Nonprofit dedicates child development center in South Dakota

February 23, 2019
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In this Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 photo, Zane Returns, 11 months, looks out from a classroom as visitors tour Rural America Initiative's new multi-million dollar Child Development Center in Rapid City, S.D. (Ryan Hermens/Rapid City Journal via AP)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Little more than 15 months ago, Bruce Long Fox joined many of his Rural America Initiatives staff members and city leaders on a biting cold, windy October day to break ground for a 22,000-square-foot building to house its Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Recently, Long Fox could not have been more thrilled to be standing inside the new Child Development Center for its grand opening celebration while basking in the warmth of a community’s commitment to its children.

“The kids deserve a place to feel free,” said Long Fox, the executive director for Rural America Initiatives, or RAI. “It really is a dream come true.”

The grand opening of the center was the culmination of a five-year fundraising campaign that netted $7.2 million to help the nonprofit consolidate its programs from five modular buildings spread out across Rapid City to under one roof.

The need for the new center, Long Fox said, actually dates back to 1990, when the first of the aging modular buildings housing RAI’s Head Start, Early Head Start and Ateyapi programs went into use.

Now Long Fox, who directs nearly 100 employees both in Rapid City and in RAI programs on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, can just walk down the hall to talk to his staff instead of calling them on the phone or communicate with everyone at once during a staff meeting.

“Mostly, it just feels way different,” he told the Rapid City Journal. “It feels good compared to feeling cramped.”

Some of the major contributions to RAI’s capital campaign included $2 million from Rapid City’s Vision Fund, $1 million from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, $500,000 from Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, whose names grace the lobby and reception area in a central atrium, and a contribution from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Business Committee, the namesake of a wing of six classrooms.

According to a release, RAI serves 1,200 children and their families, who are making the often difficult transition from area reservations to living and working in Rapid City.

Child development programs focus on children who are homeless, in foster care or handicapped through Head Start and Early Head Start for children pre-natal through age 5 and their families, along with older children through Ateyapi (Lakota for “fatherhood”), a positive role-modeling mentorship program in Rapid City’s elementary, middle and high schools.

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender said the new center reflects the city’s sense of community.

“Community means we’re not only neighbors, we look out for each other like family. We look out for each other’s interests. We care about us whether we are young or old and regardless of our background,” he said. “With this great facility, it’s going to allow this organization to do what it does best in a way it has never done it before in one location.”

Contractor Jim Scull, part of a steering committee that helped secure the funding and design the new building, said the project is the largest one the city has done for Native American people in the region.

“This is a home run for all of us,” Scull said.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com