Meet Janell.

“We have so much to learn from other cultures, if we just take the time to sit with them and listen.” -Janell Mills

One of the first people in Sioux Falls to conceptualize what a Multi-Cultural Center could look like; Janell is one of our original founders! In the early 1990s, she was working as an SDSU extension agent. While many people often think of this program as being limited to cooking and agriculture, Janell’s degree was in counseling and she served as the SDSU Extension Agent for “at risk” youth on behalf of Extension and Minnehaha County. One of the key strategic points for the city of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County at the time was to meet with the many diverse people moving to Sioux Falls and connect them with resources.

 

While working for Extension, she was also co-facilitating an annual Washington High School Peace Retreat(created by school counselor Bonnie Driscoll) for students with diverse backgrounds to meet each other and learn more about their different cultures. During a conversation with co -facilitator Ray Crawford (then the president of the NAACP), they started to talk about how they could translate the annual student Peace Retreat into the population of Sioux Falls. The Peace Retreat was directed towards kids of many diverse backgrounds, and they wanted to expand the same kind of connection to their families at home. With the goal of creating a place to learn from and embrace the many different people and cultures in the city, a grassroots task force-led by Janell- was created to bring representation and input to the planning of a new organization.

 

After the task force was established, things really started to move. A small grant was secured for the initial seed money and a family resiliency committee was founded with partners from many different organizations in the city, including the City of Sioux Falls, and Minnehaha County.  Every month, meetings were held and community leaders from all cultures were invited to participate and share their vision for the future of Sioux Falls and the newly named Multi-Cultural Center. As the mission of the organization began to take place, so did the vision for what it would look like. The original founders had a vision of a place where all people could come educate, share, and celebrate their many different cultures. The organization was originally meant to supplement the work being done by other community partners, and over the last twenty-five years has grown to serve the community with its own programs.

 

Looking back, Janell will tell you that there were a few roadblocks and stumbling moments in the early days. She fondly recalls building an office with desks, phones, printers etc. and then learning that no one was using them! There was a different perspective between the founders of the Multi-Cultural Center and the people they were hoping to serve. After re-grouping and having more conversations centered around the many different populations they hoped to serve, they quickly zeroed in on the mission of impacting at-risk youth and making that happen by supporting their families through programming.

 

As a school counselor for students at the Joe Foss Alternative Program at Axtell Park, Janell is still striving to connect youth with resources and support. There is still a need for space where people can educate, learn, celebrate, and share with each other. She reminds us that more avenues are necessary for this communication to happen between all people, as well as opportunities for these community members to acquire a sense of belonging within Sioux Falls. Janell is excited to see what the Multi-Cultural Center is doing to meet those needs in the future.