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Help needed for LifeQuest that helps hundreds

LifeQuest participant Mike Tobin works part-time and lives independently thanks to the support from the Mitchell agency.


An anonymous donor has pledged to match all new and increased gifts up to $10,000 to LifeQuest that are made before April 15. Donations may be sent to LifeQuest, 804 N. Mentzer St., Mitchell, SD, 57301.


Ask Mike Tobin if he likes staying busy, and his answer is an enthusiastic "You bet!"

And does he ever stay busy.

A LifeQuest participant, Tobin, 57, lives independently, works a part-time job, cooks his own meals and finds time to give to the Mitchell community with volunteer work.

Daryl Kilstrom, LifeQuest's executive director for the past 34 years, said Tobin is an excellent example of a developmentally disabled person who contributes and has strong roots in the community.

Helping people succeed comes with a cost, and LifeQuest has been struggling for the past decade, Kilstrom said.

"It has been an austere time. We've been slowly reducing and laying off our staff and slowly reducing their benefits. What that means is that we'll continue to be challenged, and we'll just have to get along."

LifeQuest is increasingly relying on private donations to take up the financial slack.

"It's really getting harder to find private dollars to backfill the government dollars that are slowly drying up," Kilstrom said.

But donors are stepping up.

For the third consecutive year, an anonymous donor has pledged to match all new and increased gifts up to $10,000 to LifeQuest that are made before April 15. Seen in the context of a $9 million budget, the amount may seem small, but it all matters, Kilstrom said.

"We have very little discretionary income that we can use to supplement services," he said, "so every dollar we can get helps."

The fact that March is Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month helps underscore the need to continue support services statewide to the 6,000 individuals with developmental disabilities, Kilstrom said.

The month's theme, "Look Beyond," encourages people to understand that when people with disabilities are welcomed into community neighborhoods and organizations, everyone wins.

"This is a time when our organizations focus on encouraging the public to better understand the people we serve," said Arlene Poncelet, executive director of the South Dakota Council on Developmental Disabilities.

LifeQuest, which began in 1959, serves 250 developmentally disabled individuals annually in Mitchell and surrounding communities, providing comprehensive residential services to 160 participants and employment placement services to 90 more. It also offers support services to 425 area families who have members who are developmentally disabled.

"LifeQuest is a good agency," summarized Tobin. "The people who work with me are real nice."

The organization needs a steady cash flow to continue helping those who need it, Kilstrom said.

For fiscal year 2012, LifeQuest received 81 percent, or $7.36 million, of its $9.12 million budget from state and federal sources, mostly from Medicaid.

There were no increases in state aid to organizations like LifeQuest in 2010 and 2011, said Kilstrom, and voters defeated a referendum in November that would have increased sales taxes to benefit education and Medicaid.

"We certainly would like to have seen that go through," Kilstrom said, "because income is a problem in South Dakota -- not just for us, but for human services in general."

There was some good news this year in the Legislature. Senate Bill 26 will remove the use of the terms "mentally retarded" and "mental retardation" from state rules and regulations. Kilstrom said that is a major step forward in the promotion of respectful and inclusive language.