Welcoming immigrants to South Dakota is part of Lutheran Social Services’ 100-year-history

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — While celebrating 100 years of work in the community, Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota also received a boost in national attention this week. 

One of South Dakota’s well-known, non-profit human service agency was spotlighted in the HBO documentary “Our Towns” which was released Tuesday night. The documentary, based on the book with the same name by Deborah and James Fallows, gave audiences a behind-the-scenes viewpoint of some of the work LSS does in relation to refugee and immigration services. 

“Overall, it tells a wonderful story of communities across the United States that aren’t always lifted up to that level,” LSS President/CEO Betty Oldenkamp said about the documentary. “It wasn’t just about Sioux Falls. You saw farm fields, you saw Pow Wows. It really gave a sense of the diversity and the landscape of our state.” 

Oldenkamp recalled a film crew first approached LSS back in June 2019 to be featured and she said the organization was honored to be included in the film. 

“Much of our work is a pretty well kept secret,” Oldenkamp said. “Not that we’re intentionally keeping it a secret. We just kind of go about and do our business.” 

LSS’s role of helping immigrant and refugee workers is highlighted in the documentary. 

“Sioux Falls has long relied on refugees and immigrants as workers. Lutheran Social Services is the agency that helps settle them,” Deborah Fallows narrates in the documentary. 

Oldenkamp said “lifting up” the contributions of immigrants in the Sioux Falls community remains a key service the organization provides. 

“We see our role to welcome,” said Oldenkamp, who has been with LSS for 15 years. 

The release of “Our Towns” highlighting the role of immigrant workers ironically happened the night before South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem tweeted about the state of South Dakota not be taking any “illegal immigrants that the Biden Administration wants to relocate.”

“When things aren’t well understood. It’s easy to be fearful of something,” Oldenkamp told KELOLAND News. “You seek refuge, the root of refugee. You seek refuge in another country, that’s been happening since the birth of Christ and probably before.” 

Along with LSS, the documentary also highlights downtown Sioux Falls, EROS, Raven Industries, Smithfield Fields, KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke, artist Dale Lamphere, Avera’s farm and rural stress hotline and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. 

“The success of a community is not one entity,” Oldenkamp said. “It is many people coming together. It’s a social ministry like LSS. It’s a strong city, local government presence. A great business economy, deep agriculture roots, there’s so many things that came into play to make this a successful place.”

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