Despite all the recent snowfall in the Black Hills, it’s still a surprise to see snowflakes indoors. But if you step inside the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center between now and the end of the month, you’ll see thousands of snowflakes suspended from the ceiling. Paper ones, to be precise—21,970 in all. Each snowflake represents a book that was read during the month of October as part of the Black Hills Winter Race to Read event, sponsored by the United Way’s Black Hills Reads program.

Kayla Klein, Black Hills Reads Director, says the winter event—a follow-up to the group’s inaugural summer challenge—grew legs and took on a life of its own. Over the summer, Rapid City students participating in the challenge read 12,000 books. When the Civic Center approached Kayla about doing a winter event, the idea met with overwhelming approval from the Black Hills Reads committee. “Even though it was a super short turnaround, it was too good an opportunity to pass up,” Kayla says. “We were excited that the Civic Center was supporting early learning and literacy efforts.”

This time around, the competition was open to everybody in the Black Hills. Fourteen organizations and schools participated in the month of October, with students tallying close to 22,000 books read—a number so large, it left Black Hills Reads volunteers scrambling to make the snowflakes.

“We thought we would only need 12,000,” Kayla says. Volunteers ended up using a die-cut machine to create individual snowflakes. As an incentive for their efforts, they were given $25 gift cards for every 1,000 snowflakes they made. All their hard work paid off; the Civic Center display is both impressive and festive, and a great visual example of the power of reading.

In order to keep the positive momentum going, Black Hills Reads is partnering with United Way agencies across the state for a Read Across South Dakota challenge. The event launches on January 6, 2020, and will culminate on March 2—Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Anybody in the state can participate; for every 100 books that are read, a virtual bookmobile will drive one mile. Weekly updates will show how far the vehicle has traveled; when it reaches a particular town, citizens are encouraged to hold celebratory events if they desire. The bookmobile starts out in Rapid City and the goal is to see it circle the entire state of South Dakota, which would translate to roughly 104,800 books.

Given how students in the Black Hills rallied for the winter reading challenge, that number shouldn’t be too hard to reach!


WORDS BY MARK PETRUSKA
PHOTOS BY JESSE BROWN NELSON