During a BHSU Yellow Jackets football game last fall, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) welcomed 10-year-old Noah Misselt from Box Elder to be the Make-A-Wish representative for the day. Noah joined the football team as the honorary team captain and joined the four team captains at the 50-yard line for the coin toss.

Each year Black Hills State University students devote thousands of hours of service participating in volunteer projects in the local community, around the country and throughout the world.

From competition food drives with other universities and cleaning up local highways to sending African school children clothing and educational materials, BHSU civic-minded students make giving back part of their higher education.

According to Erica Whitiker, BHSU student engagement and programming coordinator, volunteering helps students become well-rounded members of society. She said BHSU has 75 student organizations, all of which provide some sort of community service.

“When going out to be a global member of our society, it’s important for students to get involved with student organizations that give them the venue to volunteer,” Whitiker said.

BHSU recognizes students annually for their contributions to the community. This year’s recognition banquet is Monday, April 22.

Several of the BHSU student organizations participate in annual events such as the Spearfish Fall Festival, Make A Difference Day, the Red Shirt Cultural Exchange, and Alternative Spring Break. Whitiker said students are also constantly holding food and clothing drives and making cards to take up to the local hospital.

“You can learn a lot from being actively engaged in the community or throughout campus,” said BHSU student Devin Lynn, the coordinator of civic engagement for the University, noting that community service provides valuable experience that students can use in their future careers or as they further their education in graduate or professional school. In his position as coordinator of civic engagement Lynn provides a connection between the community and student organizations.

Lynn said during last fall’s Make A Difference Day more than 40 BHSU students participated in volunteer activities throughout Spearfish.

 BHSU students Lorrin Anderson, left, and Kayla Williams clean up around the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve in Florida. The two spent 10 days working on the preserve during their recent spring break.
Jhett Albers, BHSU athletic director, said community service is built into the University’s athletic program. The programs each participate in volunteering throughout the year as well as have representatives on the BHSU Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC). Like the student organizations, the athletic programs dedicate their time to annual community service projects such as adopt-a-highway, volunteering in the schools, and Coaches vs. Cancer, a program funded by the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The program empowers schools and communities to join the fight against cancer through basketball coaches leading fundraising and advocacy efforts.

“It is important for student athletes to participate in volunteer efforts because they are often role models for younger people in the community,” Albers said.  “When our athletes are service oriented, they model those positive characteristics.”

Kristen Carmichael, assistant volleyball coach and SAAC coordinator, said SAAC has a goal of one community service project a month. SAAC representatives have provided community service to many organizations, both locally and nationally.

Last fall, BHSU and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T) raised more than 1,000 lbs. of food during a food drive competition between the two schools. The donated food was split between the Spearfish and Rapid City food pantries. “The food drive was really fun because (BHSU athletes) just love to compete with Tech,” Carmichael said.

The SAAC also holds a fundraiser each October for the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a part of the NCAA Division II Week of Wishes. The BHSU SAAC also raised nearly $2,000 during February’s Special Olympics Polar Plunge and will be organizing the upcoming South Dakota Special Olympics Summer Games.

The group is also looking at other monthly volunteer opportunities such as babysitting on Valentine’s Day, Carmichael said. “It’s important for students to get involved with community service. We are trying to prepare student athletes to be something after they graduate. It is a win-win; they give back and get something out of it as well.”