As a social worker at Mandan Public Schools, Laura Just found herself at the helm of organizing various organizations in the Mandan community for a number of resources available around Christmas time – one of them being the angel tree program. Most people, especially children, look forward to receiving gifts over the holidays, but sometimes low income families are unable to give that extra holiday joy that presents can bring. The angel tree program assists those families by having members of the community donate gifts, clothing, and even sometimes just basic necessities for those who may be less fortunate.
Just knew there were many organizations that wanted to help, but there wasn’t a cohesive way to have everything structured in one place so that local families would know what resources were all available as well as making sure there wasn’t crossover across the organizations. Mandan Public Schools became the go-to organization to take charge since they work directly with the families in need of assistance.
Applications for the angel tree are sent out to families across the district that have elementary-aged students. If there is an elementary student, who has an older sibling(s), the angel tree program takes all school-aged children into account for gift giving. Every year, the angel tree gets more applications, as every year, the enrollment within the school grows. In 2019, the angel tree program gave gifts to more than 400 students.
“In order to cover over 400 gifts, we needed to partner with our community. We have organizations like Dakota Community Bank & Trust that put up an angel tree. Their patrons or employees then take a tag with a child’s name followed by some of their gift interests,” says Just. In 2019, there were 12 different agencies who partnered with Mandan Public Schools to take part in the angel tree program. Dakota Community Bank & Trust (DCB&T) will be going on their fifth year of involvement. Just mentions, “Dakota Community Bank & Trust is about the community. Every year they take just a few more names for us, and they do a fantastic job of making Christmas dreams come true.”
Now in her ninth year with the Mandan Public Schools angel tree, Just recalls that in her first year they had 121 children that they assisted. “You can’t help but to feel this amazing amount of joy, seeing the tears as parents walk in here, and the stress that is lifted off of them knowing that someone is there to help them.”
Besides the joy that the presents bring the kids, Just knows there are other benefits to the angel tree. Perhaps the biggest, is the relationship between the school and the parents that this program helps to provide. “If we can be more than just an educational entity, if we can be that connection to resources, if we can assist them with Christmas gifts and food when necessary, that relationship really strengthens and they being to partner with the school,” says Just. She has seen this relationship form and blossom with multiple parents and knows that through this, parents have become more invested in their child’s education and extra-curricular activities; which has also had a direct correlation on increasing those children’s participation in their own education, assisting their grades, and growing their self-confidence.
Recognizing the growing needs of the angel tree, Just boasts that while every year it grows and she is never sure how it’ll get done, she is proud to know that community organizations continue to step up year after year to join the program.
The overall mission of the Mandan Public Schools is to provide students with rigorous and personalized learning experiences and to help them develop the social and emotional skills to become productive citizens. The angel tree program aims to do just that. If you are interested in becoming a partner for Mandan’s angel tree, or assisting with betterment of Mandan Public School’s students through other various needs/services during the year, please contact Mandan Public Schools.
Written by Lindsey Hefta, Marketing Director