Vermillion community resource center launches new navigator program with USD

Nov 14, 2019

A sign welcomes visitors to the Community Connection Center in downtown Vermillion. Community navigator Viviana De Leon (behind) works at the center.
Credit John Nguyen

A community resource center in Vermillion launched a new program in partnership with the University of South Dakota.

The United Way of Vermillion and members from the USD Master of Public Health program created the Community Navigator program in efforts to support local families and individuals.

The navigator position is tasked to provide an opportunity for area citizens in need of services to get one-on-one guidance and assistance navigating local, state, federal and tribal programs.

The idea originated with Chelsea Wesner, an instructor in USD’s MPH program and board member of the Vermillion Food Pantry and The Welcome Table.

State Rep. Ray Ring and wife help load boxes of bread for the Vermillion Food Pantry. The pantry is one of the many services housed under the Community Connection Center.
Credit Nick Nelson

Both organizations are housed at the Community Connection Center in downtown Vermillion, which centralizes many different human and social services all under one roof.

“Vermillion has a very high poverty rate,” Collier-Wise said. “There are a number of programs that people in that socioeconomic group can take advantage of, but they don’t know that they’re out there. We just want to close that gap and make it a little easier for them.”

Members of the center thought that a student would be a good fit for the role and chose first-year USD graduate student Viviana De Leon.

De Leon hails from Sioux City, Iowa, where she worked as a financial counselor in a community health center after earning her undergraduate degree this year.

“When she [Wesner] was explaining the whole process of someone being a navigator,” she said. “I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to show my skills in a meaningful process.”

De Leon began in early September and since then has been shaping the pilot program.

She said the first steps are generating awareness for the community to know that resources are available.

“There is hope out there for whatever they may need even though they might not realize it.”