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All-Ability Arts Benefit EVERYONE

June 25, 2024 | Black Hills Works Newsroom, Blogs

From outside, the large brown building that houses Flutter Productions gives little indication of the colorful magic that happens inside its doors. But when performers, volunteers, and theater students fill the space, new possibilities and beautiful worlds are born, creating a ripple effect throughout our entire community.


Founded by Heather Pickering in 2008, Flutter Productions joined the Black Hills Works family in 2015. Under Pickering’s artistic direction, adults and youth of all abilities join forces to create astounding, one-of-a-kind productions and original fashion shows. Individuals who are supported by Black Hills Works also enroll in theater classes outside of production seasons.

“We know that one marker of a successful and vibrant community is the presence of the arts,” says Pickering. “Flutter focuses on empowering individuals who have been historically marginalized by society,” demonstrating that “their vision and creativity is valued and valid.”

Hundreds of audience members enjoy Flutter’s creative and thought-provoking productions, which are the culmination of months of devoted work. Performers grow and develop in many ways pre-production. As Pickering explains, during rehearsals and planning, performers “are building critical thinking, problem solving skills, and synthesizing information. They have to use coordination, dexterity, communication skills, and emotional intelligence.

The experience boosts self-confidence and perception of themselves.” Volunteers of all ages and young dancers are heavily involved in productions, building a healthy ecosystem of collaborative relationships.

Suzie Cappa Arts Center is another arts enterprise housed at Black Hills Works. Located in downtown Rapid City, the working studio and gallery employs 30 artists. Like their peers at Flutter Productions, the artists here experience many benefits of arts involvement. Whether they work with paint, clay, fabric, or ink, the act of creative self-expression and collaboration promotes much of the same skill development that occurs in theater. The involvement of artists in residence, volunteers, and gallery customers offers opportunities to build a wider community as well.

While performing and visual arts offer numerous cognitive and social benefits to actors and artists, audiences and art lovers also benefit. Pickering says their productions “amplify the creativity and contributions of individuals with disabilities, showcase their talents in performances that bring together community members, build connections

Jason Bunch: A Legacy of Giving, Protecting and inspiring

June 25, 2024 | Black Hills Works Newsroom, Press Release, Uncategorized

Editor’s Note: Sadly, as this story was being written, Jason passed away. He was so excited to share his story of giving. “I hope by sharing that I can inspire others to see what’s possible – recurring giving, legacy giving, and now inspiring others. That’s 3 ways I can help!” Thank you, Jason, for your legacy. You will be missed.

Like so many people, Jason’s story of support begins with friends who touched his heart, and in Jason’s case, at a very young age.

“I’ve been in just one fight my entire life and that was defending a schoolmate with Down syndrome when I was in second grade,” said Jason. “My mom and dad said ‘no fighting, except for a good reason.’ I didn’t get in trouble, so I guess they agreed it was a good reason!”

Jason and his family were also close to the Striegels, including Bill who was supported by Black Hills Works for many years. Even at a young age, Bill made an impression on Jason.

“Bill really enjoyed Special Olympics, especially bowling, and was very proud of his many medals,” said Jason. “As I got older, I realized how special it was that Bill and others had the opportunities that they did, thanks to programs like Black Hills Works and Special Olympics.”

As life progressed for Jason, people with disabilities living their best lives continued to cross his path and touch his heart. 

When he was at the Air Force Academy, the Academy sponsored Special Olympics’ summer games.

“I volunteered to help out and that was kind of a big deal. Volunteering meant I didn’t get leave to go home. It mattered that much to me,” said Jason. “I also helped out at the winter games. I fancied myself a decent skier, but they skied circles around me.”

After graduation, Jason was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force as an active duty airman from 1991 – 1995, and again from 1997 – 1999. He worked the overnight shift supervising the security police and really valued the help that he received from people supported, such as in custodial and food service.

When Bill passed away, Jason was moved to support programs that had helped Bill and others with disabilities. Knowing Bill had been supported by Black Hills Works, he reached out to learn more.

“When I first reached out, I was amazed at how much Black Hills Works had been expanded since my time at Ellsworth,” said Jason. “The Suzie Cappa Art Center, in particular, really caught my interest.”

He arranged for a tour and immediately recognized it “as something really special.”

Jason bought art (Maureen Conley’s art was a particular favorite), and began giving quarterly to help with supplies, excited for the opportunity to support the talent he saw. He also owns paintings by Suzie Cappa artists. He retired since he first started giving, and has continued that generosity.

“I’m happy that I’m able, even in retirement, to continue my gifts and help these amazing artists.”

Retirement also prompted Jason to update his estate plan, to include legacy gifts to Black Hills Works and other organizations that support people with disabilities.  

From that justified fight in second grade and throughout his career, Jason has been a protector, including working as a federal officer and in service to his country.

We’re grateful to you, Jason! You are an inspiration and have made the world a better place through your gifts. Thank you for making the difference you do!

Journeys of Hope: New book by Black Hills Works Foundation

June 25, 2024 | Black Hills Works Newsroom, Blogs

“We are delighted to share the experiences and perspectives of these amazing people in print. They contribute so much to our state as friends, employees, and neighbors, and their voices deserve to be heard,” said Dr. Andrea Serna, Black Hills Works Foundation President. “The support of the South Dakota Humanities Council has been invaluable in allowing us to extend the reach of this important project.”

Although the journey of life is different for everyone, we can find encouragement and strength in our shared experiences. That’s equally true for the nearly 600 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are participants in Black Hills Works’ programs. Thanks to a grant from the South Dakota Humanities Council, 65 of them will be featured in Journeys of Hope, a book to be published this spring.

Founded in 1972 by the hard work of fellow South Dakotans, the South Dakota Humanities Council, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is the only cultural organization in the state whose sole mission is to deliver humanities programming to the people of South Dakota.

The book is a culmination of personal interviews held during 2023, led by Carrie Moser along with other Black Hills Works Foundation staff. In its pages, readers will meet people like Ordean, who grew up in a state institution in the 1940s and was overjoyed to finally move out and into the community at age 29. Readers will also meet Heather, a tireless advocate for her peers with disabilities; Zach, whose friendliness and curiosity are unmatched; and many more.

Kristina Roth, primary author on the book, said, “Through their stories, Journeys of Hope traces the progress that has been made toward expanded possibilities for people with disabilities.” She also notes that those in the book are valued employees, athletes, performers, visual artists, beloved family members, and dear friends. Their unique contributions help make South Dakota the outstanding place it is.

Black Hills Works Foundation will mark the book’s publication with a public discussion panel on May 16, 2024 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. at the Suzie Cappa Art Center on 722 Saint Joseph Street in Rapid City. The discussion panel will be led by Dr. Andrea Serna and will include several individuals who are featured in the book. The event is open to all, but RSVPs are requested. Please register on Eventbrite or contact Kristina Roth at [email protected] or 605.718.7383.

Copies of the book will be available at Black Hills Works Foundation office at 514 Mount Rushmore Road. There is no cost to obtain a copy. It will also be available as a free PDF download at www.blackhillsworks.org after June 1, 2024.

Following the discussion panel, attendees are invited to stay for Bikes and Blooms: A Spring Open House at Suzie Cappa Art Center. Guests can meet the artists, purchase original artwork, and enjoy live music.

EchoWorks to Host Free Earth Day Community Collection Event

June 25, 2024 | Black Hills Works Newsroom, Blogs

In celebration of Earth Day 2024, EchoWorks will be hosting a free community collection event as part of the Rapid City Earth Day Expo at Western Dakota Technical College. The public is invited to bring in their old computers, cell phones, flat screen televisions, printers, and more.

EchoWorks, part of the Black Hills Works family, employs two people with disabilities, Blaze and Tyler, who enjoy meaningful days providing an important service for our community. Black Hills Works supports nearly 600 people with disabilities in the Rapid City area, helping them live, work, and play. EchoWorks is one of four social enterprises.

“We’re helping our environment and providing employment to two great guys. It’s a win-win,” said Randy Sheppard, E-Recycling Supervisor for EchoWorks. “Since January 2020, thanks to their hard work and a supportive public, EchoWorks has diverted more than 551,000 pounds from our landfill.”

This free collection event is possible due to the generosity of Black Hills Energy, which provided a grant to cover the costs of a community collection event.

“The grant is helping us waive the recycling fees associated with some items – those larger electronics that EchoWorks has to pay for to be recycled, plus the shipping costs to take the e-waste to an out of state recycling facility,” said Randy. “We are so grateful to Black Hills Energy for making this free day possible for our customers.”

“A key pillar of Black Hills Energy’s commitment to sustainability is social responsibility,” said Lynn Kendall, Community Affairs Manager for Black Hills Energy. “We recognize that by supporting EchoWorks, we are positively impacting the lives of others and the communities we serve. EchoWorks has kept tons, literally tons, of electronic waste out of our landfill. It’s also providing employment to people with disabilities. We’re proud to support these efforts, while also giving back to our neighbors in the Black Hills by providing a free recycling opportunity.”

Before heading to the collection event, the public is encouraged to review the list of acceptable and unacceptable electronics, at blackhillsworks.org/echoworks. Generally, items like laptops, desktop computers, cell phones, flat screen televisions, printers, and the like are accepted, whereas batteries, e-cigarettes, toys, medical equipment, microwaves, refrigerators, and other household items, are not.

The public is encouraged to call ahead if there are questions about what is accepted and not accepted. You can reach EchoWorks with questions at 605-484-6708 and [email protected].

“We encourage everyone to stop by on April 20 to drop off their electronics and enjoy all the Earth Day festivities being hosted at Western Dakota Tech,” said Randy.

The Rapid City Earth Day Expo starts at 10 am at April 20, 2024, and in addition to the free collection event at EchoWorks, will host other vendors contribution to sustainability in our community. The Earth Day Expo will be hosted on the Western Dakota Technical College campus at 800 Mickelson Drive in Rapid City.