On Tuesday, Dec. 7, by the light of the magnificent CFL Christmas tree, 407 students collected their gift from Luther’s Black Alumni Association.
Each year, the BAA raises money to gift to students of color during the holiday season. It started with treat bags and has transformed into gifting Decorah Chamber Dollars to all students of color. Chamber Dollars can be used as a form of currency at many Decorah businesses.
Leading this charge are Loretta Dooley Wetzel ’80 and Perran G. Wetzel IV ’79, co-presidents of the BAA. “We do it because we want Luther students to realize that their alumni and friends think about them and are pulling for their success. It’s a way to let them know that they are supported, especially during finals,” Loretta says.
This year, the BAA raised over $11,000 and provided Chamber Dollars to more than 400 students, including Kelao Charmaine Neumbo ’22, who says, “I feel seen, I feel cared for, and it’s from a group of people who I don’t know but at the same time, I feel like I know them. What’s really meaningful is that they continue to give to us—not only with this certificate, but their presence means a lot as a student of color and Black woman.”
During an intimate ceremony, Jessica Rilling, executive director of the Decorah Chamber of Commerce, expressed her gratitude to the group for infusing $8,000 into the local community.
“I am thrilled that the BAA has chosen the Chamber Dollars Program as a way to say thank you to the 407 students who are receiving these gift cards. This is a win-win-win scenario between Luther, Luther students, and Decorah,” Rilling said.
Lynda Szymanski, provost at Luther College, echoed that statement, saying, “It is so powerful what the BAA is doing for our students. You are showing them that there is a group of people who care about them at Luther. You are one reason why our students come here and stay here.”
As for what students planned to do with the money? “Comfort food is on its way,” said biology major Ochain Okey ’22.
“I want to save it for an emergency,” Neumbo said. “I remember when I got the first certificate, I was at a supermarket during winter break when the Dining Center was closed and so we had to take care of ourselves. I had more things than I had money for, but I always kept that certificate in my wallet so when I needed it, it was there. So I’m going to keep it safe for a rainy day.”
Through this campaign, the BAA was also able to donate $3,250 to the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success Book Fund, which exists to assist any student in financial need to purchase the textbooks they need.