BILLINGS — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte stopped at Elysian School in Billings on Wednesday to present a group of middle school students with the Spirit of Montana Award for their kindness and compassion shown to local health care workers back at Christmas time.
"They've just worked so hard and they deserve something, even just cards, they deserve something for all of their hard work," said Maizee Hardy, an Elysian student in seventh grade.
A total of 22 students are a part of the Elysian School Lighthouse Committee - which works to spread positivity at school and the wider community. The class split in half to work on two service projects. In the weeks leading up to Christmas amid the omicron variant surge of the COVID-19 virus, students knew exactly what they needed to do.
"We started brainstorming and then we came up with the idea to do a nurses appreciation, because there was a lot of nurses struggling and not being able to see their family. So we just wanted to give them a little basket, showing them that we cared," said Lily McCoy, an Elysian student in seventh grade.
The students led a school community drive to raise donations for 50 gift bags to hand out at Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare during the holiday season. The bags were packed with gum, coffee, chocolates and cards with positive messages.
"We got a nice card from one of the nurses and she just said it made her day and just thank you so much for thinking of them," said Bethany Joy, Elysian teacher and Lighthouse supervisor.
And someone else took note of the students' kindness too: Gov. Gianforte. It was a surprise when the whole school was called down for an assembly as the governor presented the students with the Spirit of Montana award for their community service.
"You recognized their extraordinary effort and you stepped up to make a difference, embodying what it means to be a good neighbor and serve others," Gianforte told the students.
"It was pretty shocking, because none of us really knew what it was for, so it was kind of like a surprise when he walked through the door," McCoy said.
The Elysian students in the Lighthouse leadership class still have one more service project to do before the year is out. They haven't quite decided yet what they'll work on next, but they are in the brainstorming process.