SDHC Awarded $100K for Young Readers Initiative

The South Dakota Humanities Council has been awarded a $100,000 federal grant to advance a Young Readers Initiative that has already provided more than 11,000 books to elementary students around the state.  

Dedication to Outreach

The SDHC’s dedication to extending outreach to underserved communities played a significant role in the selection of its Young Readers Initiative Expansion project for the highly competitive National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Humanities Access grant.  

The SDHC will use the funds to promote literacy to elementary students on all nine South Dakota American Indian reservations and Spanish-speaking English Language Learners.

The NEH is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. The Humanities Access grant will support three years of programming for the SDHC Young Readers Initiative through matching funds of up to $100,000.

Humanities Access grants help support capacity building for humanities programs that benefit one or more of the following groups: youth, communities of color, and economically disadvantaged populations. The SDHC will receive two years of match-based funding of up to $100,000 to be used through the end of the grant cycle in 2021. 

One in 34

The South Dakota Festival of Books serves thousands of readers every year.

The SDHC is one of 34 organizations to receive funding in the inaugural round of Humanities Access grants. NEH announced the grant award on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

“The work that the council has been doing with literacy and humanities-oriented literature, particularly with youth, is first rate,” said Brandon Johnson, Senior Program Officer at the NEH
Office of Challenge Grants.

“The reviewers that evaluate the application noticed that very easily. They were particularly taken by the idea of making more humanities experiences available to Native American youth. So, that was a big point in the council’s favor.”

Launched in 2014, the Young Readers Initiative is a multi-faceted program aimed at engaging South Dakota youth in the humanities, particularly literature.

It began with a Young Readers Festival of Books, featuring a Young Readers One Book selected by teachers and librarians, as a companion event to the SDHC’s 15-year-old signature event, the South Dakota Festival of Books.

The Young Readers Festival of Books has brought Newbery Medal-winning authors like Kate DiCamillo to the state to talk about their work, touching the lives of thousands of young students. 

Andy Shane Visits Rapid City

In 2016, with sponsorship support from First Bank & Trust and United Way of the Black Hills, the SDHC distributed 5,000 copies of the 2016 Young Readers One Book, “Andy Shane and Dolores Starbuckle: 4 Books in 1” to third-graders in 12 communities statewide as part of the Young Readers Initiative.

More than 3,300 students in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Brookings County attended Young Readers Festival sessions to meet author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and learn why and how she writes her stories.

In Rapid City and Brookings, Jacobson, a former teacher, provided professional development sessions for teachers, further enhancing her visit to South Dakota.

Young Readers around the state received copies of

The drive to encourage young readers will continue, with an emphasis on underserved populations. In 2019 the SDHC will select a Young Readers One Book by a tribal writer to increase youth exposure to American Indian culture, and elementary students on all nine reservations in South Dakota will have a chance to meet the author.

“The process of receiving a book, reading and discussing that book, and then meeting the author allows students to examine a story from several perspectives, including their own, their peers’ and the author’s,” said SDHC executive director Sherry DeBoer.

“Along with the chance to meet other notable literary figures, this is a step toward thoughtful reading and civil conversation, two primary elements of the SDHC’s mission.”

Spanish-speaking English Language Learners will also benefit directly from the grant, as the SDHC will continue to expand on the work it began this year using translated educational resources to help parents support reading at home.

SDHC will continue fundraising efforts to raise $100,000 for the match. 

Other Young Readers Goals Met

Other accomplishments from the Young Readers Initiative include:

  • A 2014 collaboration with First Bank and Trust and Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation to distribute more than 3,000 copies of the inaugural Young Readers One Book South Dakota, Kate DiCamillo’s “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.”
  • A 2015 collaboration with Northern Hills Federal Credit Union, United Way of the Black Hills, the Vucurevich Foundation, and the Rapid City Public School Foundation to distribute 3,700 copies of a special bind-in of two books by Megan McDonald entitled “Stink: Twice as Incredible.”

By combining book giveaways, school and home resources, and presentations by significant literary figures, the Young Readers Festival creates meaningful learning experiences for thousands of South Dakota youth and their families. 

The Young Readers Festival of Books has reached thousands of students since its inception in 2014.

The Young Readers Initiative was launched in 2014 after Candlewick Press and the SDHC began discussing ways to put more books into the hands of young students. The SDHC, along with teachers, administrators, librarians, and youth organizations, talked about how to combat “summer slide” - the decline in reading skills over the summer vacation.

Those discussions led to a multi-faceted approach incorporating a book giveaway, a reading guide, author visits to schools, the Young Readers Festival of Books, and support to allow students, especially those on the state’s reservations and other areas of need, to attend the Festival. The Young Readers Festival of Books has steadily increased in attendance and participation.