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Mary and Paul Rodrigues: Grateful for Peace of Mind

July 17, 2024 | Black Hills Works Newsroom, Blogs

Mary and Paul Rodrigues had successful careers in Northern California, and Mary’s daughter, Angie, had a job and coworkers she loved.

Other supports for Angie, however, were limited, and crime was on the rise in the neighborhood where she worked, so when a friend told them about Black Hills Works, making the move to Rapid City, South Dakota felt right.

Moving in 2019, Mary, Paul, and Angie quickly adapted to living in Rapid City. At that time, Mary supported Angie at home, with employment and day supports through Black Hills Works. Paul took a job at Habitat for Humanity, and then Feeding South Dakota where he served as the organization’s Western Operations Director until his recent retirement.

Grateful for the support Angie was receiving, Mary and Paul quickly became part of the Black Hills Works family. They attend nearly every Black Hills Works event, to include Suzie Cappa Art Center gatherings, the annual Gala, Flutter programs, and legacy planning learning opportunities.

They’ve enjoyed seeing Angie grow in her level of independence. She now lives in an apartment with a roommate and is working to be more independent. She’s keeping her space neat and is learning to cook. One goal is to someday have an apartment of her own, without a roommate.

Preparing for a future when they are no longer around is also foremost on their minds. They recently took a tour of some of Black Hills Works homes, looking at the range of supports offered, from 24/7 staffed group homes with individual apartments to a full care home.

“I know any future move will be based on a number of factors to include level of need and availability, and especially, Angie’s choice,” said Mary. “Still, Paul and I are so heartened to know that Angie will always be supported, as her needs change.”

The Rodrigues’s show their appreciation with annual donations through a tax-free IRA Qualified Minimum Distribution (QMD), and Mary has provided for Black Hills Works in her will, making her part of the organization’s Evergreen Society.

Their giving “why” is easy to figure out: Angie and her peers with disabilities, and a peace of mind Angie’s future.

“What would our community look like without Black Hills Works?,” remarked Paul. “People like Angie would not be involved, families and their loved ones would be isolated, and organizations like Feeding South Dakota would be without valuable volunteer support.”

“I’m truly grateful that Angie has Black Hills Works,” said Mary. “Having supported Angie her entire life, it was admittedly difficult to turn over care to someone else.  The transition was hard, but seeing Angie grow more independent, and knowing her future is secure, is such a blessing.”

Thank you, Mary and Paul, for sharing Angie with us and being part of the Black Hills Work family! You are making an incredible difference in the lives of everyone we support!

All-Ability Arts Benefit EVERYONE

June 17, 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

Journeys of Hope: New book by Black Hills Works Foundation

May 3, 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

April 11, 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.

Shared Living, the newest residential option available at Black Hills Works.

January 18, 2024 | Black Hills Works Newsroom, Blogs

Black Hills Works offers a range of residential options for those supported in its programs to best meet everyone’s unique needs and preferences. In the newest option, called shared living, individuals are matched as roommates with people in the community. Shared living provides the opportunity to live in a family setting and can be life changing for those who are not comfortable in other residential settings.

Importantly, while many shared living providers are not related to the individual they are matched with, family members can also apply to be shared living providers for their loved ones. Shared living providers are considered contractors with Black Hills Works and receive income for the services they provide. After an in-depth application and screening process, shared living providers go through robust training.

April Cayot has been a shared living provider for Kai Knutsen since May of 2022. She learned of the program through friends who spoke highly of it.

Kai, age 38, lives with April, her son, her granddaughters, and four dogs in the multigenerational family home. April smiles as she discusses Kai’s busy schedule, noting that he’s typically gone all day after breakfast together. “We have regular calendar meetings. Keeping his calendar up to date is very important to Kai.”

Kai loves to use Rapid Ride and Black Hills Works transportation to get to his job at Safeway, the YMCA for exercise, and to other activities. He’s also very involved in Special Olympics, enjoys “Friday Fun” outings with April and his friends, and has met a friend for lunch every Saturday for ten years. At home, he helps with chores and has become part of the extended family.

As a retiree, April appreciates the opportunity to earn an income outside of a traditional work environment. But being a shared living provider is about so much more than that. “It’s turned into a huge blessing,” she says.

Kai’s parents, Dr. Roger and Janice Knutsen, greatly appreciate the shared living program. “Kai still has his own independence,” his mom shares. “He has built a community for himself,” and shared living is an important part of that. She continues, “We can still have our life, our retirement, and we know Kai is well taken care of.”

Shared living providers aren’t on their own, either. April has a network of support and respite opportunities when needed. Black Hills Works staff provide guidance and case management and are always available when questions arise.

Tyler Brink is another individual supported by Black Hills Works who is thriving in the shared living program. His mom has been his shared living provider for four years. Tyler had previously lived in a home with several other young men. While he misses his friends, Tyler and his mom, Trine Brink, say that shared living has brought increased growth.

Like Janice and Kai, Trine says of her son, “He has become more independent. Yes, we’re family, but we’re roommates now. He’s responsible for himself. It’s been an effort on both sides.” Both agree that shared living provides a strong foundation for success in all other areas of Tyler’s life.

As his shared living provider, Trine can help Tyler process challenges and lessons in the moment as they arise. This immediacy helps him be better prepared when similar situations come up again, whether it’s household chores, waiting in long lines, budgeting, or catching the bus to work on time. Trine smiles at Tyler as they discuss his growth, reminding him, “You’re capable of all these things.”

For families considering shared living, Trine says, “The sky’s the limit for how you want to make it work for the person supported. Black Hills Works is very supportive. If you’re discouraged and feel like there aren’t any other options for your adult child, this is a new option.”

If you are interested in learning more about shared living, either as a provider or for a loved one, please reach out to Amanda Diers at (605) 718-6288 to learn more.