Sioux Falls Thrive volunteers, staff and friends gather at the Helpline Center Spirit of Volunteerism Awards April 19, 2023. Pictured from left are: Michelle Erpenbach, Elaine Roberts, Amanda Viau Hopkins, Victor Nosal, Harlowe Donaldson, Carter Nosal, Jackie Donaldson, Cindy Nieber, Ayen Mayom, Sherri Donaldson, Tom Donaldson, Cheryl Lehmann, Greg VanLuvanee, Tolcha Mesele, Erin Nosal.
Volunteers are the very heart of the work that Sioux Falls Thrive does in the community. In recognition of this important role, the following volunteers were nominated for the Helpline Center’s Spirit of Volunteerism Awards for 2023:
Youth Volunteer Recognition
Victor Nosal is a 13-year-old seventh grader at Whittier Middle School who is nearly a lifelong resident of the Riverside neighborhood in Sioux Falls. When Sioux Falls Thrive started its Kid Link initiative at Laura B. Anderson Elementary School about three blocks from his house, Victor was one of the early participants.
Even as a fourth grader, he understood how the educational activities and connections with adult volunteers were a fun way to build friendships and spend time out of school. Eventually, he and his brother Carter were taking home hot meals and encouraging their parents to join them on Tuesday evenings.
Now, as a middle school student, Victor volunteers alongside his family and friends to support weekly activities for younger kids. He works directly with students, helps with set-up and clean up, and models for others the importance of volunteering and being involved in your community. Sioux Falls Thrive is grateful for Victor’s service!
Carter Nosal is often a friendly partner to his twin brother Victor. They share some interests, including a love for serving others, but each has a unique and intriguing personality.
Now a 13-year-old seventh grader at Whittier Middle School, Carter is nearly a lifelong resident of the Riverside neighborhood in Sioux Falls. He was among those students who participated in the early stages of Kid Link Riverside at Laura B. Anderson Elementary School. Even as a fourth-grader, he understood how the educational activities and connections with adult volunteers were a fun way to build friendships and spend time out of school.
Eventually, Carter and his brother were taking home hot meals and encouraging their parents to join them on Tuesday evenings. Now, as a middle school student, Carter volunteers alongside his family and friends to support weekly activities for younger kids. He works directly with students, helps with set-up and clean up, and models for others the importance of volunteering and being involved in your community. Sioux Falls Thrive is grateful for Carter’s service!
Avera Food Service Crew
Avera’s Food Service Crew has prepared hundreds of meals they’ve served out of a simple food truck in the Riverside neighborhood of Sioux Falls in the last three years. It was the enthusiasm and encouragement of their leader, Amanda Viau Hopkins, that got them started volunteering.
Amanda is a certified executive chef and food service director at Avera Hospital & University Health Center. She’s also been an active parent volunteer at Laura B. Anderson Elementary School.
As Sioux Falls Thrive opened its first iteration of the Kid Link Initiative in that school’s neighborhood, she volunteered as part of the original planning team. The group helped develop and test new strategies for encouraging parents, community volunteers and neighbors to engage with students during a weekly afterschool event.
But it was the hot meal that captured her attention, and she quickly became a key member of the food service team. Amanda and the Avera Food Service crew have helped fundraise for additional meals, and always provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere for their guests, no matter the weather. Sioux Falls Thrive and Kid Link Riverside are grateful for the dedication and compassion of the Avera Food Service crew!
Every young mother worries about the future of her children, doing everything she can to ensure their success. Ayen Mayom is no different, but she faces added obstacles as an immigrant from South Sudan to the United States. She didn’t speak English as her first language, and she brought her five children to Sioux Falls just last summer.
Most of the kids attend Terry Redlin Elementary where Sioux Falls Thrive started its second Kid Link neighborhood initiative at the beginning of this school year. Ayen was among the first Terry Redlin parents to participate in Kid Link neighborhood meetings, and to volunteer to interact with students during the weekly family night.
Her goal was to meet other families in her adopted home. But her volunteer service has already helped dozens of students improve their reading and fine motor skills. Ayen is also modeling the importance of volunteering and community involvement to her family and her fellow Terry Redlin parents. Sioux Falls Thrive is grateful for the warm and friendly volunteer service Ayen is providing to her community!
In the summer of 2020, when the pandemic was raging, vaccines were still in the future, and masks were worn even at outdoor activities, Cheryl Lehmann joined community volunteers developing Sioux Falls Thrive’s neighborhood-based initiative called Kid Link. As a member of Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church in the Riverside neighborhood, Cheryl had a unique view of this tight-knit area of town.
And, as a retired teacher, Cheryl understood Kid Link goals: to ultimately impact students’ academic performance by supporting them and their families outside of school hours. She volunteered on the playground that summer, helping kids improve reading, math, and science skills. When colder weather arrived, Cheryl represented congregational leaders in offering the church building across the street from Laura B. Anderson Elementary. Consequently, Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church hosted Kid Link Riverside for nearly two years, until the schools were open for volunteers.
Now, Cheryl’s weekly reading nook encourages kids to choose a book and read it aloud to a friendly puppy or adult. Often, Cheryl creates incentive programs to encourage reading, and she’s always seeking the next great book! Sioux Falls Thrive is grateful for Cheryl’s leadership and support of children and families!
Cindy Nieber is a born educator whose smile and warm hugs encourage students to achieve beyond their own expectations. Yet, it’s their favorite “Miss Cindy” who creates a culture of accountability, reminding individuals how important they are and how their behavior affects those around them.
Cindy is among the core group of volunteers who ensure the ongoing success of Kid Link Riverside, started by Sioux Falls Thrive in 2020 in the neighborhood surrounding Laura B. Anderson Elementary School. Cindy’s understanding of children’s need for love, support and nourishment has led her to serve in a variety of roles with Kid Link Riverside. She has been the Lead Activity Organizer, a member of the Food Giveaway Team, and a greeter and gentle disciplinarian. Additionally, she’s been called upon to wash dishes, vacuum floors, and clean restrooms at times!
These days, it is the smile from Miss Cindy that greets children and families as they arrive for weekly family night activities. She knows LBA students by name, helps their parents feel comfortable amidst the excitement, and assists community partners in providing quality educational opportunities. Sioux Falls Thrive is grateful for the friendly, encouraging volunteer service Cindy provides!
Tom and Sherri Donaldson raised three daughters in the Riverside neighborhood where Sherri grew up. They were active in the girls’ education, volunteering at Laura B. Anderson Elementary near their home.
It’s often the Donaldsons who check in on older folks, keep an eye on kids, and pitch in at church. For several years, Sherri Donaldson led the serving of a weekly meal at what is now Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church.
Sherri was an early visitor to the LBA playground when Sioux Falls Thrive volunteers began Kid Link Riverside in 2020. When her church invited Kid Link indoors, Sherri started volunteering, cheering on kids’ accomplishments, and connecting with parents and grandparents. It was Sherri and Tom who delivered hot meals to neighbors who couldn’t get to the food truck.
The weekly food giveaway started as an add-on to Kid Link, but with the leadership of Sherri and Tom, their daughter Jackie, and granddaughter Harlowe, it has grown into a major event. Sherri recently recorded their 500th individual guest. People rely on this service to supplement weekly food budgets, and Sioux Falls Thrive is grateful for the spirit of volunteerism in the Donaldson family.
Tom, Sherri, Harlowe and Jackie Donaldson
Longtime educator Elaine Roberts is known across South Dakota for her service to children, and for her support of the profession of teaching. Now retired, Elaine has been a classroom teacher, special education advocate, long-time leader of the South Dakota Education Association and other education-focused organizations, wife, mother and grandmother.
Elaine was among a core group of volunteers who committed to Sioux Falls Thrive not long after the organization was founded in 2017. Starting in 2020, she was on the original team of community leaders that laid the groundwork for Thrive’s Kid Link neighborhood-based initiative. With the help of people like Elaine, Kid Link has become the afterschool programming prototype for the new Community Learning Center model being developed by the Sioux Falls School District.
During the early phases of Kid Link Riverside at Laura B. Anderson Elementary School, Elaine was often heard telling visitors that this was her neighborhood too. She modeled the importance of treating all children as “our kids” who need support and encouragement to achieve their highest potential. She continues to serve as a greeter at Kid Link Terry Redlin where she knows most kids by name. Thrive is grateful for Elaine’s commitment to Kid Link!
Greg VanLuvanee has served for several years as the liaison for Celebrate Church which is a faith partner for Terry Redlin Elementary School in Sioux Falls. His history with the school includes mentoring students, befriending families, and helping lead special events in collaboration with school staff and church members.
When Sioux Falls Thrive began the second iteration of its neighborhood-based Kid Link Initiative at Terry Redlin Elementary this year, Greg was among the first to step up to help. His commitment to the school grew through attendance at neighborhood meetings.
Now he is a regular volunteer for weekly family nights, working to build relationships with students and families. He provides a friendly atmosphere for individuals and groups of students as he uses games and crafts to help build math and science skills. Greg is often in conversation with students, building relationships that encourage kids to return each week to learn more from the volunteers they have grown to trust. Sioux Falls Thrive and Kid Link Terry Redlin are grateful for Greg’s continuing service on behalf of students and families!
Greg VanLuvanee coaches Terry Redlin students as they create a structure from building blocks.