For a community to thrive, it needs something to define it, to make it feel like home, to make it attractive to visitors. This is the heart of our community. But a community needs more than just a heart, it needs a soul. The soul of a community is its people, who they are, what they stand for, and how they care for one another. It is my desire to lay the foundation to cultivate a soul for Rapid City that engages both business and civic sectors, working together, to solve some of our toughest challenges, producing results we can all get behind and cherish.

The heart of Rapid City encompasses the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Memorial Park, Legacy Commons and expands to bring Main Street Square into the fold, spreading south to our arts corridor which includes the Dahl Arts Center, Art Alley, and Performing Arts Center. This core area is what many Rapid City area residents associate with the heart of our community. Currently, due to many revitalization efforts, and significant support from our local private sector, our heart is strong, healthy, and thriving. And it is a tremendous source of pride.

But the soul of this community may not be as vibrant and healthy as it can or should be. A community is nothing if not its people, and the local private sector can play a major role in transforming Rapid City into the most caring community of its size in the nation. This “culture of caring” should have three main principles:

  • All lives have equal value;
  • We take care of our own; and
  • We help our people in need to try to create a sense of self-worth and build healthy, productive lives.

With all the local caregiving initiatives underway, it is important to take into account the places and circumstances people come from and ensure all are treated with respect and dignity. For example, honoring the heritage and traditions of our Native American residents; honoring the service and challenges of our Veterans; honoring the struggles our single parents face in raising a family alone; and acknowledging the wounds and trauma suffered by so many of our residents, clouding their lives with crises and hopelessness. Through concerted, intentional efforts (i.e. Collective Impact) to address gaps in the system, with time and perseverance this community can accomplish our overall goal and principles and help our people build better lives for them and their families.

Short term goals

The way I see it, within the next three years or so, our community’s people in need should have timely, affordable, respectful, and dignified access to food, housing, addiction treatment, mental health care/counseling and physical health care—with dignity and respect being paramount in this effort. To illustrate what I mean by dignity and respect, I once viewed a news program showcasing a community with a free meal facility for the disadvantaged where, instead of a prison-like cafeteria food line, volunteers seated the diners, waited on, and cleaned up after them, just like at a nice restaurant. A small gesture, but it was meaningful and, more importantly, respectful and dignified.

Food availability

There is a lot going-on at a local level, too much to list. One example is Feeding South Dakota’s new Mobile Food Pantry. It brings available food within walking distance for many of our people in need who do not have access to transportation to get to food drop-off sites. Feeding South Dakota calls the new Mobile Pantry a real game-changer. The many good organizations that help feed our people in need are working together, sharing resources, and feeding more people in creative ways as a result and we’ll continue to grow from there.

Affordable housing

Many good local developers are planning affordable housing projects, and the collaboration needed to make the housing market meet the needs of the community is well underway.

Addiction, mental health and overall health

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Pennington County’s new Care Campus places under one roof many scattered current treatment providers including Detox, Safe Solutions, Health & Human Services, Crisis Care Center, treatment beds (near future), and RCPD’s new Quality of Life Unit. To build on this effort, OneHeart will be right next door to help form a continuum of deeper services to enhance treatment for people after the acute phase of these challenges. Together, these two facilities will make it much easier for people to gain access to multiple services in a central location with a goal of helping our people in need become self-sufficient, contributing citizens. Additionally, Community Health Center of the Black Hills will operate an urgent care clinic on the OneHeart campus, giving easier access to healthcare and medications to foster healthier lives.

Longer term goals

I define these longer-term goals as those in which it could take up to a generation or two to accomplish, with prevention being the focal point. Data shows that prevention dollars are a smarter investment than reaction dollars. If we can prevent people from ever getting to a point where they need charitable care, we would become the most caring community in the nation. Some of these long-term prevention goals should be: having few if any race relation and diversity issues; fostering family environments wherein children want to get a good education obtain the skills needed to have a productive career; strengthening secondary school systems where students can get the education needed to continue their path to obtain the skills needed for their desired careers; establishing a state of the art workforce development program creating the skills needed for the jobs available; providing an adequate number of meaningful jobs available for all levels of skills; and having an overall community culture of caring for and helping our people so that very few reach a point of needing charitable help.

How do we do this?

There have been about twenty million private sector dollars and years of private sector talent pledged or already given to our local Collective Impact efforts. Black Hills Area Community Foundation is leading this work. I believe our Collective Impact efforts will be the most successful example of any joint City and private sector project undertaken in our community’s history. We will be a shining example of how a community can come as close as possible to eliminating homelessness.

We can truly accomplish more together in solving these community-wide problems. Many wonderful human services agencies have stepped up to change the system to produce better results. This is the essence of Collective Impact and the various initiatives thereof (food security, affordable housing, and OneHeart). The process of Collective Impact is an ongoing endeavor and I believe OneHeart should be the steward of these overall goals, coordinating efforts of all the various stakeholders to accomplish them.


We can do this. We already have a lot of other great things planned and happening within our community: a good city master plan, exciting growth at Ellsworth Air Force Base, momentum with Elevate Rapid City, a good city administration (mayor and city council), good city and county law enforcement organizations, good leadership for our public school system, a new Child Development Center of Rural America Initiatives, good leadership at South Dakota School of Mines, the Sanford Underground Lab, a new civic center, and a broad community desire to help our people in need.

Our current efforts are good, but they should continue to be connected and enhanced to achieve specific goals. The energy is here, all we have to do is channel it the right way, take one step at a time and “learn as we go”. It’s now or never, and the Rapid City community is poised and ready for positive change.

I would like to close my comments with some of Rob and Deb Mudge’s thoughts. On October 24, 2018 Rob and Deb Mudge received at the Annual Statewide Philanthropy Luncheon the Philanthropists of the Year Award. No one deserves it more than the two of them. Rob closed his comments on accepting the award by saying, “I hope all of you at the end of each day ask yourself: What did I do for humanity today?” I hope all of us can get to the point where we ask ourselves this question, and have a positive answer for it, every day.

If all of this happens, Rapid City will have developed the soul it deserves, and go from being a good city to being a great city.

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