Dakota Wesleyan University students and faculty proved the coronavirus has no effect on generosity.

With campus shut down and social distancing rules implemented, DWU could not hold Great Wesleyan Giveback Day for the first time since 2010, as well as A Day for Wesleyan, which raises funds for the university's scholarship fund. Instead, a new idea was spawned and it may have created something with a broader reach.

Beginning Tuesday, DWU held the first DWU Cares initiative, a two-day event encompassing students, faculty and alumni. The event, led by senior Ryan Chase, allows the DWU community to give back in unique capacities, including notes, videos and community clean-up.

Participants were able to extend their service beyond Mitchell, not only into neighboring communities in South Dakota, but the #DWUCares hashtag on social media made it global for the first time. Students and DWU supporters were encouraged to help out wherever they were located during this coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a challenge, but it opens up a lot of different opportunities,” Chase said. “In years past, it’s just been staff, students and faculty and basically solely in the Mitchell community. It was localized. … We lost that tight-knit one-on-one bond with the community, but we were also able to expand that on so many levels all over the country, all over the globe and we’re able to give back to other people and show the strength of the DWU community.”

Chase, who is the DWU McGovern Center program coordinator for leadership and public service, performed roadside clean-up in his hometown of Huron, before heading to Mitchell to help with the Salvation Army’s community food distribution. The event provided 600 boxes of food at the Cadwell Sports Complex to those in need on Tuesday.

Volunteers were required to wear gloves and masks, while drivers were asked to leave their trunks open to avoid contact. A long line of cars snaked through the parking lot in preparation of receiving a box of goods.

The DWU women’s basketball team performed a variety of jobs around Mitchell, including car-washing, moving furniture and cleaning up the roads, while some faculty members made uplifting gifts for high school seniors.

“It’s been a situation where we lost a lot of great and important activities with all the uncertainty in the world,” Chase said. “But we’re able to provide certainty and comfort through the strength of the Dakota Wesleyan community.”

While a bulk of the DWU community service is centered in Mitchell, the closure of campus and the shift to online classes allowed for work to be done across the state. Student Bradley Dean assisted in packing boxes at Feeding South Dakota in his hometown of Pierre, while a contingent of Woonsocket natives were able to beautify flower beds at Prairie View Healthcare Center.

Emily George, an executive administrative assistant at DWU, is Woonsocket native and she reached out to students Rex Schlicht, Spens Schlicht, Megan Poyer and Tesa Jensen with a list of ideas and working at the nursing home stood out above the rest.

Dakota Wesleyan University student Tesa Jensen prepares to drive a tractor as classmates Spens Schlicht (left), Megan Poyer (center) and Rex Schlicht (right) load bush trimmings into a wagon at Prairie View Healthcare Center on Tuesday in Woonsocket. (Nick Sabato / Republic)
Dakota Wesleyan University student Tesa Jensen prepares to drive a tractor as classmates Spens Schlicht (left), Megan Poyer (center) and Rex Schlicht (right) load bush trimmings into a wagon at Prairie View Healthcare Center on Tuesday in Woonsocket. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

“With all of the virus stuff going on, (nursing homes) have maybe been the most disadvantaged,” DWU senior Rex Schlicht said. “They can’t have many visitors in the nursing home and that’s something that really brightens their day. I thought doing work around here would be a great opportunity.”

Not all of the work required manual labor, however, as several people created videos that were shared online and through social media, including the DWU volleyball team, which created video thanking healthcare professionals.

Meanwhile, the school’s athletic training club transformed an in-person idea into a virtual video. Originally, the club was scheduled to speak in a month-long series of classes for Deb Thill’s third-through-fifth-grade physical education classes at L.B. Williams Elementary School about emergency training, but school closings prompted them to record the videos and share them on YouTube.

Each member of the club made a snippet of the video and it was distributed to each Mitchell elementary school, along with other schools in the area and was also posted on the club Facebook page for viewing.

“With athletic training, everything’s hands on,” said Lana Loken, DWU coordinator of clinical education. “Our students learn skills and they have to demonstrate how to do these skills, but we’ve been using video to do a lot of that communication and assessment in the last six weeks. Our students have become very proficient at doing videos and sending them to me. … Instead of canceling this service, we started brainstorming.”

The virtual element of the event has allowed DWU Cares to develop a global reach, which extended to Portrush, a town of roughly 7,000 people in Northern Ireland. DWU alumna Lily Jones is currently working there as a missionary for the Global Missions Fellow program and seized on the opportunity to partake when Chase reached out.

Jones, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, then expanded upon something she did while at DWU, pairing a piece of candy with a laminated note of encouragement and dropped it through mail slots in her neighborhood.

“At Dakota Wesleyan, I was very involved in service and campus ministry, but more than that caring for and serving my community are a big part of who I am,” Jones told The Daily Republic via email. “I had already been looking for a way to reach out to those in my community during this current crisis and this event just gave me the little push that I needed. Also, it has helped me to reconnect with my DWU family and be a part of what DWU is doing, even from far away.”