SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – A newer program for helping kids in Sioux Falls has come together thanks to a collaboration of multiple organizations in the city. That collaboration has led to other people wanting to lend a hand.

Arts and crafts, snacks and fun, that’s what’s in store for kids in the Riverside neighborhood of Sioux Falls every Tuesday night.

“My kids beg for me to bring them up here like every week, even not on Tuesdays,” mom Samantha Pacholl said. “They just want to come up here to be with all the volunteers or their teachers are up here and they just want to carry on that interaction that they had at school, but not so serious. Like they get to have fun and just enjoy being a kid together and growing up and learning different things every week.”

Kid Link, a program through Sioux Falls Thrive, started this after-school activity in June of 2020. Their focus on the Riverside neighborhood originally started because of food insecurity.

“There is a food desert here in this Riverside neighborhood,” Michelle Erpenbach, president of Sioux Falls Thrive, said. “It’s literally too far to get to affordable food in this neighborhood. If you don’t have a car or if you, you know, all of the things, all of the barriers around getting access to affordable food are here in this neighborhood.”

But organizers quickly realized there was something else the neighborhood was struggling with — after school care.

“Parents are working extra hours, they’re not home, you know, after school and kids are unsupervised, kids are not in a situation where they’re getting help with homework, those kinds of things,” Erpenbach said. “So that’s how this developed.”

The Tuesday night program allows families to get a warm meal from the Nightwatch food truck and get some snacks to take home. On average there are about 50 kids who come to the Kid Link program.

“It’s welcoming, it feels safe, you can bring your questions and know what your kid’s kind of being like with their friends at school also,” Pacholl said. “And just have that, you’re not alone feeling, like, we’re all here just in it together and growing and learning at our own pace but with each other.”

As for the other nights of the week, the Sioux Falls School District has an after-school program set up called Kids Inc., but that’s not always an option for families of Laura B. Anderson Elementary in the Riverside neighborhood.

“The sliding fee scale was too high for many of the parents in this neighborhood and there’s no transportation provided,” Erpenbach said.

But now, thanks to a donation of over 20 thousand dollars from Sammons Financial Group, eight children will be able to get a fully-funded scholarship to the after-school program and get a ride home afterwards. The Riverside neighborhood was brought to the attention of Sammons Financial Group by Kristy Tripp, one of their employees, who grew up in that neighborhood.

“I don’t know if I should call it paying it back or paying it forward but I feel like I’m in a really incredibly great position to help out kids that remind me of me when I was a kiddo,” Tripp said.

“My daughter goes to Kids Inc and so she isn’t part of the extended program they have but I’m really grateful that they were able to do that to make room for additional kids because I feel like that’s such a safe place for them to go and to get the help that they need with like homework assistance and different things,” mom Amanda Tilberg said.

Tripp also volunteers with Kid Link every week. She knows first-hand how beneficial these types of programs can be for the families in the Riverside neighborhood. She also says the wanting to give back comes from her mom.

“You know, I can tell you, without a doubt is, serving, giving back, is in my family’s DNA,” Tripp said. “You know, my mom would’ve been the very first one in line to be here and to be behind the counter serving the food or to be behind the desk greeting the guests or to be, you know, putting cupcakes in a bag. That’s where this comes from. She had so little but was willing to help so many.”

Kid Link Riverside partners with various community organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire. The Tuesday night program is hosted across the street from Laura B. Anderson in the Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church, however the program is not affiliated with any religion.