Bryan got off to a rough start in life. His mother was sent to prison and his father’s parental rights were terminated. At 17 months old, he entered the foster care system. Though a toddler, Bryan didn’t yet walk or talk.
Fostering was never on the radar of Jody Moore and her husband. But after hearing a presentation in church by South Dakota Kids Belong, they felt moved to get licensed as foster parents. The Moores, who already had three children, soon got a call to take in a needy toddler—Bryan. “We had him for about a year and a half before we were able to adopt him,” Moore says.
SDKB didn’t even exist until 2018. That’s when Rick Furnish, motivated by the plight of nearly 1,700 children in foster care in the state, initiated a one-of-a-kind collaborative relationship that empowers leaders in government, faith community, and the business and creative sectors to work together to end the crisis for kids in foster care.
“One of Rick’s primary roles is getting the right people to accomplish a mission and vision, and then putting that in motion,” says Damen Woolsey, executive director of SDKB.
Called to Serve Others
Furnish, broker-owner of Landmark Realty & Development Co. in Spearfish, S.D., operates from a foundation of deep faith, family and service. He and his wife Vicki have one biological and three adopted children. They’ve also fostered a dozen children over the years.
“I seek to give ‘the least of these’ a face and a voice and let them know they have incredible value. Without my faith I do not believe I would have been moved to do this work. It really is the core of who I am and why I do what I do.” –Rick Furnish, broker-owner, Landmark Realty & Development Co.
But Furnish’s passion for protecting kids extends beyond his family. Around 2003, he joined the board of Hope Ranch International, a charity that serves impoverished families and orphans both locally and globally.
His mission grew in 2016, when a church presentation by America’s Kids Belong, a nonprofit that aims to improve the experiences and outcomes of kids in foster care, further touched his heart. Soon after, he and Vicki became licensed foster parents.
“So many of them have been waiting for years to get adopted,” says Furnish, noting that the number of kids in the foster care system far outweighs the number of licensed families. “When I heard the story, I couldn’t not do something,” he explains.
Building Strong Networks and Community Engagement
Bringing America’s Kids Belong into South Dakota would be a daunting task that required vision, leadership, networking, funding, and support. Furnish rose to the task, leading a grassroots effort to launch SDKB and personally donating seed money. He tapped into skills he acquired during his 30-year real estate career: networking, collaborating, recruiting, negotiating, motivating and organizing.
“One of Rick’s gifts is working with a lot of different entities and people and bringing them together for a greater good,” says SDKB’s Woolsey.
It takes a village to sustain effective foster care. It also takes a lot of money—and Furnish plays a pivotal role in fundraising. He initiated an SDKB gala. The first event in 2018 raised $14,000; and the most recent one netted $110,000. Furnish also taps his network for other SDKB initiatives, with a recent infusion of funds enabling the charity to expand into Rapid City.
SDKB continues to grow and make a positive impact, with over 150 local businesses supporting foster families with product and service discounts. Plus, more than 40 faith communities recruit and support foster and adoptive parents.
A key milestone: Furnish worked with Governor Kristi Noem and the Department of Social Services to create the Stronger Families Together campaign. This launched the I Belong Project—a video storytelling initiative that gives foster kids a face and a voice and helps connect many of them with forever families. In the campaign’s first year, more than 300 people became foster parents. To date, 176 foster kids have shared their stories, and more than 40 of them have been adopted, with nearly a dozen more in the adoption process.
“Rick sets the example, when you think of a good neighbor, just by his magnetic passion for people and heart for seeing others thrive and heal.” –Damen Woolsley, executive director, South Dakota Kids Belong
“There’s been transformation within our state foster care system to prioritize recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive parents—and Rick had a lot to do with initiating that movement,” Woolsey says.
Meanwhile, Furnish continues to help Hope Ranch—from boosting awareness and recruiting sponsors to raising funds and building schools. Always connecting people to needs, he seeks support from his personal network and establishes partnerships within the global communities he’s helping.
For Hope Ranch, Furnish has spearheaded various campaigns, raising more than $500,000 to secure donations and materials. He has also provided hands-on support to multiple Ethiopian and Columbian village projects, helping to build schools, safe houses and hospitals; developing sustainable, income-producing co-ops; and creating a sponsorship program for over 700 children. Furnish took a similar approach at the charity’s Montana outpost, which provides retreats for underprivileged, at-risk and foster children.
“They can come here to have a mountain experience and be loved on,” says Furnish, adding that about 700 kids visited last year. The Furnish family is currently building a cabin to expand the opportunity for retreats, training events and respite care.
Even as he nears retirement, Furnish plans to continue protecting vulnerable children—calling his passion for helping kids and families, no matter where they live, a joy and a privilege.
Rick Furnish, GRI, of Spearfish, S.D., is broker-owner of Landmark Realty & Development Co. and founder of South Dakota Kids Belong.