Nonprofit to help kids’ talents shine in DI

Photos by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Meredith Christiansen of Jasper, dressed as Mrs. Claus, presented Fifth Street School second-grader Evan Wilson with a candy cane Thursday morning at the Jasper school. Christiansen, who works as coordinator for Greater Jasper Schools’ Destination Imagination teams, said she came up with the idea for the candy cane fundraiser last year as a way to raise money for DI teams. She said last year’s fundraiser made about $1,500 and she hopes to exceed that number this year.


JASPER — Helping hands made quick work inside Meredith Christiansen’s Jasper home Wednesday evening, when more than 600 candy canes were bundled and packaged for delivery at Greater Jasper Schools the following morning. The gathering marked one of many of the corporation’s Destination Imagination program fundraisers — events that are held throughout the school year to help ease the cost of participation in the after-school activity.

DI is a volunteer-led, project-based learning program designed to complement K-12 education. It focuses on teaching STEAM competencies (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) to its participants, who then take their knowledge and compete in challenges at contests on varying levels. Volunteers said the program teaches valuable skills that will help kids throughout their lives that aren’t always highlighted extensively at school.

Fifth Street second-grader Mallory Troutman received a candy cane from Christiansen on Thursday.

The total price tag of a complete season — one that sends a child to the weeklong Global DI contest in Knoxville, Tennessee — can run up to $2,500 for families, a sum that volunteers at Wednesday’s gathering said can prevent students from engaging in the program altogether. Team, tournament, lodging and transportation fees make up the cost of a season.

Christiansen has a plan. She is in the early phases of launching a nonprofit organization that will help fund DI and curtail costs on a much larger scale in the future.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Christiansen, who is the Greater Jasper DI coordinator. “My favorite part is that kids of any ability can let their talents shine.”

Christiansen said she hopes to launch her nonprofit, “Dubois County S.T.E.A.M. B.O.A.T.,” by the end of next summer. The name is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics and the Building Of All Talents. Her vision for the entity is to start locally and gradually expand throughout Southern Indiana before crossing the entire state. The nonprofit will also fund other STEAM activities.

The kids in the Jasper DI program are broken into squads of two to seven participants in the fall and begin the competition circuit in the spring. Performing well at the regional and state tournaments are prerequisites for qualifying for the global finals in May.

Christiansen  waved to students in Janelle Hasenour's first grade class after delivering candy canes to students Thursday at Fifth Street Elementary School in Jasper.

Teams from schools across Dubois County typically compete and excel in DI contests: Just last year, six area teams competed in the global finals contest, which brought in teams from more than 15 countries.

But even if a team qualifies for the finale down south, members are not guaranteed to compete. One year, a member of Angie Sanchez-Hostetter’s son’s team couldn’t attend the global championship simply because their family couldn’t afford it.

“You can try to fundraise, but some parents don’t have time for that,” Sanchez-Hostetter said. She described the finals experience as “life-changing” for the kids. The venue draws in thousands of students from across the world.

The group will sell and package another batch of candy canes before delivering them to schools again next Thursday. Christiansen estimated the volunteers sold about 1,800 candy canes last year and wants to beat that number this year. This time around, an anonymous donor gifted the group more than 1,700 candy canes. Every elementary student in the corporation will receive one of the donated candy canes free of charge and the rest will be sold.

Kids who are in the DI program helped the moms and dads tag and separate the candy canes into bags for delivery. They said they like the program because it lets them work with their hands and their brains. Tenth Street Elementary fifth-grader Stella Kisman gave DI a shot for the first time last year when she moved to Dubois County from West Virginia. She said she had a fun time with the program, and recruited some of her friends this year.

“I said, ‘It’s really fun, I think you should try it,’” Kisman said. “I think that a lot of other people should think about doing DI.”

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