Jodi’s Journal: A community’s kids need our help

Nov. 3, 2019

Any time SiouxFalls.Business hits another milestone, I try to not just say but show my appreciation to this community.

So after setting another new monthly record for readership, my latest expression of thanks was easy to determine.

Steve Hildebrand, owner of Josiah’s Coffeehouse, Cafe & Bakery, connected me with the opportunity thanks to an effort he launched recently to support the students of Lowell Elementary.

At Lowell, where a significant number of children are growing up in poverty, the staff hoped to fund a program that would provide a new book to every student every month for nine months.

Starting at $200, it was possible to provide that for an entire classroom.

Well, my business exists only because readers exist. And as someone who devoured books as a child, the idea of doing a little bit to put books in the hands of kids who might not otherwise have as much access to them appealed to me.

This week, I’ll again be one of dozens of volunteers participating in the Read for the Record program. And for the past couple of years, fittingly, I’ve asked to read at Lowell. I guarantee you it will be the highlight of my day.

My co-worker, Rosemary McCoy, does far more than I do to support the needs of our schools. She has mentored students for years and currently works with a fifth-grader at Hawthorne Elementary.

I am sensing momentum building for these sorts of partnerships between those of us in business and those in education, and it’s not a moment too soon.

Hildebrand, who is a tremendous mobilizer and motivator of people to take action, handed me a list the other day when I was in the restaurant.

It consisted of 14 schools, with their corresponding percentage that had at least half their students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs. They ranged between 51 percent and 100 percent.

His vision, for a nonprofit called Promising Future’s Fund, could help bridge the gap that occurs in some schools when parental support and resources don’t match that of other schools.

In the case of Lowell, it has meant funding not just books for classrooms but winter apparel, field trips and ear buds, which are used for test-taking.

This week, it helped sponsor fall parties in the classrooms.

Hildebrand is doing some critical things right. First, he’s listening. He’s going directly to the staff and administrators most knowledgeable with the needs of these schools. And then as he enlists the community’s help, he’s demonstrating for people who often feel alone in their roles that others want to support them.

He’s also sharing what he learns in a way that is accessible and easily allows people like me to step up and do a part to help.

I also can tell you his efforts are far from alone.

At SDN Communications, leaders recognized a similar need at Garfield Elementary, which isn’t far from the company’s headquarters.

So for a while now, SDN and its employees have taken on the role of a traditional parent-teacher organization. They provide meals for teachers during parent-teacher conferences, lead winter clothing drives, volunteer for Read Across America and help with Field Day.

I’ve also had conversations recently with leaders at GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness and the Sioux Falls Skyforce, who are working on similar efforts in schools to bring activities and mentorship to kids who could use both.

When we talk about efforts like fostering our students from “cradle to career” or when we collectively strategize about our community’s ongoing workforce needs, so much of the solution leads back to the schools on Hildebrand’s list.

Our best chance, our most potentially valuable investment as a community, exists in those schools.

I know the books I’m funding for a classroom won’t resonate with every student – maybe even the majority of students. But if we can inspire even a few students to learn in such a way that it brings upward mobility to them and their families, we are making a difference for generations of people and helping sustain the sort of economically healthy community we all enjoy.

The more I learn about the struggles some of our schools are having, the more I am grateful to those who are stepping up to show educators and students that this is not a struggle they have to endure alone.

It’s going to take more of us – more individuals and more businesses – to not only address the immediate needs but also to help implement strategies that lead to a better, more long-lasting quality of life. Our long-term goal needs to be reducing the number of students and families who qualify for federal assistance programs. But acknowledging that this is a community problem and not one experienced in isolation in our schools is the right way to start.

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Jodi’s Journal: A community’s kids need our help

There’s growing momentum for businesses and individuals to support the needs of our schools — and not a moment too soon.

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