At Dakota Resources’ Learning Network Gathering Awards Banquet in Mitchell, SD, held on November 3, 2021, three honorees received distinguished awards in appreciation for their service to their communities. This annual tradition which takes place at the Entrepreneur Support System Learning Network gathering allows Dakota Resources to celebrate the innovative work that is happening in rural places across the state.
Like all past award winners, this year’s recipients demonstrate the best of the work that rural shapers do, and the finest of what Dakota Resources seeks to recognize through these awards.
“Dakota Resources believes in a thriving rural, and innovation is a big part of what makes a place thrive,” said Paula Jensen, Vice President of Program Development and Community Coach for Dakota Resources. “There is so much innovation happening in many of our rural communities, and we want to celebrate that work as well as show other rural communities what is possible. When we celebrate innovation in rural places, it can inspire and spur more innovation.”
The recipients of the 2021 Learning Network Awards pictured from left to right: Mayor Kent Austin of Centerville, SD, accepting the Learning Network Elected Official Award; Kelsea Kenzy Sutton of Burke, SD, accepting the Community Innovation Prize; Judy Larson of Lemmon, SD, accepting the Learning Network Mentor Award.
Burke honored with Community Innovation Prize
This year’s Community Innovation Prize was awarded to the city of Burke, South Dakota, for the community’s housing initiative, The 775 Project. The award is open to communities who’ve partnered with Dakota Resources in the Learning Network or in the Community Coaching programs within the past year. And while housing is far from a unique problem that Burke faces, their innovative approach to addressing this critical need is gaining traction in the community.
Burke’s efforts through The 775 Project is working to create a culture of housing development that changes the perception of the need for housing as a community problem that needs community solutions. Thus far, The 775 Project has accomplished much, as seven non-specially trained volunteers engaged in the strategic doing process and identified a lot in town on which to focus their efforts.
First, the core volunteer group worked to gain permissions to tear down a dilapidated property on the lot, and then, various partnerships and agreements were made to begin redeveloping the lot, major milestones that both the City of Burke and the Gregory County Development Corporation continue to support.
In order to finance the building of a new home on the recently vacated lot, community leaders in Burke are applying for funding through the Housing Opportunity Fund program with South Dakota Housing Development Authority. The volunteers are also seeking funding through other small grants and industry partnerships, including one such agreement with a local lumberyard.
“We want people and groups to start seeing themselves as housing developers making a bet on Burke being a place people want to live, rather than waiting for someone else to come up with a solution to our housing shortage,” said Kelsea Kenzy Sutton, an attorney for First Fidelity Bank in Burke and one of Burke’s dedicated volunteers who accepted the award on the community’s behalf. “To us, the award shows people both inside and outside our community that we are making award-winning progress in solving our chronic affordable housing issue. And in working with Dakota Resources for a number of years, it is more clear than ever before that Dakota Resources is wholeheartedly leading this cause for all the right reasons, and their contributions to our project are immeasurable. We are grateful for their work and friendship.”
In recognition of their contributions, the winning community of Burke was awarded $5,000 in Dakota Resources Community Coaching credit to be used in 2022 to empower their community, however the organization chooses.
Learning Network Mentor Award celebrates Judy Larson
Next, the Learning Network Mentor Award for 2021 was given this year to Judy Larson, self-described Communityist, in recognition for her contributions as an experienced and trusted advisor to those inside and outside of her community, Lemmon, SD. While the Learning Network exists to empower communities to build connections, gain confidence, support each other, and develop professional skills, there are members within the network that go above and beyond to mentor others.
Jasmin Fosheim, Executive Director of Adams County Development Corporation in Hettinger, ND nominated Larson for the award. As stated in the nomination, “Judy Larson is a connector, an encourager, and a friend. The love she shares with others resonates in all that she does, from providing advice to fellow economic developers, encouraging community members to step into leadership, nurturing her fabulous children, or supporting initiatives she thinks are important. She teaches those around her to lead with love and think critically about how innovation and civic engagement grounded in radical inclusivity can improve rural communities and lives.”
In accepting the award, Larson described the value of mentorship in pushing ahead the initiative to cultivate a thriving rural.
“Mentorship is the way to have continuous growth and revitalization in communities,” Larson said. “If those of us who have been around a while are welcoming and willing to mentor younger/new community members, they will be more apt to stay and to contribute to community life, and that means a win for everyone. Inside the Learning Network, we really act as mentors to each other, offering up our experiences and support via Basecamp and Coffee Breaks, as well as the in-person gatherings. It’s exciting for me to see that the emerging generation is ready and willing to do what it takes to make where they live into a place they can love.”
Centerville Mayor granted Learning Network Elected Official Award
Finally, the 2021 recipient of the Learning Network Elected Official Award honored Centerville, SD Mayor Kent Austin. Elected officials make decisions every day that impact the future of the communities they serve, and this award honors an elected official for their ongoing support and leadership.
In his nomination of Mayor Austin, Jared Hybertson, Executive Director of Centerville Development Corporation, described the value of Austin’s ability to manage both his full-time day job as the County Highway Superintendent with the often stressful, demanding duties of serving as mayor, as well as his connectivity with the Centerville Development Corporation and with Dakota Resources.
“From an economic development director’s perspective, I think it is always so much more effective and beneficial when you have a mayor that takes an active role in partnering to help make community and economic development a priority. Mayor Austin has always been willing to assist us in our economic development efforts and keeps an open mind for partnerships between the city and development corporation in order to get things done,” Hybertson said.
Hybertson used one of Mayor Austin’s own frequent phrases to describe his approach to leadership: to quote Kent, “It only makes sense to work together. We are all on the same team and trying to accomplish the same goals for our community.”
TAKE ACTION: Please join us in congratulating this year’s award winners! Please visit our Facebook page to leave a message of congratulations for the city of Burke, Judy Larson, and Centerville Mayor Kent Austin.