Black Hills State University students and faculty wrap donated gifts that were given to the students at Red Shirt last week.
 This year, BHSU students participated in Operation Christmas Child by packing boxes with toys, schools supplies, personal hygiene items and other goodies for children in under-served areas around the world.

BHSU business students created holiday centerpieces for the residents at the David Dorsett Health Care Center. Students included: Front row, left to right, Jackie Detweiler, Morgan Chavez, Michael Morales, Tyler Johnson, Rachel Weaver; second row, Chase Vogel, Paige Allen, Bailey Sadowsky, Maddison Carr, Taylor Excott, Ashley Johnson, Kennedi Fisher; third row, Cole Phillips, Taylor Trohkimoninen, Will Orwick, Natasha Sprigler, Tessa Melber; and back row, Aaron Oberlander, Jacob Martinez, Rocky Maier, Dylan Brown. Layne BringsPlenty also helped with the project, but was not present for the photo.

Tis the season for giving and Black Hills State University students, faculty and staff are embracing the holiday spirit through a variety of community service projects. Since the beginning of November, the BHSU holiday elves have been busy donating time and resources to several local, regional and global organizations.

For the past 13 years, BHSU has sponsored the Red Shirt Cultural Holiday Exchange, which includes a collection of toys and personalized stockings along with a visit by BHSU students to the Red Shirt School. The event began as a two-student service project in 2000 and has grown into a campus-wide and community event. The program kicked off with two angel gift trees placed in the David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union and the E.Y. Berry Library-Learning Center with the “angels” quickly taken and replaced by unwrapped gifts.

“Participating in an event like this takes a lot of hard work from getting all the gifts together to wrapping them, but to see the look on the kids’ faces is priceless,” said Mary Mitchell, elementary education major from Eagle Butte and president of the BHSU Lakota Omniciye student organization. Mitchell, along with several other students and faculty, presented the gifts to the Red Shirt School last Friday.

Mitchell said one of the most humbling parts of the project is seeing the children’s wishes. “Kids from kindergarten through eighth grade usually ask for high-end, expensive gifts or want the latest trends, but these kids want simple things like socks, art supplies or even a pillow,” Mitchell said. “It really makes me take a step back to see all the things I take for granted that can mean so much to someone else.“ She also added that the Red Shirt community does not ask for anything but are so deserving and grateful for everything.

BHSU, along with other local universities, also teamed up with American Advertising Federation-Black Hills (AAF-BH) for the first-ever “Warm Up” Coat Drive. Students collected new and gently used adult and children coats from the community which were then delivered to those in need of warm coats on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  And BHSU business students made the holidays a little brighter for residents at the David Dorsett Health Care Center. The group, made up of students from the GS 100 freshman experience and members of the Business Student Advisory Board, created holiday centerpieces that were given to the residents at the Spearfish nursing home.

"Service projects remind us of our capacity for good.  It's a pleasure to watch the good-natured enthusiasm of our students as they work together to make items for others to enjoy,” according to Dr. Bobbi Looney, assistant professor of management and communications. “It's also important for Dorsett Home residents to know they are thought of, particularly since many of them are no longer physically able to travel much out into the community."

Looney added that the project was a great way for the upperclassmen and freshmen to work together.

This year, BHSU’s generosity spanned the globe. Donna VandenHoek, senior secretary, has been involved with the Operation Christmas Child organization for years, but this fall REACH, a new BHSU student organization focused on engaging students in community service opportunities, also took part in the project.

Operation Christmas Child was started by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian-based international aid organization, in 1993. Volunteers fill shoeboxes or shoebox-sized packages with toys, school supplies, personal care items, and other goodies for children in under-served areas around the world. Since 1993, 100 million shoeboxes have been delivered to areas such as South America, Asia, Africa, the Republic of Georgia, and Haiti.

“The students had a wonderful turnout at the two packing parties they had,” VandenHoek said. “They put together 92 shoeboxes to be delivered to children around the world, many of whom have never received a gift before. With each box that is delivered, the children are talked to about the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ.” Students who worked on the Operation Christmas Child project included Jenna Carda, corporate communication major from Miles City, Mont., Kathryn McHenry, chemistry education major from Spearfish, and Michelle VanTassel, exercise science major from Midland.

While BHSU students, faculty and staff dedicate their time to help others during the holidays, community service is something that is a top priority for the University throughout the year. Each year, BHSU students, faculty and staff contribute more than 10,000 hours of service transforming the lives of those they helped as well as providing life-changing learning experiences for themselves.