Each year Santa Claus and Yankton Morning Optimist Club elves invite local youth and their families to experience Santa's Workshop. Located in Yankton's Dakota Territorial Capitol Replica within Riverside Park, this free family-focused event is a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season. Families can take photos with Santa, ride the Optimist Express train, construct crafts, indulge in holiday refreshments, admire the lights and decorations, and drop off their wish list into Santa's mailbox!
Maggie Kaltsulas, local volunteer, and member of the Yankton Morning Optimist Club is the Chairperson, or lead elf, sharing many hours, along with her team of Optimists, organizing, decorating, and volunteering as holiday hosts to the many families who participate in the magic of Santa’s Workshop.
Because of her leadership and commitment to making the holiday season so special to so many, United Way & Volunteer Services of Greater Yankton was honored to present Maggie Kaltsulas with the December 2023 Volunteer of the Month Award.
We asked Maggie to share more about her volunteerism, in her own words:
I began volunteering as a young girl without even realizing I was doing it! My dad, Dave Spencer, has been a member of the Yankton Morning Optimist Club since we moved to town in 1994, and it was very common for my brothers and I to help with Optimist Club events during our youth. My dad would say “I’m going to work the concession stand at Riverside Park, do you want to come help?” and of course we did! It was fun, and like I said, we didn’t even realize what we were doing was volunteering. It was just something our family did. We were also very active in our church, so again, it was a normal thing to help with a soup kitchen or watch young children in the church’s nursey. I was also a Girl Scout; I started as a Daisy when I was in kindergarten. We did a lot of volunteer work with scouts. In high school, I earned my Gold Award (which is equivalent to the ranking of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts), and in college, I volunteered with my sorority, too. Volunteering is just something I grew up with.
Besides the Optimist Club, I’m also an active member of Shur-Co’s Employee Caring Committee (ECC) where we do internal fundraisers for our employees in their time of need. We organize raffle baskets, food fundraisers, and many, many popcorn sales! We (the ECC) also help in our community. We’ve helped with Sack Pack, held pet supply drives for the Heartland Humane Society, and other United Way of Greater Yankton programs, like Stuff the Bus and Yankton Toys for Kids. With now having a child in kindergarten, I’m starting to get involved with my children’s school activities. In the past, I’ve also been an alumni volunteer for my sorority and with Yankton Food for Thought.
Volunteer work is enjoyable because it warms my heart. It’s cliché to say, but it’s as simple as that. And it’s the truth. Seeing the kids and their families walk into Santa’s Workshop, you can’t beat that. The smiles are contagious and truly magical. Volunteering is also fun! I really enjoy getting to know the Optimist Club members during our volunteer events, too. Example, Sandy Hoffner is one of our members who I work very closely with during Santa’s Workshop, and she was also one of my former teachers at YHS! So, it’s been fun getting to know her on a personal level.
My best volunteer experience… it’s hard to top Santa’s Workshop. There are so many moments that are special, but the ones that stick out the most are when you have the kids coming to meet Santa for the first time. Their faces light up when they see him. They run to Santa, give him a big hug, and start listing off their Christmas wishes. If you haven’t been to Santa’s Workshop, you must go next year. Children of all ages are welcome! This last year, we had a group of high school students visit the workshop before they went to the YHS Winter Formal. We’ve also had grandparents stop down to “just see the decorations even though their grandchildren are in a different town.” It’s truly magical and a special event in our community. Plus, the Christmas lights in the park and the Optimist Express. We offer train rides through the park and when you’re on it at night, with the music playing and the lights twinkling, you can’t help but start to search the skies for Santa’s sleigh. It’s the best. Besides Santa’s Workshop, I also enjoy working the Optimist Club’s exhibition baseball game when the Sioux City Explorers take on the Sioux Falls Canaries. We’ve done this event for several years. This is always the kick-off to summer, and it’s fun to see the community come together. But probably the events that have meant the most to me is working at the concession stand with my family. Like I said above, I started working at the baseball concession stand as a kid. And I did it every summer until I left for college. It was always a family thing. And now that I’m a parent, I’ve had my son come with me to work a game here and there, and he loves it. He will say “I’ll get that mommy,” when a customer orders a soda. He loves finding the correct soda bottle in the cooler and handing it to the customer. It’s important for kids to understand what it means to give back, even from a young age. My parents were and continue to be volunteers, and I plan to do the same.
My advice to others who are thinking of volunteering… do it. You’ll feel so much better afterward, I promise! I know it can be intimidating to join a service group, so if you’re interested in learning more about the Yankton Morning Optimist Club, let me know! I’ll bring you along to one of our meetings, and I’ll treat you to lunch. If a service group isn’t up your alley, look for opportunities at your church, school, workplace or another non-profit in your community. If you have an interest or passion for a specific cause or group of people, try looking for something related. If you love animals, maybe a volunteer dog walker at the humane society would be a good fit! Or if you love kids, maybe there’s a way to be a classroom helper at a local elementary school. There are so many ways to volunteer and give back to our communities, and I promise, it will warm your heart.