Linda Heerde

Meet Linda Heerde

Director of Learning and Development, Sioux Falls

Linda Heerde is president of the Harrisburg School Board, the fastest growing school district in South Dakota and among the most rapidly growing districts in the country.

She’s been on the board since 2014, helping lead efforts such as the opening of a new elementary school, the mapping of school boundaries and the appointment of new leadership. And, most recently, she’s helping guide the district through a pandemic. 

“There are times when you have to make decisions that are not the popular thing, but you have to try your best every single day to take the information you have and make a decision,” she says.

Linda’s dedication to serving her community in Harrisburg, South Dakota, often comes back to a phrase a former leader of hers would often say – “If not me, then who?” 

“That has always stuck with me,” she says. “So I’ve tried to learn how to bring my passions out through serving my community.”

During committee gatherings and biweekly meetings where she leads the board, Linda is especially proud of the diverse ideas her fellow board members bring to each discussion.

“The diversity of other voices and perspectives from people who’ve walked different paths in their lives – or see the world a little bit differently – helps us make the best decisions holistically for our district,” she says.

The group is tasked with meeting current demands for a growing number of students while planning for the future at the same time. Another new elementary school is set to open in Harrisburg in the fall of 2021. And after two expansions to the Harrisburg High School with more room still needed, the board is now working on solutions for middle through high school grade levels.

“In our district, if we are not building, then we’re preparing to build to keep up with our growth,” she says.

In many ways, being involved in education is a natural fit for Linda, who wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten.

“But I didn’t know that wanting to be a teacher just meant that I had a passion for education,” she explains. “How that comes through and what you do in your life, or in your career, can come out in many different ways.”

While teaching upper elementary school, Linda earned a master’s degree in technology for education. During her graduate courses, she fell in love with adult learning, leading to her becoming an instructional designer for Sanford Health.

Then, two years later, Linda was asked to be part of a health care innovation team that would develop a curriculum to transform primary care services using a $12.1 million award from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

“It was literally life-changing,” says Linda. “It helped me develop the skills, the confidence and the ability to say I can actively give back, and I have something to give back.”

After the team completed the project, Linda was inspired by her mentors to act on an idea she had only briefly considered before.

“Coming out of that, I decided I was going to run for school board,” she says. “And the rest is history.”

Today, as the director of learning and development at Sanford Health, Linda uses many of her adaptive leadership skills in her forward-thinking approach to leading the school board.

“How do you scale?  How do you sustain? What does 10 years down the road look like? All of those things I’ve learned here at Sanford I’ve been able to bring to the board,” she says.

Along with being a parent to a third grader and a high school student, actively shaping what education looks like now and in the future keeps Linda committed to serving.

“A lot of hours get put into it, but it’s about being part of something bigger,” she says. “And it’s also about serving as a role model for my children. I want my kids to remember me as someone who went after her passions and was there to help the community.”


Holli Finch

Meet Holli Finch

Senior Help Desk Support Technician, IT

Four years ago, Holli Finch decided she needed to get away. So she left Sioux City, Iowa, for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Once she landed in the state’s largest city, she got a job with the Good Samaritan Society.

While getting to know her new community, Holli met the president of Sioux Falls Pride, a local nonprofit organization that works to support and protect LGBTQ South Dakotans. That connection put her on a path toward local LGBTQ youth advocacy. She joined the organization’s committee and was later voted onto its board of directors.

“I want to give back to the community that made me feel wanted and safe,” Holli says.

One of her proudest achievements with Sioux Falls Pride was its inaugural LGBTQ prom. She helped organize the prom during her first year on the committee. The event offered a place for LGBTQ youth to celebrate the coming-of-age rite safely.

Holli worked with other organizers to spread the word about the event. They reached out to schools directly and advertised through word of mouth. They also set up a prom drive to collect donated dresses and tuxes so every attendee could have what they needed to feel posh and confident.

The prom was a success.

“It was a sight to behold. We had around a hundred people there, and the kids were dancing and enjoying themselves. They knew they didn’t have to hide,” Holli says. “It made me so happy.”

The event couldn’t be openly advertised for the safety of the kids.

“Their lives are made political,” she says. “But the kids need to feel safe in a place where they’re not going to be ridiculed and where they can be themselves without fear.”

Holli, who is transgender, says she was in the closet for 25 years of her life and went through a difficult time. She doesn’t want others to go through what she did.

It can be especially hard for transgender youth in South Dakota. There have been three high-profile bills that have failed recently in the state legislature that would have targeted transgender youth.

“Transgender folks have been under attack the most in the last five years,” Holli says. “It’s so invalidating to see anti-trans bills come up every year saying you don’t matter. It puts a strain on individuals to see their rights questioned.”

These attacks make it harder to estimate how many South Dakotans are transgender.

“We just don’t know exact numbers. There are probably a lot of people who don’t come out because they’re afraid of losing their jobs or getting kicked out of their apartment,” Holli says. “There’s no protection against that in this state.”

Besides Sioux Falls Pride, Holli also works with The Transformation Project, a local nonprofit that helps teachers, doctors and others across South Dakota learn more about what it means to be transgender.

Every other week, she and another advocate hold transgender youth meetups. The group watches movies, plays games and hangs out. Since the pandemic, they’ve met over Zoom.

“I want to be the role model that I wish I had in that age range, 12 to 18, because those were some dark periods in my life,” Holli says. “I want to be there for the kids as much as possible. My life’s goal is to be the advocate I wish I had growing up.”

Holli’s advice for those wrestling with their gender identity is to find a safe environment where they can be true to who they are. Therapy was helpful for her, and she recommends finding a therapist if possible.

“Don’t hide. Find someone to talk to. Find that one person you can talk to about it. It helps to just get it out there,” she says.

She also stresses that there is hope.

“There are safe spaces. They’re hard to find, but there’s going to be a space where you can be yourself,” Holli says. “It will get better. It does get better.”


Deb Koski

Meet Deb Koski

Senior Executive Director of Operations, Sanford Health Foundation

In early 2000, when Deb Koski and her co-workers at the Sioux Empire United Way were encouraged to volunteer with one of the agencies that the organization funded, most turned to mentoring programs for kids – but Deb had something different in mind.  

“I’ve always had a heart for older people. I was very close to my grandparents growing up and just always admired them and that generation,” she says.

She and one of her co-workers at the time, Coleen Thompson, signed up to volunteer together with the Meals on Wheels program coordinated by Active Generations, a local nonprofit organization working to promote positive aging for adults.

Their first delivery day dawned cold and icy in January. The pair shadowed a current volunteer, and as they watched him slip and slide up to each door, they did wonder what they’d gotten themselves into. But they stayed committed to volunteering – for their next shift and even until now, 20 years later.

“I started because a boss wanted me to, but I continued because it’s very fulfilling, and it really has taught me so much about helping others, aging gratefully and the importance of human connection,” Deb says.

Coleen is now retired, but she still delivers with Deb every week. They work well together as a team, with one person driving while the other gets out to drop off the meals.

As regular volunteers, the pair are familiar faces for many meal recipients and sometimes even their family members.

“They expect us every Monday, so they get to know us on a personal level,” Deb says. “They call us their Monday girls.”

Volunteering together also helps when the pair occasionally encounters an emergency situation. “We had a client who had a stroke, and that was probably the scariest one,” Deb says. 

“We had a client who had a stroke, and that was probably the scariest one,” Deb says. “We could hear her crying out for help, so we called 911. She somehow crawled to unlock the door. We got her something to drink and were talking to her. She was probably 85 years old, and she thought her mom was downstairs. It was heart-wrenching, but at least we were there until the true first responders arrived.”

Whether it’s a life-threatening situation or a more gradual change in circumstances, it’s part of their responsibilities as volunteers to report anything unusual.

“It’s not just about delivering the meal. Part of our mission is to do a well check,” Deb says. “We don’t leave meals at the door. We knock and wait for every person to come get their meal, so we can lay eyes on them and make sure they’re OK.”

Some Meals on Wheels clients don’t have family close by, making it tough for their loved ones to physically lay eyes on them every day.

“Knowing someone from Meals on Wheels is doing that gives them comfort,” Deb explains. “I feel good knowing we’re keeping somebody in their home longer. Most people want to live in their homes as long as they can. Meals on Wheels allows for that because they’re getting a well-balanced meal and their families know they’re getting a check-in every day.”

Over the years, Deb has been inspired by some of the meal recipients who have set a positive example for her and others.

“We’ve had the privilege of delivering to two different clients who were over 100 years old and still living in their own homes. One lady in particular, we called her ‘delightful Dorothy’ because she was so positive. She always had her clip-on earrings in and her lipstick on. She woke up with a purpose – that she was going to make the most of every day. It really has had an impact on me and proves that attitude is everything,” Deb says.

That’s a lesson that’s been especially helpful this year in the face of a lot of uncertainty.

“After all they’ve done and contributed to society, I think seniors deserve to be treated with dignity,” Deb says. “And I hope that’s what I provide to them in addition to their meal – a smile, a few kind words and my sincere respect.”


Eric Russell

Meet Eric Russell

Cardiac Technology, Bemidji Medical Center

Eric Russell was driving back from ice fishing in Red Lake, Minnesota, when his phone rang. He doesn’t normally get good service in that part of the state, and he almost never answers calls from numbers he doesn’t recognize.

“It was just a really funny happenstance that I was driving in an area of the state that had cell service,” he says. “So I took the phone call and it ended up being an amazing thing.”

The person on the other end was calling from Bemidji Special Olympics. The organization was looking for a coach to train their group of powerlifters, and they were hoping Eric could be that person.

Eric was nervous, but he also knew this would be a new opportunity to challenge himself as a coach. He had already been a personal trainer and coach in different capacities for almost 10 years, but he didn’t have any experience working with special needs athletes.

“I don’t want to do things half-heartedly,” he says. “So I thought if I’m going to do it, I’m going to deep dive into it.”

Eric started learning as much as he could about the special needs community. He quickly realized that he would need to take a different approach to coaching in order to communicate effectively with his athletes.

As a naturally fast talker, Russell can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but many special needs athletes don’t learn best by listening. Instead, having someone demonstrate an action can be a better teaching method.

“I had to be more creative than ever before was the big thing,” he explains. “If something didn’t quite work, I had to find a new way of saying it or demonstrating it so everyone could get on the same page.”

In his first year of coaching the powerlifters, Eric had two athletes compete at the Minnesota Special Olympics.

By the time his athletes finished competing – each taking home a medal in their respective weight classes for bench pressing – he felt a collective sense of relief, excitement and accomplishment.

“Not just from my end, but I knew those guys felt the same way,” he says.

The state meet is an event Eric now looks forward to every year, just like his athletes.

“With how much fun they have and how much fun I have watching them, this is something I’m going try to do for as long as I can,” he says.

He also emphasizes that although competing in Special Olympics is both rewarding and fun with a highly supportive audience, it’s also a serious competition.

“The people that are there are giving their best like you wouldn’t believe,” he says. “And that’s one thing I think a lot of people don’t understand.”

Now in his fifth season of coaching, Eric usually helps anywhere from two to eight athletes train each year.

For several weeks leading up to the state meet in the spring, he leads the powerlifters through warm-ups, bench presses, deadlifts, squats and general cardio and fitness exercises. Because of the intensity of powerlifting, he pays special attention to his athletes’ knees, back and shoulders to prevent injuries.

Although the powerlifters train with the goal of competing at state, Eric doesn’t want their health and wellness to stop at the podium.

“Working in cardiovascular services at Sanford, people’s overall health is really important to me, and in every aspect of my coaching I want to teach that,” he says

Since his Special Olympic coaching journey began in 2015, Eric says that he’s learned just how easy it can be to make a positive impact through the time he’s spent with the powerlifters.

“My athletes walk through the door for their first practice of the season, and they’re doing secret handshakes and high fives and everybody is trying to hug you,” he says. “Then you start to laugh and chuckle, and they just envelop you in that ‘nothing but love’ mentality.”


Rachael Meyerink

Meet Rachael Meyerink

Dietician, Sanford Children’s Hospital

When it comes to old houses, most people see a project where Rachael Meyerink sees potential.

She’s been a member of the Sioux Falls Board of Historic Preservation for six years, but her passion for the conservation of historic properties starts with her own house – or rather, houses.

Rachael and her husband first moved into a Victorian house near downtown Sioux Falls about seven years ago. The house was built in 1889 and needed some work, so the couple began restoring it.

Rachael and her husband do almost all the restoration work themselves, everything from demolition to plumbing. And instead of buying new windows, they restore the old ones.

“A lot of people don’t know that windows in old houses were made to last hundreds of years,” Rachael says. “Everything in an old house was made to be repaired.”

Restoration work requires a healthy dose of resourcefulness. Instead of buying modern fixtures, Rachael looks for antiques – anything from lights to medicine cabinets and sinks.

“We’ve taught ourselves how to repair and restore old features,” she explains. “We add the character that was taken away back into the house.”

After living in the downtown neighborhood for a couple of years, Rachael started noticing other houses on the block that were falling into disrepair. So she and her husband partnered with her brother and sister-in-law to purchase a second old property, a rental house next door to their own.

“We decided that we’d like to be the ones that owned it so we could treat the house right and take care of it rather than watch it waste away,” she says.

But not long after buying that house, another couple of houses they were interested in went on the market too.

“Ideally, it would’ve been over five years that we would buy three houses, but we bought them all in just five months, so it moved really fast,” Rachael says.

One of these three houses ended up being the couples’ most extreme makeover yet.

“It could not have looked worse. It truly could’ve been on a TV show, it was so bad,” Rachael describes.

From old photographs she received from the Irene Hall Museum Resource Center, Rachael and her husband immediately saw differences in how the house used to look and how it stood before them. The photographs showed intricate Victorian columns, narrow cedar siding and even windows that were now missing.

“There were these plain, square columns on the porch so we wondered if the originals were inside – and they were,” Rachael says. “We also tore off two layers of newer siding – wide, ugly 1970s siding and a layer of 1950s cement siding – to find the original underneath.”

Even all of the missing windows were revealed under a layer of faux wood paneling.

“It almost felt like we lifted a box off and underneath it we found a Victorian house,” Rachael explains. “People assume that if something has been covered up, it’s bad, but with old houses the best thing you can do is let the house be what it was supposed to be to begin with.”

The restoration work fills all the houses with character, making them stand out to neighbors and potential renters.

“These old houses are like a work of art, so when I walk down my street, it’s like I’m in an art gallery,” Rachael says. “For me, it’s a way to be artistic and to preserve the story of our past. You feel like you’re doing good in the world and making it a better place.”


Lori Gooch

Meet Lori Gooch

Marketing Coordinator, Sanford Health Plan

Most of Lori Gooch’s Sunday mornings begin early. Even before the sun comes up she’s behind the wheel, already on a mission.

“I leave my house by a quarter to six,” Lori says. “On my day to sleep in – I don’t.”

An early departure puts Lori at her first stop at 6 a.m., right when the Coffee & Bagels shop opens. She hefts bags of yesterday’s fresh bagels into the back of her vehicle before continuing on to do the same at three more shops in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“On an average Sunday, I will pick up 250 pounds of bagels, which pretty much fills the back of my Honda CRV,” she says.

Then, after her final pickup, Lori finishes her route with drop-offs in downtown Sioux Falls. This routine is something Lori does every week as a volunteer for Bread Break, a food-harvesting mission run by members of Messiah New Hope Lutheran Church.

Bread Break partners with cafeterias, caterers, restaurants and other businesses to collect unused food and redistribute it throughout the community.

When Lori first heard about Bread Break, the couple that started the organization was just reaching the point where they couldn’t do it all by themselves anymore. They needed volunteers.

“They were finding a lot of places willing to donate food and a lot of places that needed it,” Lori explains.

Over the years Bread Break has continued to grow, and the ministry now works with more than 48 suppliers to deliver over 21,000 pounds of food a month to 41 non-profit agencies.

Bread Break delivers regularly to non-profits like St. Francis House, Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, Union Gospel Mission, Children’s Inn, Ronald McDonald House and the Volunteers of America, Dakotas – Veterans Services Center.

As a second harvest ministry, Bread Break provides meals for those in need while also reducing the amount of food that goes to waste in the community.

“It blows me away, the amount of food waste we have. That’s another piece that motivates me to share my time. There are hungry people that can really benefit from it,” Lori says.

From grocery stores and restaurants to cafeterias in hospitals and schools, most places that provide a food service regularly end up with excess product. Even at farmer’s markets, many vendors will donate fresh produce they haven’t sold by the end of the day.

“I’ll get anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pounds of fresh produce – zucchini, corn, tomatoes, peppers, you name it,” Lori explains. “Most of the vendors pick it for the market, and they want to get it used while it’s still fresh. So rather than throw it away, they donate it to us.”

For non-profit groups serving the homeless or the disabled, getting fresh garden produce helps boost the nutritional value of meals and stretch the budget of the organization.

“I feel like what we do really makes a positive impact, and that energizes me through the whole week,” Lori says. “I almost feel selfish sometimes because it’s such a great feeling to be able to use my time and talents to help others.”

The opportunity to connect with different organizations and people through Bread Break is another reason why she loves volunteering her time.

“During a drop-off, I’ll take one trip in and then I’ll have half a dozen guests from St. Francis following me out the door to carry the rest,” she says.

And other times, Lori will deliver pastries and bagels before breakfast starts, seeing guests through the windows that will soon be nourished, in part, by a second harvest. “When you look at the hundreds of thousands of pounds that would’ve gone in the trash but instead are getting put to good use, it’s a reminder that it doesn’t take massive amounts of giving to make a difference,” Lori says. “It just takes lots of people doing little bits together.”