RTR sixth-grader Kai Drake never forgot the toy room at Avera Children’s Hospital where he played when he was 5. For a school project, he got the Tyler community involved to replenish the toy chest.
Christmas is known to be a time for giving, but thanks to a project organized by Russell-Tyler-Ruthton sixth-grader Kai Drake, that Christmas spirit is expected to continue making children smile throughout the entire year.
Drake spearheaded a project that involved collecting toys, games and cash donations for children at the Avera Children’s Hospital, which is part of Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“I think it went good,” Drake said. “We got a ton of donations — I’d say about 100 toy donations and about $500 in cash donations.”
While brainstorming ideas for his Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) project, the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (RTR) middle school student recalled the time his younger brother was hospitalized for more than a week.
“It was when my brother was 2 and I was 5,” Drake said. “He was stuck in chair and had to go to Sioux Falls. They had a bunch of toys there for the toy room and for the toy chest. After kids are able to go home, they pick a toy from the toy chest — any toy they want. And the play room is for anyone to use.”
Two-year-old Juhl spent eight days at the Avera Children’s Hospital. Juhl and his twin brother, Jens, are fourth-graders this year.
“It was kind of a freak accident where he got caught in this recliner,” RTR FCCLA adviser Tammy Borman said. “They found him right away, but it was very, very scary and serious. He was in the hospital in Sioux Falls and that’s how Kai came upon the need for the toy room. The siblings (of a patient) could go in there because they’re family and needed some place to be.”
Since the young patients are allowed to take one item home with them, the “Treasure Chest” is constantly being depleted.
“I’m proud of my project,” Drake said. “I think it’s good to do stuff for others.”
Drake got permission and then set up a Christmas tree as a drop-off location at Citizens State Bank in Tyler — Kai, his twin brothers, little sister, Svea, and parents, Mandi and Cade, live in Tyler.
“We set the tree up on Black Friday,” Kai Drake said. “I also made little ornaments with gift ideas on them. You could either take one off of the tree or you could just get whatever you wanted for it.”
Borman noted that Drake then contacted the Tyler Tribute to do an article.
“It was a way of informing the public so they knew because not everybody banks there,” she said. “But anyone could drop off donations.”
Drake said he’s grateful to the bank, the local newspaper and especially the people who helped fulfill his vision to supply toys and other items for young patients in the future.
“I’m proud of my community,” he said. “I have to make sure I thank the bank and the paper and all the donators.”
After getting in contact with the children’s hospital, Drake learned that giving a cash donation wasn’t the best idea. So he had the opportunity to hand-select items for the playroom and toy chest as well.
“They didn’t want me to give them the money because then it would go to the Foundation and it wouldn’t really go to toys,” Drake said. “It might go to room stuff instead. So first we went to Borch’s in Marshall and we got a Timberwolves and Wild jersey. Then we got — I’m not sure what they’re called, but they’re leg bracelets for girls. And we got a couple pairs of socks and a Yeti thermos cup, too.”
Borman explained that the children’s hospital serves a wide range of youth.
“It’s not just young children,” she said. “It goes up to teenagers. So for a teenager to pick something out of the toy chest, you might want something different than a preschooler.”
Drake said the next stop was at Wal-Mart.
“So the stuff we got from Borch’s, I tried to do it more for the toy chest because they said they didn’t have a lot of toys for girls or boys who are in high school,” he said. “Then we went to Wal-Mart to get more smaller toys for the playroom.”
Drake said a lot of thought went into the purchasing process.
“We looked at getting a dollhouse, but then it would just be one thing,” Drake said. “We wouldn’t get as many little things. If we’d have gotten a dollhouse that cost $300, then we could only spend $200 on other toys.”
Drake said he and his family picked up the donations from the bank on Dec. 22, converted the cash into actual gifts for the patients the day after Christmas and then transported all of the items to the children’s hospital the following day.
“We had two Suburbans full,” he said.
Drake said “it was fun” working with the people at Avera Children’s Hospital and he’s glad that the toys will last for at least a year.
“The extra toys we have — they have a storage room for the extra — so it’s not all in one place,” Drake said. “They say in December, they get a bunch of donations because of Christmas. But then in the summer, they run out. So they’ll keep half of it in storage and bring it out as needed.”
While Drake’s project allowed him to demonstrate his kindness, his parents said it ended up being rewarding in even more ways.
“We are proud of Kai and his efforts to give and share with others,” Mandi Drake said. “More than anything, we are thankful to be part of a community and family that shows so much support toward each other. Kai’s project wouldn’t have been possible without everyone else’s amazing donations.”
Borman was also impressed with the first-year FCCLA member’s effort.
“Kai did a really nice job identifying a need and working to fulfill that need through his FCCLA project,” Borman said. “When students learn to find those needs in a community and learn the process for improving the situation or filling a need, and the work that goes into making something like that happen, they are developing skills they will be able to use in their adult years as well.”
Borman added that FCCLA service learning projects can be the foundation for a tremendous amount of learning.
“It is very exciting to see students learn, serve and succeed through such projects,” she said. “Who would have thought, when he was 5 years old and seeing Juhl like that — having to hang out at the hospital like that — all these years later, he’d be doing something cool like this?”
Borman was instrumental in bringing FCCLA to RTR about 15 years ago, having learned about the organization while teaching in Lake Benton.
“Lake Benton had FCCLA forever,” she said. “They had a state officer that year, so it was basically baptism by fire (for me as the adviser there). After a few weeks (of splitting teacher duties at Lake Benton and at RTR), I figured we could just as well do FCCLA here in RTR, too.”
Ironically, Kai Drake’s aunt, Natalie Madsen, was one of the first FCCLA members at RTR.
“Natalie went on to become a FACS (Family and Consumer Science) teacher and FCCLA adviser at Sioux Valley High School in Volga, South Dakota,” Borman said.
Drake is among 45 students involved in FCCLA this year.
“Sixth-graders have always been involved here at RTR,” Borman said. “You can actually participate in fifth-grade, but most schools in Minnesota don’t participate in FCCLA unless they’re a sole-standing 5-8 middle school. We have sixth through eighth grade here, so sixth grade makes sense to start here.”
Borman noted that not all students take part in the competition piece. For those who do, the Students Taking Action with Recognition (STAR) program is used.
“There are more than 40 events that can be categorized in competition events,” she said. “There are some that are for kids in 10th grade and above and some are for younger students. Kai’s category is available to all students.”
Drake will present his project at the regional level on Jan. 31, at the Southwest STAR event competition.
“It’s basically FCCLA teams from this corner of the state,” Borman said. “RTR has hosted it for a number of years. We used to host it at the school, but now we host it at Danebod Folk School.”
Borman said Drake has five areas for his project.
“It’s called National Programs in Action and one of the National Programs for FCCLA is community service,” she said. “So that’s his program focus. In that project, they have to show how they use what is called the FCCLA planning process, which is essentially like any decision-making process used in any class at school.”
Borman added that the FCCLA one has some specific things that tailor it more toward FCCLA projects.
“He has to show how he used those five steps through his project,” Borman said. “The first one is to identify a concern. He obviously found his concern very easily. Then setting a goal, which he followed through and did.”
The next piece involves making a plan and putting that plan into action, then following up at the end.
“One of his steps in following up a the end was writing thank-you notes,” Borman said. “He’s working on that, though we don’t necessarily know everyone who donated.”
A final component is to create a display for the competition. As one would suspect, Drake plans to highlight the spirit of giving — which was ultimately showcased in all aspects of his project.
“It’s going to be like a Christmas tree,” Drake said.