The rural community of Martin, located near the southwest border of South Dakota, faces unique challenges. Its remote location is a two-hour commute from Rapid City, the closest city of substantial size. So, the 950 residents of Martin rely on each other to keep things running smoothly and to create a sense of community pride.
Martin lies between two large American Indian reservations, so the community has a diverse population. They also have a high at-risk youth population. “That’s why a large percentage of what we’re doing is geared toward our young people,” says Kris Kratovil, program leader for the Martin Wellness Coalition. “Whatever we can do to level the playing field for our youth, we will do it.”
The community won its first Healthy Hometown award in 2019. While most projects were put on hold during the pandemic, the community picked up the pace over the last year or two, with a long list of successful projects focused on creating strong community bonds.
In 2022, the hard work of several community leaders and volunteers contributed to Martin winning their second Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Opens New Window Community Award. This work includes a public art project, a variety of community-wide events and the revitalization of a garden area.
Created a community art mural
In April 2022, the city started a public art project that succeeded in enhancing a public space and bringing the people of the community together. The project, which was completed in the fall, used grant money to paint a mural on a retaining wall in the city park, behind the schools.
To get the community involved in the mural, Bennett County residents were invited to submit drawings of garden and wildlife scenes. The response was incredible, as they received 35 entries. Once a compilation of images was chosen, they were drawn to scale. Then, community members were invited to transfer the drawings onto the wall.
“The first person to paint on the wall was three years old,” says Kravotil, “And a piece of artwork was submitted by an individual who was 96. So the event really attracted people of all ages. From start to finish, over 100 community members were involved in some capacity.”
She adds, “This project was a such a positive boost for our community. It was so successful, we are looking to add murals to other public spaces.”
Participated in Marketing Hometown America
A major project that united the community was participation in Marketing Hometown America External Site. Martin partnered with SDSU Extension to form committees and bring a series of events like Movies in the Park, the Harvest Festival, Summer Fest (a charity ride and car show), and historical social dances to the area. Each event required months of planning and volunteer recruitment.
As part of the program, A Little Free Library External Site was installed at the Bennett County Library, and “Warrior Pantry” (Little Free Food Pantry External Site) was built by high school students, who keep it stocked to provide emergency food assistance for people in the community.
To pull it all together, Martin named their project “Our Town,” and incorporated new branding for the city: a sunflower logo. The flower is a staple of the area's landscape. Plans are in place to paint the sunflowers on the water tower and other places throughout the community, like Main Street businesses.
“We just had a phenomenal response to these programs,” says Kratovil. “There was something for everyone, and the response was bigger than we anticipated.”
Many of the events will continue on an annual basis, and organizers are already applying lessons learned as they plan next year’s events.
Revitalized a community garden space
Something that makes Martin unique is the use of a lot on main street as a public garden. It’s called Hope Garden, and in 2022, grant money was used to revitalize the area with new garden beds and plants, picnic tables, planters and a mural. The garden is not set up as a traditional “pay for plot” model. Rather, it is a community meeting space.
“Hope Garden is privately owned by a community member,” says Prairey Walkling, SDSU Extension Family & Community Health Field Specialist working with Martin. “She was passionate about gardening and had a vision to share this space with the community. Over the years, it fell into disrepair. So we worked together with the coalition to revitalize the area.”
To complete the project, local volunteers spent two days cleaning up the space. Then, they painted the pergola, replaced irrigation, added new flowers, native plants, fruits and vegetables. The high school art club provided large painted planters, and other volunteers in the community helped plant the garden.
“Hope Garden is the only place on Main Street where you can sit outdoors and eat lunch or meet a friend,” says Kratovil. “It’s a great place to take senior photos or enjoy time together on the pergola and public benches. We have adult groups meet and do crafts there, and kids who paint rocks and leave them for others to find. We’ve definitely seen increased use of the area since its makeover.”
More progress and what’s on the horizon
The city of Martin has been busy with a variety of projects over the past year, such as Kids in the Kitchen. The class helps kids learn basic cooking skills and nutrition. What started as an after-school program is now taught in school to all fourth and fifth grade students.
“It seems like we’ve been on a roller coaster, but we’re always trying to move forward. It just takes time. If it starts to feel stagnant, we start again. Really, we just want to keep the momentum going,” says Walkling.
The city also completed a walk audit, with plans to extend sidewalks in busy areas. Currently, a work group is tackling repairs to the city’s swimming pool. And, the hospital is getting an upgrade, which means more jobs. “One of the most exciting things the city is working toward is a frisbee golf course,” says Walkling.
Recently, the coalition invited more youth voices to the table. “We believe that the younger kids are when they get involved, the more they realize they can make a difference,” says Kratovil. “When they have a say about what is happening in the community, this just makes them more receptive.”
What advice do they have for other communities? “In a community our size, some ideas seem unreachable,” says Kravotil. “But dreaming is free. You can pull a lot of good ideas from something that seems out of reach. You just need somebody to start it, and you need to just keep pushing.”
She adds, “I’ve learned that now may not be the right time for a project, but you never know. Six months down the road, it might be the perfect time.”
Learn more about Healthy Hometown
The Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark Community Award is an annual award that celebrates the successes of communities in Iowa and South Dakota that are working to make their hometowns healthier, more active places to live. If you want to follow in Martin’s footsteps and make positive changes to your community, check out Healthy Hometown online Opens New Window or email HealthyHometown@Wellmark.com Send Email for more information.