Kristy Tripp (center) and her Sammons Financial Group colleagues share the grant total with Kid Link Riverside volunteers. Pictured from left are Gary Ptak, Laurie McDonald, Kristy, Michell Williams and Jesse Borschel.
When Kristy Tripp asked her co-workers to fund scholarships for kids in a northeast Sioux Falls elementary school, it was a step along a very personal journey.
Kristy grew up in the Riverside neighborhood. The area — bounded by Cliff Avenue, Rice Street, and the Big Sioux River — is isolated from the rest of the city and populated by hard-working families. Many of them live on lower-than-average incomes.
The Nightwatch Food Truck serves meals in front of Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church on East Mulberry Street in the Riverside neighborhood.
Riverside is not a place where traffic moves through on its way to somewhere else. It’s a mostly quiet, close-knit, and diverse community, and home to Laura B. Anderson Elementary School.
As an employee of Sammons Financial Group, Kristy has long been active with the company’s Community Involvement Grant program. The funding supports non-profit organizations in cities where Sammons Financial Group offices are located. This year, Kristy and her co-workers campaigned for a contribution to support after-school care at LBA.
In a surprise announcement, Kristy and her colleagues recently presented a check for $20,800 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire. This generous grant from Sammons Financial Group will help fund after-school tutoring, supportive adult interactions, snacks, and educational games. The program also includes full-time summer care for children in Kristy’s childhood neighborhood.
After-School Care: A Key Outcome
Increased access to after-school care is one of the primary results of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers working with Kid Link Riverside. This collaborative initiative is funded by a grant from T. Denny Sanford to Sioux Falls Thrive. After-school care partners are Kids Inc., the Sioux Falls School District, Boys & Girls Club, and Volunteers of America, Dakotas.
Thrive’s Kid Link began its work in Riverside as the pandemic began in early 2020. Despite school closings and limitations on in-person meetings, Thrive staff and volunteers created relationships with school leadership. Efforts in the neighborhood began with simple activities, free snacks, and a visit from the Siouxland Libraries Bookmobile one evening a week on the school playground.
Today, Kid Link Riverside hosts an average of 50 students, their families, and neighbors in a fun and educational weekly event. In summer, activities take place outdoors on the playground. In cooler months, Kid Link partner Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church hosts the event across East Mulberry Street from LBA.
The donated puppet — named George by the kids — gets a lot of love during Kid Link Riverside activities.
A History Based in Family
Some families claim Riverside roots going back three or more generations. A few of today’s residents even live in the homes their parents or grandparents owned.
Kristy Tripp has fond memories of the area.
Without realizing just how poor we were, we used every available community resource to keep food on the table, a roof over our head, and free activities to keep us busy.
Caring adults — including Kristy’s mom —made sure neighborhood kids felt welcome and cared for. “She did all that in an effort to be sure we had a shot at a better life than her,” Kristy says.
Today, Kristy sees a revival of that spirit in the collaborative work of LBA staff, non-profit agencies, local businesses, churches, government agencies, and volunteers. They are all working together to create neighborhood-based support for children and families who live in the attendance areas around the school.
LBA Principal Wade Helleson agrees. “Parents and other adults have a huge influence on each child’s success in school. Kid Link Riverside is helping families connect to LBA and support their children’s progress,” he says.
It All Started with Food
The idea of collaborating to help individual neighborhoods grew out of the work of Sioux Falls Thrive Food Security Action Team members.
“Closing food service gaps citywide is like trying to eat an elephant in one bite,” one member said. The team dug into Augustana’s “Food Security and Food Systems” research and targeted LBA for a demonstration project. This neighborhood is among the food deserts identified in the city.
Boxes of food wait for families at the Feeding South Dakota mobile food pantry at LBA.
Now, thanks to the collaborative work of more than 200 volunteers and a variety of agencies, three mobile food pantries from Feeding South Dakota are scheduled each month for this area. One is in the school parking lot, and two others are near the borders of the school attendance area.
In addition, Kid Link Riverside supports a collaboration to serve a weekly meal using the Nightwatch food truck sponsored by local United Methodist and Lutheran churches. The food gleaning ministry Bread Break gathers a variety of foods left over from restaurants for Riverside families to supplement home menus.
Less than a mile from the school, The Salvation Army of Sioux Falls has expanded its food pantry offerings based on learnings from Kid Link Riverside. Today, families in need have access to foods that are more relevant to their own cultures. And, there is no requirement for a photo ID to access the food.
Getting Everyone Involved
Meanwhile, growing neighborhood involvement is evident in the Kid Link Riverside initiative. Parents, grandparents and friends are among the volunteers at weekly events. Neighbors work together to help provide meals, distribute food, and clean up after activities.
Kristy Tripp compares it to her own mother’s community action.
“By far the most important ‘why’ for me was watching my mom give back to the community that had given so much to her and her family. Even when she herself had so little to give.”