by Stephanie Fong | Submitted Photos
When some people recognize a need in their community, they talk about it. Kathy Olin saw a need in Dickinson and took action.
During the peak of the most recent oil boom in western North Dakota, Kathy’s husband, Scott, was hiring drivers from across the country to fill numerous job openings at his company, Dickinson Ready Mix. The drivers were often men who brought their families with them to North Dakota as they pursued employment.
“They loved it here, but the families were isolated,” Kathy explains. “At that time, seven or eight years ago, if you wanted to meet someone, where did you go?”
Families from out of state often found themselves with no support system nearby. There was a pressing need for the community to connect new families with resources, local information, and social interaction. Kathy heard about a community-funded, school-facilitated preschool and playgroup in North Carolina. It offered play and learning for kids, as well as social connections for parents.
“I thought, ‘We need something like this!'”
A staff member of Dickinson KIDS program and a preschool teacher herself, Kathy bounced the idea off her co-workers and other early childhood development organizations in town. Eventually a group of volunteers came together, and they began to tackle the logistics: find a place to meet, find furniture and materials, and figure out a way to fund the program long-term to pay for rent and other expenses.
Their original meeting space was donated by Dickinson Ready Mix, furnishings were offered by the school district and the hospital, and other items were loaned by the KIDS Program. Local donations helped buy rugs to cover the concrete floor and purchase other supplies.
The group of organizers coined the name “Little Links,” a reference to the connections being made, as well as the desire to strengthen any weak links in community services or family support.
Staffed by volunteers and funded by donations, Little Links free community playgroup formed nearly five years ago and now serves up to 200 families annually.
Megan Farnsworth and her family quickly experienced the benefits of the Little Links program. The family moved to Dickinson from a small town in Utah.
“Little Links has been a huge blessing to me and my littles for making new friends and getting to be part of the community. We have made lots of friends that we may not have met if not for Little Links.”
Now, Megan serves as president of the Little Links board to help ensure it continues to grow and flourish. Little Links board members and other volunteers open the Little Links space to families three mornings per week, bringing in community members to present information or speak on topics of interest once a month.
Extra activities are added in the summer months, such as “Park Walk Wednesdays,” where kids and families get to explore a different Dickinson park each week. Low-cost field trips are also offered to places such as the Bismarck Zoo, Medora, and Papa’s Pumpkin Patch.
“Some weeks we have two or three families, and other weeks we have 40 people here at one time,” says Kathy.
Parents sign a membership contract acknowledging the rules and expectations, including the need to help keep the space clean.
“Little Links is a one-of-a-kind thing: we’re not governed by any other agency,” Kathy explains. “Dickinson is a unique community, with unique problems, but also unique possibilities.”
Board members and other volunteers have faithfully raised money for Little Links throughout its five year history, holding rummage sales, car washes, and serving concessions at various community events. Little Links is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, better positioning itself to grow and expand in the future.
Little Links has been a labor of love, for the sake of the kids and families who participate, as well as for the community—happy and connected families are more likely to stay and make Dickinson their home, something everyone involved can be proud of.
2810 I-94 Business Loop East Suite B, Dickinson, ND
Monday, Thursday, and Friday Mornings
Free to anyone! Geared to families with children ages 0-5
Check for schedule notes on Facebook.
Stephanie Fong lives and works in Dickinson and is the proud mom to two wonderful “littles” of her own. She enjoys playing with her kids outside, going to concerts with her husband, and taking in local events with family and friends.