The Montana State University Billings Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in coordination with other MSU Billings student organizations, have surpassed expectations in their commitment to community service and involvement in 2019-20. SAAC president and MSU Billings track and field senior Kyle McLaughlin spearheaded new initiatives and succeeded in involving more coaches and student athletes. Currently, MSU Billings is first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and 14th in Division II for community service hours.
An online platform for tracking and recording community service called Helper Helper has assisted student-athlete involvement by displaying available community projects in the Billings area, and tracks team and individual progress toward preset goals. Since last September, 291 student athletes completed 1,700 total community service hours, and generated an estimated economic impact of $43,102 in Montana. The Service Saturday initiative has been particularly successful in involving a large group of student-athletes and staff volunteering for a single project one day a week.
“Ultimately, we want to beat our goal of 1,800 hours achieved last year and since February. We are only 100 hours away which is amazing,” McLaughlin said. “The culture of our student-athletes is becoming more service-oriented. We have so many different opportunities to give back and our teams and coaches have really embraced it.”
With over 700 hours of community service alone, the Yellowjacket softball team has been instrumental in this year’s success. They participate in community service projects on a weekly basis, hosts weekend kids’ camps, volunteer at the after-school program at Lewis and Clark Elementary School, and attend Service Saturdays on a nearly weekly basis, among many other service projects.
“Almost the entire softball team shows up to every event,” McLaughlin said. “The coaching staff does a great job of encouraging their team to participate and it has been an eye opener for the community that MSUB’s softball team is a tight-knit group that loves to give back.”
"One of our team’s favorite things to do is work with the community, especially when they get to give back to the youth or spend some time with the older population of Billings,” said MSUB softball head coach Lisa McKinney. “Each activity we do impacts us as much as it impacts the people we are helping. It is great to be able to help the community that helps us so much. "
In addition to encouraging community service participation, SAAC is currently running a drive to collect travel amenities such as soaps, toothbrushes, and other hygiene products for donation, and expects to wrap up the drive at the end of this spring semester. They are donating these items in partnership with Family Care Services to community members lacking access or funds to afford them on their own. Over 200 items have been donated so far and more is expected to come in before the end of the semester.
“We wanted to try something new and it’s going really well. I believe it will be a highlight for SAAC this year to take part in this project. Without the support of our coaches, it would never have gained traction,” added McLaughlin.
“We’re very proud of our student-athletes for making community service a priority. Their dedication to their specific sport and studies have definitely carried over to serving our community,” said Krista Montague, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. “Our coaches and SAAC have been instrumental in these service projects and look forward to seeing what else they do this year.”
MSU Billings athletics was named a finalist for the 2020 Division II Award of Excellence in January, which recognizes initiatives in the past year that exemplify the Division II philosophy of community engagement and student-athlete leadership. The Yellowjackets submitted a bid for the award after hosting Pack the House Elementary Day at Alterowitz Gymnasium on November 18. The winner of the contest will receive $3,000.
This year's finalists include 22 schools and conferences, including MSU Billings, UC San Diego, Georgian Court, Virginia State, Lees-McRae, New York Tech, Oklahoma Baptist, Wayne State, Southern Indiana, Walsh, Texas A&M International, Missouri Western, West Virginia Wesleyan, American International, Minnesota Duluth, Holy Names, Lander, Mercyhurst, Eckerd, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, and South Atlantic Conference.