The South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF) came through in a clutch for a group of high school students this year, says Lakota Funds Executive Director Tawney Brunsch.

Lakota Funds, a community development financial institution that operates on the Pine Ridge Reservation, has co-sponsored the business plan competition at the popular Lakota Nation Invitational event in Rapid City for almost a decade. High school students spend months writing a business plan to compete for scholarships and other prizes.

We’re encouraging youth to be thinking about entrepreneurship so they can not only provide for themselves, but also the local economy. On the Pine Ridge Reservation, we know the desperate need for businesses to be started here.

— Tawney Brunsch

When a major source of funding for the competition this year fell through, a friend suggested Brunsch apply for a SDCF grant. Lakota Funds applied and were awarded $3,750. “We would not have been able to do it without the foundation,” notes Brunsch.

Another project that received support from SDCF this year was a homeowner inspector certification training, $10,000 in funding that Brunsch hopes will lead to more Native-owned homes on and off the reservation. The grant went to the South Dakota Native Homeowner Coalition, which includes Lakota Funds, as well as local nonprofits, banks and state and federal partners.

The lack of affordable housing, particularly stick-built homes owned by Natives, stems from several barriers including a lack of an experienced, quality workforce and home inspectors. “An inspector must certify all stages of construction and I believe there’s only one on all of Pine Ridge,” Brunsch says. “We need to change that.”

With the grant, the coalition has hosted two inspector trainings to try and remedy the problem. They were well-attended, but the certification process is challenging. “It’s a work in progress but we’re going to keep moving forward,” Brunsch says.

Both grants from SDCF signified encouragement and support for two important assets in communities, Brunsch says—education and housing—and she is grateful for the partnership. “It’s more than just grants, it’s the people there that make it accessible and possible,” she points out. “They’re a strong partner beyond the funding support they provide.”