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By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Perhaps Santa Claus should trade his reindeer for some Lopers.
University of Nebraska at Kearney students proved they’re plenty capable of playing the part Wednesday afternoon, when they showed up at a Kearney hospital with several bundles of gifts and more than enough holiday spirit to go around.
“We thought it would be really nice to give back during Christmastime,” said sophomore Katy Wolf, one of about 20 students from Jeanne Stolzer’s child and adolescent development class who participated in the Holiday from the Heart project.
Stolzer, a professor in the family studies department, gave her students an option this semester – they could either write a research paper or complete a “difference maker” project. Unsurprisingly, most of them opted to be difference makers.
Stolzer’s role ended there.
“I’m completely out of it,” she said. “That’s why I love this project. I gave them no ideas. I gave them nothing. This is all their creation.”
The students voted for their favorite idea, then got to work. Their first task was raising money, a process made easier by the generosity of the campus and Kearney communities.
“We had amazing support,” said Shyenne Cooper, a senior from North Platte.
The donations were used to buy a slew of items – blankets, books, puzzles, candy, festive room decorations, gift cards for coffee and gasoline and other goodies.
On Wednesday, everything was loaded into big, blue bags and delivered to Kearney Regional Medical Center, where the students went room to room handing out presents.
“Oh my gosh, this is just like Christmas,” Donna Mundorf said after receiving fuzzy socks, candy, a blanket and Scooter’s Coffee gift card.
Mundorf, who lives near Long Pine in north-central Nebraska, definitely appreciated the visit from “a nice bunch of kids.”
“It just warms your heart to have someone stop in with a few gifts,” she said.
In the maternity care center, Talus and Caitlin Vest of Amherst and their daughters Estelle, 5, and Haven, 2, were hanging out with the newest member of their family, baby Titus, when the Lopers dropped in.
A stuffed animal, candy, “Scooby-Doo” book, Crayons and coloring book were among the items on their gift list.
The Vests called the project “really cool” and “very thoughtful,” especially since it involved the older siblings at a time when most of the attention is on the newborn.
“The siblings sometimes get left out, but this lets them feel just as loved,” Talus Vest said.
Dani Peisiger, maternity services manager at Kearney Regional Medical Center, was also happy to see the UNK group stop in to brighten people’s day.
“Any time you can spread cheer and put a smile on someone’s face, that shows what the season is all about,” Peisiger said. “It’s great for the patients.”
Stolzer, whose lifespan development class also organized a community service project, believes experiential learning opportunities and hands-on activities are as critical to student development as writing papers.
Her students agree.
“It means so much more to you and the patients to give them something and make them happy and spread the cheer,” said Cooper, who graduates Friday with a bachelor’s degree in family studies and minor in social work.
Wolf, a family studies major and social work minor from Lincoln, hopes to set an example by showing others there are people out there doing good things.
“Our world needs more of it,” she said.