• February/March 2021

New Leadership for Sioux Falls Thrive

Cradle to career initiative continues to meet community challenges.


Sioux Falls Thrive, the cradle to career initiative founded in response to Forward Sioux Falls' Strategic Workforce Agenda, has a new leader. Michelle Erpenbach became president of the nonprofit Jan. 1. Candy Hanson, Thrive's founding executive, will continue to lead the organization's action teams.

Sioux Falls Thrive seeks to address economic and social disadvantages faced by children in Sioux Falls. The organization brings together community leaders to realign existing resources, remove obstacles to student success, and foster opportunity for all children, from cradle to career.

Five years ago, the Forward Sioux Falls Strategic Workforce Action Agenda identified a need to focus not only on the workforce needs of today, but the future workforce needs of the community. Tomorrow's workforce is in the school district today. Thus, a cradle to career initiative to support kids became a top priority – and Thrive was founded.

Hanson was closing out 15 years with the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation in 2017 when she was asked to develop Thrive.

"Having an experienced nonprofit CEO to lay Thrive's foundation and get our first projects going was a tremendous benefit," said Deb Koski (Sanford Health), Chair of Thrive's board of directors. "We've anticipated this move for some time. When we hired Michelle a year ago to launch Kid Link Riverside, we were confident she'd step up to the president's position. She and Candy have worked together to make this a seamless transition."

Hanson's new title is Director of Community Collaboration. She'll continue to direct the activities of Thrive's three action teams and a half dozen task teams, smaller working groups that improve service delivery systems that benefit disadvantaged families and their children.

Two of those task teams recently won Bush Foundation Community Innovation Grants as a result of Hanson's leadership. One, an eviction prevention pilot, will be housed at East River Legal Services. The other is a childcare workforce initiative being developed by EmBe and four center-based childcare provider partners.

Thrive took a strategic swerve in 2019 when it decided to put boots on the ground and pursue its Kid Link Initiative, a three-year project funded by T. Denny Sanford.

"Systems work produces long-term improvement to service delivery," Erpenbach said. "The Kid Link model produces real-time improvements to neighborhood services. It closes student achievement gaps by closing opportunity gaps. A family's zip code shouldn't determine a kid's destiny."

Kid Link Riverside benefits children and families in the Laura B. Anderson Elementary School attendance area. Despite launching this past March when lockdowns began, task teams have already tackled food security issues and out-of-school time activities.

"More than 40 organizations and 100+ volunteers are filling gaps by realigning community services," Erpenbach said. Youth-serving agencies partner with Kid Link to host a weekly activity for neighborhood children and their parents. Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church provides facility space, and Nightwatch Food Truck coordinates with a grab-and-go meal for working families. Feeding South Dakota hosts mobile food distribution at two neighborhood sites.

Erpenbach served as a Sioux Falls city councilor from 2010 to 2018. During that time, she served on a variety of related committees, including the Homeless Advisory Board. Her work as a community organizer includes founding and serving 10 years as the volunteer coordinator for the Sioux Falls Community Gardens.

"Michelle is a natural community builder," said Koski. "She's made incredible progress on an initiative that launched in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone at Thrive looks forward to her continued leadership."

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