ELGIN — Each holiday season for the last four years, a little bit of magic floods Elgin in the form of the middle school’s Winter Wishes campaign.

This year’s program kicked off with something extra special.

“We realized our eighth graders have been with us each year of the campaign,” said Winter Wishes coordinator Melissa Evon, “and we wanted to see how maybe it’s changed them.”

They decided to give each eighth-grade student $10 and challenge them to do something kind with the cash.

Debbie McDonald, managing broker/owner of Elgin Realty, donated 200 crisp $10 bills to Elgin Middle School for the project, setting the perfect example for students right out of the gate.

“She’s an out-of-the-box thinker,” Evon said of McDonald. “And she has a heart for the community and people like no other.”

Eighth-grade reading teacher Anita West prepared her students by giving them journaling and brainstorming prompts for the project. She also said the school brought in local nonprofit and charity leaders who shared their stories of investing time, money and energy in the community.

“One of our themes this year is ‘Extraordinary,’” West said. “Well, being handed $10 and told to do something kind with it is kind of ordinary, so we really tried to get them to think about how could they do something extraordinary with it.”

“We didn’t give them a lot of rules,” Evon added, “but we did encourage them to really think outside the box.”

And think they did.

Levi Billings thought so far outside the box, he got up on the roof — so to speak. He learned of a woman, his best friend’s grandmother, in a nearby neighborhood whose roof was leaking incessantly, and decided to do something about it.

He approached TH Rogers Lumber Company with his $10, and they offered to donate materials to patch the leaks in the roof. Then, Billings recruited his dad, stepdad, uncles and cousin — who all work in construction — to donate their time. The group plans to fix the roof the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend.

“My original plan was just to buy some cookies for people,” Billings said of spending his $10, “but then as we got more deep into it, I realized I wanted to do something bigger.”

Billings described himself as someone who always wants to go “above and beyond” and said it’s most evident in his football career as a linebacker.

“I’m just that type of person,” he said. “I’m practicing all summer and I really push myself.”

As a sixth grader at Elgin Middle School, Billings’ Winter Wish was to meet the University of Oklahoma football team, including former OU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. He credits that experience with motivating him to pursue his dream of one day playing in the NFL.

Other students pooled their project cash to give them more seed money. Kamryn Quintanilla, Libi Bennett, Mikala Scholl and Bruce Archambault used their combined $40 to buy baking supplies.

Last Friday night, they whipped up dozens of muffins, cookies, cakes and brownies to pass out for four hours on Saturday and Sunday in front of Sam’s Club in Lawton, with the store’s permission. They asked for donations — and raised $700.

“People are very generous,” Quintanilla said. “There were a bunch of people who just gave us $20 and didn’t even take anything.”

The students took the cash shopping, buying socks, stuffed animals, baby supplies, blankets and more to fill Christmas baskets. On Wednesday after school, they delivered them to The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, where they will go to young hospital patients this holiday season.

“I’m just proud of everything we’ve done ... and how much we raised for this one cause,” Quintanilla said, “and it all started with each of us just getting $10.”

“We had a lot of fun,” said Bennett, adding that she’s grateful she got to collaborate with her three classmates on the project. “I could not have raised $700 by myself.”

The students must wrap up their $10 project by Friday, then spend next week working on a presentation detailing their projects. They will share their presentations with teachers and peers on Nov. 21 and 22.

“It’s been really neat to see what they’ve been coming up with,” Evon said. “Some of them have really gotten creative with it.”

Winter Wishes started when Elgin teachers realized they had $4,000 extra in the student council account at the end of the year, and they decided to something special with the funds.

“We had no idea what it was going to look like,” Evon said, “but that first year was just incredible, it blew our minds.”

Community support has grown tremendously, and Evon said each year the campaign has raised between $16 and $20,000. They spend it making middle schoolers’ wishes come true — everything from trips to the zoo to meeting sports teams and flying in airplanes.

“I also buy a lot of shoes and Sonic drinks,” Evon said, laughing. “We just have no idea what it will look like until we get their wishes.”

This year’s Winter Wishes Wish Week is Dec. 16 through 20. The program will wrap up with an all-school assembly the afternoon of the last day.

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