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Volunteering from Chicago

Press Photo by Linda Sailer University of Illinois students, standing, Shivam Thakkar and Sana Hussain and Riti Chokshi arrange the clothing at House of Manna Wednesday.

Ten Chicago students served as volunteers throughout Dickinson during a week-long alternative spring break.

Their visit was coordinated through the Best Friends Mentoring Program and they stayed at the United Methodist Church.

The University of Illinois students came with a common desire to help other people.

"I haven't been to this part of the country and was interested to see what the West was like," student Betsy Page said. "It's been a good time to spread love and share with people we care about."

The students didn't know each other before they signed up for the trip, but have gotten to become friends since they've arrived, she said.

"I've always liked to help people," student Shivam Thakkar said. "It's a nice way to give back."

The visit to western North Dakota was a reality check for Sana Hussain.

The culture is completely different from Chicago, she said.

Riti Chokshi said the university sent students out on multiple trips.

"It's a way to learn about other parts of the nation," she said.

Best Friends Development Director Hilary Hendricks contacted several groups in Dickinson in need of volunteers. They included RSVP+, the House of Manna, West River Community Center and Dickinson High School as math tutors.

"It's been really nice -- they're all from Chicago suburbs," Hendricks said. "It's been fun to see North Dakota with fresh eyes."

Best Friends Executive Director Kris Fehr said the volunteers also assisted at the Best Friends office.

They've been cleaning recycle bins, taking old computers to recycle and cleaning out the basement, she said.

The volunteering wasn't all work, however. Volunteers wrapped and distributed gifts for the Stark County Social Services' angel tree programs.

They served as Santa's elves when a group of Mandaree Headstart children had their pictures taken with Santa at Prairie Hills Mall.

"Hilary has done an excellent job of coming up with a variety of projects," Fehr said.

She described the Chicago students as extremely intelligent, very nice and enthusiastic.

"We were happy to have them," she said.

The volunteering program concluded on Friday.