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Billings elementary students surprise infusion patients with Valentine's Day gifts

Posted at 10:25 PM, Feb 13, 2024

BILLINGS — Twenty-two second-graders from Arrowhead Elementary School came together to create and distribute Valentine's Day cards and gift bags to infusion patients at Billings Clinic on Tuesday.

“A lot of our patients here have chronic illness or cancer … something we hear frequently, from our patients, is how isolating that can be," said Kelly Bonilla, the infusion center manager at Billings Clinic. "Valentine’s Day can also be very isolating for some people."

While it might be assumed that this was an assignment given by an adult, their teacher, Marci Schieno, said the students acted with incredible independence. Many students made the suggestion to put together gifts for cancer patients when the teacher suggested they brainstorm a way of helping people during Billings' recent cold snap.

“I see children who are kind and wise. You know, I would say 'beyond their years,' but that’s what a child is, extremely kind and much wiser and more generous than we tend to give them credit for," said Schieno.

Lyla Plagmann, one of the students, went door-knocking for donations, without being prompted by an adult, so that her class could provide the pediatric infusion center patients with their own goodie bags full of toys and candy.

"I want to make people happy … It feels really good to make people feel happy," said Plagmann.

The cards ranged from short uplifting messages like, “You were brought to this world because you matter," to longer and full-page letters, which Schienno said included jokes at the students' behest.

Patients said they are not the only ones receiving; the kids will walk away with whole new perspectives on matters that even adults are unsure of how to navigate.

“It’s awesome that they’re getting to learn, very young, that just because somebody, maybe, might be ill, or we’re hooked up to hoses – doesn’t mean we’re scary," said Becky Hample, who receives chemotherapy infusions every three weeks and said she will for the rest of her life.