De Smet, South Dakota, is literally the Little Town on the Prairie. Several of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic children’s books about pioneer life are set in this small community. People who are not familiar with the books are at least familiar with the modern challenges faced by rural communities like De Smet, challenges that stem from a generation of population decline. Determined to reverse the decline, the people of De Smet came together in 2006 to develop a vision for the future and established the De Smet Community Foundation to help make it a reality.
For the past 10 years, the Foundation has been the vehicle for many successful efforts to solve long-standing community problems. Led by a board of volunteer advisors, and with no full-time staff, the Foundation partners with residents, businesses and government to raise awareness and support for community improvement projects. This focus on community outreach and engagement helped create community ownership of both the problems and their solutions. And it is yielding results.
The Foundation spearheaded a capital campaign to generate support for its Community Event and Wellness Center; the town of 1,086 people made 1,508 total contributions. Today, the Center is a bustling hub of activity in the region.
The De Smet Community Foundation is a model for how towns across the region can thrive and succeed.