from high school. She just finished her sophomore year at University Center, forging a path for herself that is uniquely her own.
Nadifa has grown into a confident young lady who knows what she wants to do in the future. She has been asked several times to share her story, a story that she hopes will inspire other young people to go after their dreams.
Last December the South Dakota Board of Regents was meeting in Sioux Falls and Nadifa was invited to speak to the Board – an event that would have a huge impact on her future as a student. The board members were touched by the fact that she was willing to share her personal story and they visited with her privately after the meeting. The president of a university and a local writer, all wanted to help Nadifa.
One board member in particular took a few more minutes to talk to Nadifa – and gave her the most incredible news: he was going to pay her tuition – every semester from now on until she finished her undergraduate degree! Nadifa couldn’t believe her ears, she was crying, she was smiling, she was shaking, she was so happy! And all this generous man wanted in return was to be kept updated on her courses and grades. No problem there.
Nadifa still works part-time as a food ambassador at Avera and an administrative assistant at LSS-Center for New Americans. But Nadifa feels no more financial pressure. In the fall, she will start her junior year at SDSU at the University Center, majoring in sociology with a minor in human resources.
After graduation, she plans on being involved with non-profit organizations, working with empowering women and girls of color to become strong, independent individuals. Eventually she plans on having her own non-profit whose mission will strive to end arranged marriage and child marriage, issues she feels very strongly about. “If we had stayed in Africa, I know I would be married by now with several children, but we came to America, where I can be free!” Nadifa says.
I am sure we will hear more from Nadifa in the future!

Written by Silke Hansen, LSS English Instructor at the Center for New Americans


May 17, 2018

As you read this blog, Muslims all across the globe are observing Ramadan. But what exactly is Ramadan? And what are they celebrating?

Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Its start date differs by 11 days each year, based on the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon. In Sioux Falls, it started this year on May 16 and will end on June 14, marking exactly 30 days. It is a month of fasting to remember and celebrate the first revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad.
Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. For a Muslim, Ramadan is not a choice but an obligation. The fast lasts from sunrise to sunset, which could be from 10 to 15 hours or longer, depending on the time of year and geographical location. No food or drink can pass their lips during that time. Muslims not only fast with their stomach, but also with their eyes and with their tongue – don’t engage in any negative activities such as lying, gossiping or arguing and don’t inflict any physical or spiritual harm on anybody. This teaches you how to become more aware of your own range of emotions and how to handle them.
Not everyone is obligated to fast. Exemptions include the elderly and very ill, young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers and those who are traveling for more than 3 days. Those who are able to are required to make up the days they missed at a later date. Those who are unable to fast are encouraged to provide food to a homeless person for the duration of the fast. Starting at the age of 6 or 7 children start to practice fasting. First, they might skip a meal, then fast for half a day, gradually increasing the time of fasting until they are able to fast for the entire 30 days once they reach puberty.
Ramadan offers the opportunity to grow closer to God. Believers are strongly encouraged to diligently read the entire Koran. I was told that if you read at least 5 chapters every day, you can accomplish the task. It is a time for self-reflection and self-improvement. Fasting brings out compassion for the less fortunate, for those amongst us who deal with food insecurities on a daily basis.

Muslims pray 5 times every day. During Ramadan, strict prayer times are observed and additional daily prayers are strongly encouraged. The Mosque is a central gathering place for community prayers and fellowship. Many Mosques stay open 24 hours to allow Muslims to spend extended periods of time in prayer and reflection. It is not uncommon for some to spend the night when they don’t have to work the next day.
Each day at sunset, at an exactly given time, Muslims ‘break the fast’ and gather for a meal. Ramadan is also a very social time and often the people around the table include friends and neighbors. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a major Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Fitr. Special prayers and sermons are held at the Mosque and the day ends with a huge feast, oftentimes in a park where the entire community can celebrate together.

Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor, Center for New Americans

Lynne Jones, 2018 Outstanding Mentor

April 30, 2018


Congratulations to Lynne Jones, the 2018 Outstanding Mentor! Here is a quick breakdown of her in numbers:

3: Number of students she currently mentors
65: Number of hours she works per week at her 2 jobs
4: Number of students she was mentoring at the start of the school year (one student moved out of state in February)

To Bella, Adam and Nicholas, she is so much more than a number. She is the highlight of their week, their cheerleader, their trusted friend, their favorite, their mentor.

Lynne started mentoring at Lowell and has embraced the school and students. In addition to mentoring, Lynne volunteers to chaperone field trips and attends all school functions — including showing up in a cape at field day last year.

Please take two minutes to watch the video linked above to hear what Lynne’s three students have to say about their time together. Here are just a few quotes from each.

Adam (1st Grade): “My favorite thing to do with Lynne is play games – like the Minion game.”

Nicholas (3rd Grade): “Lynne is nice, kind and helpful.”

Bella (4th Grade): “I always wanted a mentor and then I finally got one. When we first met I asked what we should do and she said it was my choice.”

Congratulations again to Lynne Jones, Lutheran Social Services 2018 Citi Outstanding Mentor.

Post by Michelle Madsen

2018 Outstanding Mentor Nominees

April 4, 2018

Every year, LSS invites people to nominate a mentor who has gone above and beyond and has made a significant difference in the life of their student. While we know that ALL volunteer mentors are uniquely incredible and amazing, here is a list of those that stood out during the 2017-18 school year.

Kay Baldwin, Robert Frost, Retired
Kay mentors two Robert Frost students who agree that she is “nice, kind, positive and helps them feel confident because she has confidence in us.” She is a tremendous advocate for both of her students. She talks through situations the student’s are dealing with at home and school and helps them focus on the positive. Both of her students believe they have done better in school thanks to Kay.

Bill Green, Patrick Henry, Retired
Bill has been an amazing mentor for students at Patrick Henry for many years. At any given time, Bill is mentoring at least three students (typically 4-5), spending multiple lunch hours at the school to ensure each session is one on one. Bill has made an impact on all the students he has worked with – some subtle, some extraordinary. Bill is extremely positive, and his energy rubs off on his students. All of the students he meets with leave their time with a better attitude.

Jill Hansen, Dell Rapids Middle, BX Civil & Construction
Jill is excited about mentoring and very respectful of her student. This year they transitioned to USucceed, and have enjoyed finding new things to do together. Jill understands that as her student gets older, her needs change which in turn changes the look of their relationship. She works hard to keep mentoring fun and wants it to be a good experience for both of them.

Yvonne Hoffman, JFK, Retired
Yvonne has mentored at JFK off and on since 2009. Despite a cancer diagnosis, Yvonne returned to mentoring this year. She is a huge advocate for the program and helps shepherd new mentors at the school. Yvonne truly cares about the kids with which she works. Her consistency and dedication is heartwarming!

Robin Jacobs, Harrisburg North & High, DataSync Corp.
Robin meets with two students at two different schools. Both students that she mentors are New Americans and are settling into life in Harrisburg, SD. She brings games to play with the students each week, and even cooked food with her students from their culture in the FACS classroom. She helps the students feel included and allows them to share their own stories.

Pierce Johnson, John Harris, Results Radio
Pierce’s student knows that Pierce cares for him unconditionally and is at school just for him. His flexibility has been invaluable in working with his student and he does a great job of showing interest in wrestling, Roblox and X-Box games. Pierce has been a consistent, patient and positive force in this student’s life and the hard work Pierce has done to prove trustworthy has paid off.

Lynne Jones, Lowell, First United Methodist
Lynne mentors three students in different grade levels each week. She accommodates each student based on their interests. One student enjoys art, another likes going outside. Her students trust Lynne, and don’t take long to confide in her about issues that they are dealing with at home or school. Lynne is a phenomenal role model for these students who need that extra love and support.

Laurie Nelson, JFK, Farm Credit Services of America
Laurie is especially kind, dedicated and patient to her student. Her student says, “Laurie is always happy, and she always makes me happy.” Laurie has been with the same student for the past five years. When they started, the student was desperately seeking attention. Laurie is perfect for her, and her student has matured a lot since then – a great deal in part to Laurie’s TLC.

Rodney and Cheryl Nold, Patrick Henry/Susan B. Anthony, Retired
Rodney and Cheryl Nold started mentoring shortly after retiring from farming and moving to Sioux Falls. While many mentors pour themselves into their students, Rodney and Cheryl go above and beyond. They mentor siblings, and have recruited their son to mentor a third child from the same family. They are always looking for ways to make their students life better. They have moved with their students to a combined six different schools in the past five years. Most importantly, Rodney and Cheryl have let their students know that when things fall apart, they can count on them to provide support and consistency to help them get back up.

Gary Rakebrandt, RF Pettigrew, Good Samaritan Society
Gary has mentored a few different students in his years of volunteering with the program. He is currently with a boy who loves chess – so much so that Gary purchased a game to play with and to share with other mentors. His student loves when Gary visits. His student says, “Gary is a great listener and if we go outside together, Gary actually plays!”

Phil Schreck, Eugene Field, KSFY
Phil started mentoring to help a child beyond his own. He has been very supportive and reliable. He has built a strong, trusting relationship with his student, who really respects him. Phil is matched with a student who struggles with behavior issues, and has been a positive support for him. Most importantly, Phil brings fun, care and support to a student who needs it.

Stacy Trove, Eugene Field, State of South Dakota
Stacy mentored a student from elementary school through high school graduation, and after that did not take any time off. She was matched with a little boy and has been a positive support in this student’s life. He smiles when they meet and seems to really enjoy and value their time together. Stacy makes the time fun, but also provides much needed consistent support.

Please join us in congratulating the nominees! The winner will be announced at the 17th Annual LSS Mentor Appreciation Breakfast on Friday, April 20. The breakfast is sponsored by First PREMIER Bank/PREMIER Bank Card, Citi, Sanford, Wells Fargo, Mailway Printers, AARP of South Dakota, HenkinSchultz Creative Services and Raven Industries.

Meet Eric and Christopher

March 30, 2018

Throughout the past four years, Eric and Christopher have built a successful relationship. It wasn’t always that way though. “When we first started, I was nervous,” said Christopher, now a 5th grader at Hayward Elementary. “I knew what it meant to have a mentor, but I still wasn’t sure.”

Eric got started after receiving encouragement from his friends at his church, The Point is to Serve. “Like many people probably do, I could never imagine having the time to mentor,” said Eric, who works at Marco. “But it’s kind of like money. Once you decide to spend it, you don’t miss it.”

Christopher says that Eric is “nice and funny.” He enjoys their time together. They often are spotted in the Hayward library playing a game of chess, JENGA, doing a puzzle or just chatting. When they first started, Eric spent time outside. One of his most vivid memories is playing tag and running on the equipment in business clothes. Christopher told him that “he moved pretty good for an old man.” Christopher remembers that the two took a photo together a few years ago that he still has possession of at his house.

Most of all, mentoring provides a nice break in the day for both of them. “It’s like a special hang out time at school,” said Christopher. Eric likes to see Christopher volunteering updates on his life and how excited he gets when there is good news to report. Mentoring has also allowed Eric to “See all of the hard work done at schools everyday. Everyone from the teachers and counselors to the lunch assistants and custodians are here for the students.”

When asked what it means to have a mentor now, Christopher says, “I know exactly what it means. It is having someone to help you and someone who wants you to try to do better at school and home.” Well said, Christopher!

Meet the 2018 Outstanding Rookie Mentor Nominees

March 23, 2018

Each year, LSS welcomes nominations for the Sanford Outstanding Rookie Mentor Award. School counselors nominate mentors in their first or second year of service who have gone above and beyond and have made a pretty immediate impact on the student they are matched with. We received four wonderful nominations this year. Please read about each mentor!


Anita Jorgensen, Mentor at Lowell Elementary, Employed at Sanford
In the year that they have met, Anita has gone above and beyond for her student. The two can be found playing games and reading books together every week. Anita has given extra attention by helping with classroom parties and field trips. Anita’s student is really shy in the classroom, but when Anita is by her side, she is social and confident. Anita truly brings out the best in this student!

Elliot VanWell, Mentor at Hawthorne Elementary, Augustana Student
While completing a practicum at Hawthorne, a classroom teacher asked Elliot if he would be interested in mentoring a student who was in desperate need of a positive male role model. He immediately agreed! Elliot is a natural mentor who just gets it. The student’s attitude has changed since Elliot came into his life – he is seeing for the first time how a male can have a positive impact on society.

Stu Webber, Mentor at Patrick Henry Middle School, Employed at Denny Sanford PREMIER Center
When starting to mentor this year, Stu agreed to meet with two middle school boys. He always creates a positive environment with his students. Stu makes each student feel like they are important and truly listens to what they say. Teachers have noticed that one of the students Stu mentors has more opinions now rather than following the crowd, which has been a very positive change for this child.

Cathy Zerfas, Mentor at Harrisburg Liberty Elementary, Retired
Cathy began mentoring two girls after attending an LSS Try-It event. Her big heart could not turn away either student she met at the event. Cathy decided to get involved with mentoring after her granddaughter moved out of state and says, “Mentoring saved me, every bit as it’s maybe helping these two little girls.” Cathy brings both students that extra care they need to feel more confident throughout their day.

The recipient of the award will be named at the 2018 LSS Mentor Appreciation Breakfast on Friday, April 20. Thanks to Sanford for their generous sponsorship of this award!

Post by Michelle Madsen

51 Students Visit Pierre

March 22, 2018
students enjoy the sunshine on the capitol steps

Students Enjoy the Sunshine on the Capital Steps

Wednesday, February 28, was a busy day for many Sioux Falls refugees and immigrants. Waking up early in the morning and boarding a bus, 51 adult English language learners, 3 teachers, and 1 volunteer spent the day traveling to Pierre, SD, to see the state capital, watch the House session, meet the governor, talk with government officials, visit the Korean and Vietnam War Memorial, and tour the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center. It was a fun day for everyone!

Representing 15 countries, the students met with Senator Reynold Nesiba, Laura Trapp of the Department of Labor, and Policy Advisor Matt Konenkamp. They also were able to have a photo with Governor Daugaard in the capital rotunda, and Representative Tom Holmes gave a warm welcome to the students in the House.


Students Rest and Have Lunch

After returning to Sioux Falls, McKervans, a young man from Haiti said, “I had fun, so I want to go next year again. It is important to know other things like the museum and capital in Pierre. I’m so glad because I was able to know the capital for my first time.”

half of the students with Matt Konenkamp

Students with Matt Konenkamp in the Governor’s Office

half of the students with Matt Konenkamp #2

LSS CNA Studnets with Governor Daugaard 2018

Students and Teachers pose with Gov. Daugaard

Thank you to the South Dakota Department of Labor and Adult Education and Literacy for sponsoring the event.


Heather and Laura with a few students

Everyone Enjoyed an Eventful Day

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