The Right Turn continued teaching, despite funding environment

During a working lunch at The Right Turn, preparations are being made for a children’s story walk and other activities at this weekend’s Fort Pierre Trader Days. From left are Mary Gates, director of the community training center, Stephanie Patterson, early childhood specialist, and Nancy Schlichenmayer, early childhood specialist.

The Right Turn, located on Sioux Ave. in Pierre, is a place to learn.

The United Way-sponsored non-profit organization seeks to strengthen the community by “nurturing personal growth and promoting economic success through education and job training.”

Since 1974, this organization, funded primarily through grants and donations, has been serving 12 rural counties in central South Dakota, and three American Indian reservations by offering a slew of education and training This includes: adult basic education and literacy classes, computer training, tutoring, GED preparation, National Career Readiness Certification training, English as a second language classes, work readiness classes, child care provider education and support, CPR certification, Child Development Associate certification medical transcription training, medical coding and billing training, pharmacy technician training, executive assistant training, computer technician training test proctoring

Depending on the day, the week and the projects, the training staff at The Right Turn ranges from a core of four principles and 15 others active at various levels, to many more occasional training personnel. Office hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but often expand to include frequent night classes and weekend activities, and some training is done at the clients’ places of business.

Lack of grant funding, though, is the newest change for the non-profit community education organization.

“It’s a tough landscape now for most non-profits. Over the years The Right Turn has made very good use of big government grants and of scope-of-work contracts,” said director Mary Gates. “Now, available grant funds have not kept pace with the cost of services, the cost of doing business. We are trying to figure out alternative fundraisers.”

“We are the only nonprofit organization in South Dakota that supports education across the lifespan, by combining WIOA Title II Adult Education Services with Department of Social Services Early Childhood Enrichment services,” said Nancy Schlichenmayer, early childhood specialist. “Other organizations who do similar work tend to specialize in particular age groups or market sectors.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is a United States public law that increases coordination among federal workforce development and related programs. WIOA Title II expands the range of providers eligible for funding for adult education and literacy activities to include organizations that partner with employers. It also directs states and the federal government to encourage activities that promote basic skills instruction delivered in the workplace.

“Unfortunately, hard numbers are difficult to quantify regarding how many individuals have been served over the years, because it depends on what you are counting,” said Gates. “We have electronic student records for 1,032 students who received adult education services from 28 different instructors since 2003. Fifty-four of these students were English Language Learners. Students who take computer classes, online training, CPR classes and early childhood classes are not included in this database,” said Gates.

“We taught early childhood classes for 260 unduplicated students from 42 different child care programs in program year 2017, and 220 unduplicated students from 26 different child care programs in program year 2018,” said Gates. “In the past two program years, we distributed 810 free child safety seats to eligible families and distributed 6,634 free books to young children through our community health partners in 12 counties in central South Dakota. In the past two years, we provided CPR certification to 194 people. Between May 2017 and July 2018, we proctored 192 different high-stakes tests such as GED and employment licensing exams.”

The Right Turn personnel are seemingly always busy teaching and training, and so many topics are worth learning. Some specific classes just cannot be accommodated.

“Two threads hold it all together,” said Gates. “One: we support education across a lifespan, beyond kindergarten through 12th grade, beyond the Board of Regents. All it takes is someone with curiosity about something, and who wants to learn about it. Two: we acknowledge the impact to the workforce. Out of so many good things, we have to choose what to teach. We tend to say yes to what is tied to the workforce. Although, say knitting, is enjoyable and worth learning, it might not be workforce oriented.”

“Though we will help people find the resources to learn, say knitting, other than through us,” interjected Schlichenmayer. “The education gap between what they want to learn and what training is available may not fit tightly in our area, but we know who curious people can contact. We work at whatever meets the need.”

“If available funding does not keep pace, and if we drop something, such as computer skills training, that drop would be harmful to the community. We work with people who are learning to close the gap of not yet knowing how to use online services,” said Gates.

Efforts at fundraising have increased.

To support educational programs, The Right Turn staff and volunteers have been selling raffle tickets at Trappers home baseball games. Tickets are still available at select local businesses, and each week the tickets will be collected and Right Turn staff will draw a winning ticket on Facebook Live. The weekly $50 winners will continue to draw a card to try to find the Ace of Hearts and win the total jackpot — the deck is shrinking. Other fundraisers are in the works.

The all-volunteer Right Turn Board of Directors includes Rebecca Hancock, Kerry Bowers, Jessica Jockheck, Jamie Damon, Angela Moran, Ashlee Stankey, and Angel Corrales. There are opportunities to volunteer — as educators, trainers, aids, even on the board.

The organization began in 1974, when the Pierre Clerical Program was founded to train individuals for entry-level clerical positions in central South Dakota. Over the decades, many programs have been initiated, then have been discontinued or transferred to other entities. Many awards have been earned. Some hallmarks include:

1986: It was renamed The Right Turn to reflect its broadened scope of services. Programs/services added included a General Education Development (GED program, career counseling, job search assistance, and life skills training.

1993: The Right Turn was registered as a 501©(3) non-profit incorporated in the state of South Dakota. It became one of the first United Way Participating Agencies in South Dakota.

2001: The Pierre School District contracted with The Right Turn to provide coordination services for a Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Program.

2002: The Pierre School District contracted with The Right Turn to provide a full time teacher/tutor to work with at-risk middle and high school youth in a Directed Study Program.

2017: After 20 years with its offices at S Coteau Street and E Dakota Avenue, The Right Turn moved into its own building at 115 E. Sioux Avenue, Pierre.

So far this year, The Right Turn again earned the “Spirit of United Way Partner Agency” award from the Capital Area United Way. It entered into an agreement with the SD Department of Labor and Regulation to provide services under Governor Kristi Noem’s Family First Initiative, which provides access to free computer classes, financial literacy and workplace social skills training.

Schlichenmayer was nominated by Oahe Inc. for the Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service for her lifetime of contributions to the employment of people with disabilities. (An award decision is expected in October). Gates was nominated for the South Dakota’s Premier Woman’s Award from the Spirit of Dakota Award Society. (This award decision was also expected in October).

For more information, including programs and class schedules, and to donate, call 773-4755 or visit

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