L-R: "Porter the Hoarder" graphic designer Laurel Antonmarchi, author Sean Covel, and creator/illustrator Rebecca Swift are all from South Dakota.

Designed for Family Literacy

Sean Covel is the producer behind ten movies, including cult classic "Napoleon Dynamite," but on a snowy spring day at his office in the historic Deadwood courthouse, Sean says working on the “Porter the Hoarderbook series is "more satisfying than all of [the movies]."
Dividing his time between Los Angeles and South Dakota, Sean is the author of the series, but the character of "Porter the Hoarder" was created by fellow South Dakotan, artist Rebecca Swift, inspired by her young daughter. "I looked in her dresser drawer one day and found she was hoarding Halloween candy—it was filled with wrappers!" Rebecca laughs. "Porter is a hoarder like my daughter, Logan, and her big energy is inspired by my daughter, Quinn. Sean really gave Porter her voice with her crazy outbursts and reactions."
Sean says, "Porter's voice clicked in my head as soon as I saw Rebecca's drawings. I'm really into writing her snappy comebacks. It's so fun!"
The first in the "look-and-find" picture book series is "Porter the Hoarder and the Ransacked Room," with three more books to be published in the near future. BHSSC’s Statewide Family Engagement Center (SFEC) is now partnering with Sean Covel to give "Porter the Hoarder" books to as many 1st graders as possible across South Dakota and with United Way of the Black Hills to give them to 1st graders across the Black Hills region, so that the “Littles” can share the story with their “Bigs” (parents, teachers, siblings, and adults at home). Sean says the project is so exciting for him because ultimately “our M.O. is not writing books—it’s family engagement.” The book series has been intentionally designed to be interactive, as readers search for Porter’s bizarre objects in the pictures.
SFEC Director, Morgan Von Haden says, "The book series' overarching goal is to get 'Bigs' in the habit of reading with 'Littles.' Families are reading together, laughing and having fun." SFEC has also partnered with South Dakota's 21st Century grants to give a set of “Porter the Hoarder” books to each summer learning program throughout the state. Morgan says, “We want to support their literacy programs and help prevent summer reading loss through this fun, interactive book.” You can follow "Porter the Hoarder" and SFEC on Facebook. If you're interested in learning more about family engagement services, contact Morgan VonHaden, or visit

Educational, Fun, and a Place
to Build Empathy

For nearly two decades, Desi Keller has coordinated BHSSC Discovery Center's after school and summer day camp programs. Every year the programs serve hundreds of K-5 students who attend various Rapid City elementary schools: Horace Mann, General Beadle, Knollwood, Valley View, and Rapid Valley.
Desi is especially excited about this summer's lineup for students. "We're partnering with the Orlando Philharmonic. The kids will get to try out playing different instruments and the symphony will do a special performance for us." Students will also work with "Chef Jeff" to have a "garden-to-table" experience. Jeffrey Slathar, chef at Rapid City’s Colonial House Restaurant, chooses the ingredients from the community garden at General Beadle, and students help prepare food for a meal that they share together. Another highlight of the summer day camp program is kick-off week when students interact with Rapid City police and fire departments. "The kids have a lot of fun playing soccer with 15-20 police officers and checking out the fire engine." The 6-week summer program is designed to be both fun and educational. In the morning, certified teachers work with students on reading, math, and STEM skills.  In the afternoon, students do interest-based, project-based activities for two-week blocks.
Growing up as the oldest of five siblings made teaching and interacting with kids feel natural to Desi. In fact, he began his professional career while still in high school, working as an assistant at a Montessori preschool. But Desi says it was later, as a student at Black Hills State University, that he "realized being a teacher was what I really wanted to do." Now he has taught generations of students through the Discovery Center programs.
Funded by 21st Century Community Learning Center grants through the U.S. Department of Education, the federal budgets for these programs in 2020 are currently on the chopping block. Desi says the Discovery Center program fills a vital need for working families to have high-quality after school and summer care for their children. He says, “It’s the academic enrichment that makes it stand out from the rest." Not only academic, but social-emotional learning is happening on a daily basis. "Kids of all ages learn to get along. They learn patience. I think the biggest impact of the Discovery programs is that they give a place for kids to learn to regulate their emotions." For more information about the Discovery Center programs, contact Desi Keller,
Discovery Center students at Knollwood Elementary trying to build the strongest tower possible using classroom items.

Focused on a Bright Future

Clarissa Shropshire remembers years of saying to herself, “I’ll do it sometime,” when it came to her GED®. But, she says, as the years passed by “the excuses seemed less valid.” Last winter Clarissa went to the orientation for the GED® Program at BHSSC’s Career Learning Center of the Black Hills. “At first I was nervous and worried they wouldn’t be able to help me. I was working two jobs at the time and didn’t want to quit to do the program.” Clarissa felt inspired and encouraged by what she heard from Adult Education Instructor, Rhonda Leneaugh. “She shared her own story and told us about all of the options and scholarships available.” Clarissa liked that the program was flexible enough for her to keep working in a job she loves: assistant coordinator of BHSSC’s Discovery Center after school program in the Rapid City school district. In fact, it was Clarissa’s desire to be the best example possible for her students that motivated her to further her education.

One year later Clarissa was selected as the speaker at the GED® Graduation Ceremony in January. In her speech, Clarissa said “I found something I didn’t even know I needed: inspiration. I found it in the small children I teach at the Discovery Center.” Having an undiagnosed learning disability as a child presented challenges for Clarissa when she was in school, and she still remembers a first-grade teacher who corrected her in a way that made her feel bad. Now, as an adult herself, who works with kids every day, she says “I never want to make someone feel that way. There are ways to say things that are sensitive to kids’ feelings.”

Clarissa found a program with enough flexibility to fit her work schedule and teachers who gave her personal attention, “So many people did not get the care and nurturing they needed [in school], and they give up. I love the GED® program at the Career Learning Center. Everyone has been so helpful.” Clarissa is currently pursuing her paraprofessional educator certification, so that she can be an assistant classroom teacher. “I know now that I want to continue my education. I want a career. I want to just keep going.”

The Regifting Store in Rapid City

Jeanne Burckhard-McKenna (center) and volunteers (L-R): Stacy Merscheim, Stacey Wessels, Lesa Koscielski, and Peggy Pientok 

If you visit The Regifting Store at 625 South Street, in the annex behind Rapid City High School, you will probably be greeted by Jeanne Burckhard-McKenna’s cheerful voice welcoming you to the small, bright room full of neatly organized racks of clothing, shoes, toys, books, and household items.

When Jeanne began working this year for BHSSC’s Family and Community Engagement programs in Rapid City, she realized a resource like this could benefit many in the community. The hours of the store coincide with the Rapid City Area Schools food pantry hours on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, to make it a convenient “one-stop shopping event.” Everything in the store is free and available to anyone in need, which is what attracted volunteer Stacey Wessels. “That really appealed to me—I love that it’s all free. A lot of people want to donate to people who need it.”
The idea to start a free regifting store was first proposed by paraprofessional, Marge Bullinger, when Jeanne was principal at North Middle School. “I thought, ‘What a great idea,’ and I supported it completely.” After retiring as principal, Jeanne went on to start regifting stores staffed by students and staff members at schools on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations. “The students loved working, and their payment was that they had the first choice of items to take.”
Since opening at Rapid City High School in February, Jeanne has seen the number of visitors grow. “We started with on average 80 families, but last Tuesday we had over 150 people that left with bags [of items] in two and a half hours. It is hard to keep track of due to how busy we are.” 
Although The Regifting Store currently has enough volunteers to staff it, Jeanne says they are in need of some specific donations, including men’s and boy’s clothing, kids’ socks, sheets, and bedding. Jeanne says “Other” items also seem to fly off the shelves, such as “knick-knacks, housewares, beauty items, and puzzles.” Donations may be dropped off at the TIE Office, 1925 N. Plaza Blvd., Rapid City, 8AM-4PM, Monday-Friday. For more information, contact Jeanne Burckhard-McKenna,

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P.O. Box 218, Sturgis, SD  57785

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