Audit Manager Elijah Houchens’ experience with the Elevate Leadership Institute

Over the course of Elevate Leadership Institute (ELI), our class was blessed to engage in a handful of eye-opening service projects. Each of these projects presented our class with a great opportunity to learn about local resources that are available for some of the most vulnerable populations in our community.

Project #1

Our first service project was with Feeding SD and involved packaging grapefruits for storage and eventual drop off to families in need. Walking into the massive Feeding SD warehouse, I immediately recognized the collaboration of time and resources it would take to keep a facility of that size operational. Prior to our tour and service project, Thomas Worsley (Vice Chair of Feeding SD, Board of Directors) provided a substantive background on the Organization and held an informative Q&A. The most memorable fact I learned was that contributing dollars goes significantly further than contributing canned goods. Donated foods have increased overhead costs due to quality control requirements that could be reduced if Feeding SD sourced the food directly. Additionally, Feeding SD has strong relationships with several food suppliers and can purchase these same foods at a discounted price. This information is incredibly useful and is worth passing along to families and friends who want to support Feeding SD and be as effective as possible.

Project #2

The next service project was through a collaborative effort with Life, Inc., and South Canyon Baptist Church. It was incredible to see Life Inc. partnering with a local church to meet the needs of our community. Parents and families gathered together to receive a free meal (served by ELI) with free childcare, while the parents took part in a variety of adult education classes. We learned that these classes could provide the participants with an opportunity to apply for a Habitat for Humanity House (via obtaining a financial budgeting certificate). Classes also provide opportunities for participants to earn furniture for their current home (Love, Inc.), boost their confidence, and gain invaluable life skills. Being able to observe a local church and Life, Inc. in action was inspirational and encouraged me to try and get more involved in my community.

Project #3

Our final service project was making tie blankets for the Black Hills Children’s Home (BHCH). Prior to making the blankets, we toured the Rapid City location, guided by a child advocacy expert (forensic interviewer). She showed us the rooms where traumatized children tell their story. In the interview room, I couldn’t help but picture a small child who should be playing with toys, talking about unimaginable abuse. My heart breaks for these vulnerable and innocent children who experience unthinkable abuse at such a young age. The majority of the tour felt heavy, and rightly so, but toward the end we were re-directed from the reality of the children’s circumstances to the hope of the BHCH’s mission. We were left with the reminder that the BHCH tries to meet children where they are and advocate for them. They try to fill in the gaps of the basic needs of children and provide justice for their abuse. It was a humbling and eye-opening experience and will have a lasting impact on me.

Overall, the ELI service projects demonstrated the need for collaboration and servant leadership within our community. Reaffirming my belief that strong leaders are the leaders who are willing to sacrifice something for the benefit of their neighbors. Each of the aforementioned organizations require numerous volunteer hours, significant monetary contributions, and/or some other type of sacrifice. I was humbled to see the hard work and dedication it takes to take care of people in need.

Moving forward, I will use the knowledge and experience I gained from the ELI projects and get more involved in the community. I am on the Board of my church, and I plan to get connected with Love, Inc. and see if we can partner with them in a more substantial way. I will also make it a point to communicate the insights I have learned and spread awareness about the needs of our community. I am truly thankful for this experience and what I learned about serving our community and being a servant leader.

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