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Turkey contest winner
Turkey-cooking contest winner shares his tips

The goal of Brady Waddell’s advice is written across the drawing with it: “Now that’s a good looking turkey.”

That bold proclamation helped lift Waddell, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at Piedmont Valley Elementary School, to the top of the Journal’s annual “How to Cook a Turkey” contest that drew dozens of submissions from schoolkids across the Black Hills area.

In fact, the quality of Waddell’s turkey is such that he recommends protecting it from the prying hands of friends and others at school.

“If you cook the turkey, you should hide it so no one tries to steal it. It’s super-good,” Waddell told the Journal.

Waddell, who said Thanksgiving is his second-favorite holiday behind Halloween, also got inspired by online videos to recommend a holiday take on beer-can chicken. His version involves sticking the turkey on a bottle to keep the bird from rolling around, he said.

The rest of his advice for making the best holiday bird possible includes having the oven on 350 degrees and cooking the turkey for about 50 to 60 minutes. Waddell also said getting a turkey can be done at the grocery store or “you can wack” one, he wrote.

“What I was doing is I was trying to be funny, kind of,” he said of his general advice.

Waddell said potatoes and bread are his favorite Thanksgiving side dishes.

Of course, it’s not all cooking that Waddell gets involved with on Thanksgiving. He also sometimes helps sets the table, including putting down the tablecloth – or as he calls it, a tarp. There also is some watching football with relatives.

For winning the contest, Waddell earned a $50 gift card. Runners-up Adalin Jonson, 9, a fourth-grader at Piedmont Valley Elementary, and Keeliea Crowser, 9, a third-grader at Sturgis Elementary, each earned a $25 gift card.

To see their submissions, as well as others, see section E in today’s Journal or see below:

PHOTOS: How to Cook a Turkey

PHOTOS: How to Cook a Turkey

Five we’re thankful for
Five we're thankful for: Helping not arresting the homeless

Editor's note: Five we're thankful for is a series of five articles profiling people who are doing good for our community. This is the first in the series. 

Dan Mertz maneuvers his SUV north through Memorial Park and stops alongside a man and woman walking hand-in-hand atop a bridge crossing Rapid Creek. The Rapid City police officer pops out of the driver’s seat and approaches them.

Mertz, casually dressed in blue jeans and a grey sweatshirt, isn’t looking, however, to question, detain, ticket or arrest anyone. He’s looking to help.

He is a member of the Rapid City Police Department’s Quality of Life Unit that was created in January with a $750,000 grant from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization. The department plans to expand the unit as more funds become available, but for now Mertz represents half of a two-man unit that keeps busy patrolling the downtown area and city parks.

He recognizes a familiar face, Sheri Good Voice Elk, when he sees the couple. Last he heard, she was taking business classes at Western Dakota Tech. As they talk, it becomes clear things have changed. Sheri was evicted from the Cornerstone Rescue Mission recently, and she's back on the streets. During the conversation with Mertz, her desire to get things sorted out so she can re-enroll next semester is palpable.

Mertz listens to her story intently, then makes a suggestion. He mentions he has some “pull” with the Department of Labor. Next week, maybe she could go with him to the department’s offices and see about getting a part-time job. Then, they could go to the Mission and see about getting her a bed. 

"Let's totally get you back into school," Martz said.

Sheri appears receptive. Mertz gives her his card and prods her to call him in a day or two. He’ll be looking for her next week when he’s patrolling if not, he says. He gives Sheri a hug, shakes the hand of the man accompanying her, and walks back to the SUV.

“She’ll be a success story, for sure,” said Mertz, settling back into the driver’s seat.

The street life, however, has a unique pull, he explained, even for those wishing to get out. For many, the homeless community represents their only family, drugs their only release, the transient lifestyle their only freedom.

“We really don’t operate in the black and white,” he said of his unit. “It’s in the grey.”

Entering his ninth year with the Rapid City Police Department, Mertz is familiar with the city’s street life and its inhabitants. He encounters the same people — the chronically homeless and chronically intoxicated — almost every day. But rather than enter them into the criminal justice system for another circuitous turn, his job is to get them out for good.

“We recognized the revolving door that we were going thorough with people and we thought, ‘there’s got to be a better way,’” Mertz said last week from his office at Pennington County’s Care Campus in Rapid City. “When you’re doing the same thing over and over again and you’re not getting results that’s insanity. We need to take a step back and creatively look at the processes that we’re taking. We’re dealing with human beings here. Are we providing the best possible service that we can? We want to say 'yes.'"

The biggest difference between Mertz and a normal patrol officer isn’t just his plainclothes appearance or aversion to arrests. It’s time.

“A patrol officer does not have the time to sit down with somebody for 30 minutes or an hour and really peel back the layers of the onion to figure out what is really at the heart of their issues, which is what’s needed,” he said. “We really take a non-linear, humanistic approach to every individual that we’re working with because everybody is different. It goes back to that personal relationship and having deep, meaningful conversations with people to figure out where they’re at, where they see themselves going and kind of coming up with a plan as to what those next steps are for that individual.”

In Sheri's case, the next step is getting a job and a bed. The ultimate goal is getting her back into school. For another woman Mertz encounters, it’s getting her and her son a bus ticket to Pine Ridge Reservation so they can stay with family.

“I’m not handing them a business card and saying ‘good luck,’” he said. “I’m taking them up there and walking them through that process. We’re a direct link to a multitude of really awesome community resources that are doing tremendous things.”

Mertz said the big picture isn’t just stopping the “revolving door” or changing one life. It’s fundamentally changing the outlook of an entire family, including future generations. One at a time, it can begin to change a community’s entire trajectory.

“When somebody changes their life like that the ripple effect goes out forever,” he said. “It affects everybody they’re around. It affects themselves, their family, their kids. It affects how their kids grow up and then how they raise their own kids. That success really transcends.”

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School Crossings
School Crossings: Hill City teacher contract imposed

Editor's note: School Crossings is an occasional digest of news and happenings within the K-12 schools within Rapid City and the greater Black Hills.

On Nov. 12, the Hill City School District school board voted 3-0 with one abstention and one absence to impose a teacher contract objected to, in part, by the district's teachers. The school board and district's teachers had reached an impasse after negotiations and received a non-binding ruling from an administrative law judge in Pierre on over 20 contested issues. 

One item teachers had objected to — an edit to a policy that, teachers say, would've heightened the scrutiny of their personal lives — was stricken from the final contract. The 2018-19 contract will remove the district's contribution to teachers' dental insurance, among other budget-tightening measures. Board member Dennis Krull told the Journal the board is doing its best to honor its teachers within a small budget. 

"When we go through negotiations, we bargain in good faith," said Krull. "We need to be able to take care of our teachers because without our teachers, where would we be?"

Hill City is just one school district in the Black Hills this year where teachers and the education boards have reached impasse. Teachers in Meade County earlier this fall declined to go to "fact-finding," the final step in negotiations, because the Meade Education Association said they did not have faith the process would help them receive a better contract.

Teachers in Rapid City Area Schools will present sides to an administrative law judge this winter. However, the districts are able to impose their last, best offer. It is prohibited for teachers to walkout under South Dakota law.

A New Addition to the CTE Offerings at Lead-Deadwood School District 

A science teacher at Lead-Deadwood High School has secured grant funding for the school to purchase a "sim-patient" for students taking a CTE health careers course.

"It'll be a lot of taking vitals, addressing wound care, disease identification," said Bree Oatman, chemistry and CTE Health Science for Lead-Deadwood. "I think this will give students a better taste of this profession." 

The sim-patient, a mannequin from hands-on healthcare training company Realityworks, was purchased through a $30,000 grant Oatman won from the state of South Dakota's EPSCoR funding, a $175,000 pot of money from the National Science Foundation. Oatman said this money is earmarked to help rural states be more competitive in research and innovation.

"I typically have sophomores and juniors in my classroom, where we get them exploring health careers," said Oatman. "Most of this curriculum is targeted toward an older patient, and the mannequin will allow students to practice putting in an IV, a catheter, doing wound care, helping the bed ridden in wheel chairs and managing pressure sores.

The simulated patient will require minimum upkeep each year down the road from the district, such as replacing fake blood and fake skin, Oatman said. But the grant helped secure upfront costs. Students will also be able to work with what Oatman calls a "geriatic empathy kit" that contains a vest and ankle weights and vision impairment devices students can wear to help understand challenges unique to older adults.

Oatman said her students also learn from a nurse as part of a partnership with Regional Health Lead-Deadwood Hospital. She anticipates the sim-patient to be in use by the spring. 

Custer School District Has New Mentor Program

Custer School District has started using a mentoring system championed by former University of Nebraska Head Football Coach Tom Osborne.

"We trained our teammates the last week," said Custer Superintendent Mark Naugle.

Called TeamMates, the mentoring program brings together students with trained adults once-a-week for 30 to 45 minutes during school hours on school property. The program was started by Coach Osborne and his wife in 1991 and operates in 180 school districts from Kansas to Wyoming. So far, nearly 40 students have brought in parent-signed releases and 25 adults have gone through mentor training in the Custer School District.

"We're looking for more adults who want to work with kids," said Naugle, who also serves as the district's liaison for Teammates.

Mentors are encouraged to start by finding something they like to do together, playing board games, to build trust 

"It's really based upon what the kids want to talk about," said Naugle, "There have been stories of mentors teaching kids how to play chess or fly a kite. Just whatever it takes to build a relationship with that kid." 

Custer will recruit students in the 3rd through 7th grades with the goal that mentors follow students through graduation.

Students at RCAS off for the Week

Rapid City Area Schools took a survey of families last year and heard support for an entire week off for Thanksgiving. So the district, said spokeswoman Katy Urban, observed Veteran's Day on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving and gave employees a professional work day on Monday. The result? No class for RCAS students this entire week.

In response, the Rapid City Swim Center is open daily (with the exception of Thanksgiving) from 1 to 8:45 p.m.

"With the entire week off from school, families may be looking for some entertainment options," said Emily Carstensen, Aquatic Specialist at the Rapid City Swim Center, in a press release from the city. "For many, it's been since Labor Day since they've thought about the pool so the Swim Center is a convenient option for fending off boredom during the extended school break."

Feeding South Dakota does extra to food insecure help during holidays

Thousands of cans and boxes of donated food line the shelves from the floor to the roof in the Feeding South Dakota warehouse in Sioux Falls. With this abundance and the productivity of the nation’s farmers, it’s hard to imagine anyone going hungry during the holiday, especially in a rural state like South Dakota.

However, the statistics tell the story.

Feeding South Dakota CEO Matt Gassen says the hunger problem is real in the state.

“In South Dakota, one in nine individuals is deemed to be food insecure,” he says.

Even more startling is the large percentage that are children.

“As we gather statistics from our pantries, whether they operate in Sioux Falls to Rapid City, 45 percent of the individuals that receive food from our food pantries are children,” he says.

That’s why South Dakotans who are food insecure are so thankful for the services provided by Feeding South Dakota throughout the year, especially during the holidays.

Around Thanksgiving, the organization does special activities for families to ensure they can celebrate the holiday with a traditional meal of turkey and all the trimmings. On Nov. 17, they did a drive-through turkey giveaway at all their locations.

“We’re going to do over 1,000 of those meals here in Sioux Falls, probably 500 or more in Pierre, and about 750 of those meals will be provided out in Rapid City,” Gassen says.

Another 1,100 meals were shared through agencies that partner with the Feeding South Dakota.

Donations to Feeding South Dakota, as might be expected, pick up around the holidays, Gassen says.

“The holiday season is a time when people are most attuned to giving,” he says. “They’re thinking about others that are less fortunate than themselves.”

South Dakota farm groups also step up year-round to provide support to the organization in the form of monetary contributions and donated product. Gassen says that assistance is invaluable.

“I don’t know that I could put into words the value and the importance of the relationship that we have with our ag industry in the state of South Dakota,” he says.

Gassen says the relationship is a special one, because farmers are already feeding the world and they also want to feed hungry individuals in their own state and community.

“The efficiencies that they’re trying to drive, all the things that are happening in that industry are about being able to produce more and more food, so that we can feed more and more people,” he says.

The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation continues to be one of the largest farm group supporters for Feeding South Dakota through its annual Prime Time Gala. The event raised $228,000 last year alone, and Gassen says those dollars allowed Feeding South Dakota to buy well over 150,000 pounds of beef, which is a commodity that is very difficult to attain.

“Protein is one of those products that is so hard for us to get donated. We distribute over 12 million pounds of food a year and less than 7 percent of that is protein,” he says.

Many other commodity organizations provide support to Feeding South Dakota, including the South Dakota Corn Growers Association with their Showdown Series.

With the tough economic times in the agricultural industry, Gassen says the generous donations farmers and farm groups make to Feeding South Dakota are even more admirable.

“The ag industry seems to have more downs than ups, but you look at an industry that never gives up, that never quits,” Gassen says. “They have a love for the land, they have a love for what they do, and they have a real purpose for wanting to feed this country.”