Dakotas America Board finds inspiration in the Black Hills

Posted on July 27, 2017

Paula Jensen
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In the fall of 2016, a group representing Dakotas America gathered inside Rockyford School’s Cultural Heritage room to listen as teachers told stories of hope for the future of Pine Ridge.

“Principal Monica Whirlwind Horse and her staff took us on a wonderful tour of the school and then brought us together in their Cultural Heritage room, a large circular space filled with artifacts and cultural displays. She told us the meaning behind the buffalo hide in the center of the circle,” explains Lin Van Hofwegen, Managing Director of Dakotas America. “In the past, the buffalo provided everything they needed – food, shelter, warmth. Today, she told us, education is our buffalo.”

Learning more about the projects Dakotas America and its investor partners help finance through the New Markets Tax Credit program is important to the governing board and advisory board members of Dakotas America. The members come together once a year to tour projects financed by the organization, which focuses on providing investment capital for projects designed to improve the quality of life for persons in low income communities.

“There is nothing like seeing results in person and talking to people face-to-face,” says Lin. “You can read about it or watch a video, but seeing it with your own eyes is so much more powerful.”

The 2016 Dakotas America tour featured several highlights, including a visit to Mt. Rushmore, a tour of a potential new project in Rapid City, a tour of the Rockyford School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and a day at the buffalo roundup in Custer State Park.

Rockyford School was an especially important stop, since Dakotas America partnered with Citi Community Capital and Grow SD to help provide financing to expand the school with a 76,000 square foot addition. The new annex, which was completed five years ago, includes a gym that seats 750, an updated kitchen, a multi-functional area, a legends room, twelve new classrooms, a bus garage, a storage shed and a playground.

“This was an investment for our future and was an important project for all of South Dakota,” says Coy Sasse, Business Manager at Oglala Lakota County School District. “We are proud of our school and that pride shows up in our classrooms, in our community and in surrounding communities. It’s making a difference.”

The Dakotas America group also toured the Youth and Family Services center in Rapid City, which provides programs and services primarily to underprivileged youth in western South Dakota. The organization, which currently serves 14,000 children and families each year, is seeking to expand its scope through a capital campaign that could potentially be supplemented with Dakotas America New Market Tax Credit allocations.

“The Dakotas America Advisory Board helps ensure the types of transactions undertaken by the organization create high community impact in qualifying low-income communities,” explains Lin.

Finally, Dakotas America topped off its Black Hills tour with a day at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup.

“While the focus of our trip was to see the people and places Dakotas America helps support through the New Market Tax Credit program, the roundup was a great way to end our time together,” says Lin. “Knowing that the buffalo is such a significant symbol of survival to Rockyford School and Pine Ridge was a unique way to bring our trip full circle.”

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