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Editor's note: Helping Hands is a weekly series profiling nonprofits in western South Dakota.

About 14,000 children in Western South Dakota need mentors to help them navigate the challenges of life. One way to boost youth development is to enroll them in programs that help them learn and grow.

Youth and Family Services has been serving children and their families since 1965. They have grown to become one of the largest, most comprehensive youth development programs in western South Dakota, providing services to children of all age groups in the community.

YFS has nine different programs designed to meet the needs of children and families in the area, including Child Development Center, Counseling Center, Girls Inc., Fatherhood First, Nutrition Services, Rapid City Head Start, Rural Head Start, Stronger Family Program and Western Prevention Resource Center.

“We want to have a center where those kids can come together and have lots of strong mentors to help them. The more trusted adults that are involved in the child's life, the more likely they are to be successful,” said Connie Olsen, development director.

YFS is currently working on an expansion project that will provide even more resources for children. These resources will fill in gaps of services or provide for ones that had long waiting lists. The hope is to have the expansion finished by February 2020. The expansion will provide care for infants and toddlers and programs for middle school-aged children involved in high-risk behavior.

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“The most significant time in a child's life as far as brain development is those first three years. The second most significant time is as they are entering early adolescence or middle school age.

So, we're really focusing on those two areas because that's when the most significant brain development is happening and where we think we will be able to help keep kids on the right trajectory toward being successful,” Olsen said.

Currently, they are about $2 million away from their goal. The expansion will allow them to have a longer lasting impact on the youth in the community, to better address and work on relationship building, and provide more outdoor space for children to play.

Community efforts are much needed for helping out the community’s youth. Since many of the programs are supported by donations, financial support makes a huge difference. Volunteers are also needed to help. Olsen said that the support they receive from the community is what keeps the doors open.

“We have some programs like Head Start that are federally funded, but that funding is fairly stable. There are other programs like our Girls Inc. program where girls pay a membership fee, but that doesn't begin to cover that cost. We also need donations for things that we use in our programs such as school supplies, office supplies, things that we would have to purchase with program money to operate,” she said.

For more information, or to help, call 605-342-4195, or visit youthandfamilyservices.org.

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— This story has been updated to correct a quote from YFS CEO Susan Fedell. She said, “We have some programs like Head Start that are federally funded, that funding is fairly stable."

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