LifeScape Ambassadors: Celebrating 70 years of making a difference
In the early weeks of 1952, a small group of women were busy creating a homey atmosphere for children about to move into “Crippled Children’s Hospital & School” in Sioux Falls. The new facility was built entirely through private donations on donated land so kids could go to school while recovering from the paralysis-causing polio virus. There were no laws requiring schools or any public spaces to be accessible for wheelchairs, so returning to their home schools wasn’t an option for many kids recovering from polio.
The women wanted to provide “a mother’s touch” for kids who’d be living in the dormitories. They painted the rooms, sewed curtains, provided bedspreads, and posted pictures on the walls.
The first children moved in on March 2, 1952, and that year, the Auxiliary held their first Antique Show & Sale. The well-known fundraiser lasted 52 years--until 2004. The auxiliary used the funds they raised to provide any extras the organization needed and made sure each child had a birthday party and gifts. The group went on over the years to pay for larger expenses that had no other source for funding—therapy equipment, school needs, and program start-ups.
Meanwhile, across town, another auxiliary began to support youngsters with developmental disabilities served by Sioux Vocational School & Hospital for the Handicapped – later to become South Dakota Achieve. Organizer Val Beckman served as the first president from 1968 to 1970.
During the 1971-1972 program year, Phyllis Joyce joined the Sioux Vocational Auxiliary. As a student nurse from 1950 to 1953, Phyllis had cared for young polio patients at Sioux Valley Hospital, including those in iron lungs. “I remember the power failing a couple of times and having to hand-pump an iron lung to keep the motor going,” she says. “Fortunately, the fire department showed up fast to take over until they could get the power back on.”
Bridge luncheons with a style show were their main fundraiser. “The staff would roast turkeys, and auxiliary members would pick the meat off the bones to make turkey salad for the luncheon. The style show was put on by a dress shop at Park Ridge.” The group volunteered with adults at Sioux Vocational, helping them in their workshops. She remembers they had a machine to make gift bows, and she helped count and package the bows for sale. The auxiliary mainly provided funding for personal expenses, like a new winter coat, bus tickets, or restaurant outings. Sometimes they helped through small loans for needed items. The auxiliary hosted cookie days, dances, and dinners. They would “adopt” a person to ensure they had Christmas and birthday gifts.
In 2014, when South Dakota Achieve and Children’s Care Hospital & School affiliated, the two auxiliaries merged and became the LifeScape Ambassadors. It wasn’t easy at first. The two groups were used to being dedicated to the very different needs of adults or children. The group has melded, though, and new members have joined, including some men. Wish List purchases, from funds raised through Mall Walk (started in 1994) and other fundraisers, provide needed items for adults and children—including outpatients in Rapid City and Sioux City. Last year, the Ambassadors gave $107,858 in Wish List grants, from rent assistance for adults to therapy and educational needs for children, to medical equipment for all ages.
Phyllis Joyce is still active today as a LifeScape Ambassador – maybe the longest currently active member at fifty years. She helps adults with their lunch each Tuesday and does sewing and mending when needed. She is there for the monthly meetings to learn more about the organization and trends in disability services. It’s a part of her life, and we are lucky for her and the other Ambassadors who are so dedicated to our mission.
As the Ambassadors mark 70 years of making a difference for children and adults with disabilities, it’s hard to fathom where LifeScape would be without them. They truly provide the extras that set us apart in service excellence. And it was all a grass-roots effort, the way the best organizations are. Here’s to many more years of the LifeScape Ambassadors!
To make a difference with the Ambassadors, email Ambassadors@LifeScapeSD.org
Your gift to LifeScape can impact children or adults in whatever way you wish. Click here to make an online donation, or call (605) 444-9800.