Published February 12, 2022

Dakota Elementary Students Encouraging Dorm Airmen

Written by
Abigail Kinder
| The Dakotan
To offer support to single airmen in the wake of recent suicides that shook the Minot Air Force Base community, 2nd grade teacher Melvina Murray developed K.I.D. (Kindness in Dorms). [Photo: Abigail Kinder]
To offer support to single airmen in the wake of recent suicides that shook the Minot Air Force Base community, 2nd grade teacher Melvina Murray developed K.I.D. (Kindness in Dorms). [Photo: Abigail Kinder]

MINOT AFB — In everyday conversations at Minot Air Force Base, one often hears about how tough an assignment it is. From subzero temperatures to the feelings of isolation that come with living in a “small” town on the plains of North Dakota, Minot challenges those who come here, especially the single airmen far from home. After the tragic suicides that shook Minot AFB in December and January, the community is left wondering, “What can we do to help those who really need it?”

For Melvina Murray, 2nd grade teacher at Dakota Elementary School, that question weighed heavily on her heart. Murray served in the United States Army for nine years and is now an Air Force spouse, and suicide is something she knows personally. “I have seen the stress and loneliness that comes with this military life. In my personal life, I have seen the hurt and guilt that surrounds families when losing a loved one to suicide. My sister committed suicide when I was 16, and she was 17,” she said.

With the loss of her sister and an Army Battle Buddy, Murray could not stand by and do nothing after the recent suicides. So she developed Kindness in Dorms, or K.I.D., as a way to bring connection and happiness to the dorm airmen. “It is a life of ‘what ifs’ after, and I just wanted to do what I could for the airmen now to improve their mental health and possibly prevent any other families and friends any heartache.”

"Sometimes it gets hard and it gets lonely and sad, and we wanted to do something to help them feel better.”Melvina Murray, 2nd grade teacher at Dakota Elementary School

K.I.D. began late one night with the idea to have students at Dakota Elementary write letters to airmen living in the dorms. Murray compiled all of the information she needed, and when she approached dorm management, they were fully on board. She and fellow teachers Caitlyn Knight-Daiss and Brittany Hanenberg sparked the conversation in their classrooms by asking students about their family and friends. “We explained that our airmen who live in the dorms work hard all day and when they come home, some don’t have time to see friends and a lot of their families live far away. Sometimes it gets hard and it gets lonely and sad, and we wanted to do something to help them feel better,” said Murray.

Murray, Knight-Daiss, and Hanenberg suggested students write letters to the airmen. “They really loved the idea; they put their time and effort into writing the letters and drawing the pictures and making [the airmen] feel appreciated,” Murray continued. The 2nd grade students began writing letters talking about their favorite movies and things to do, drawing pictures, and sending goodie bags to the dorms. The goodie bags contain treats such as candy or popcorn, provided by donations organized by 1st Lt. Avaris Murray and the 741st Missile Squadron.

K.I.D. brings hand written letters and goodie bags from students at Dakota Elementary to airmen living in the dorms who are often far from home and may be struggling with their mental health. [Photo: Abigail Kinder]

Each bag also contains a QR code to a survey, and Murray said the results so far have been overwhelmingly positive. “I was having a bad day then I received this present and it made my day so much better,” said one airman. Another commented, “Made me very happy, it’s really the small things that matter the most.”

So far, K.I.D. has reached five dorms and 181 airmen, one of whom took the time to come visit the students behind this amazing program. Airman First Class Bryce Sloan walked from the dorms to Dakota Elementary to speak to the children and let them know his appreciation for their efforts. “I really appreciate getting a letter. I had a hard day at work, and I try to stay positive but some days are harder than others. Coming home to that letter really set me up to be happy the next few days,” he said.

Airman First Class Bryce Sloan, shown above, was so moved by the encouraging letter he received that he came to the school to personally thank the students for their encouragement. [Photo: Abigail Kinder]

And the students were ecstatic to have a visitor from the dorms. “That’s all they would talk about,” Murray explained. “He was so kind and patient. He let them ask a million questions! Nothing was about work; it was just a time for him to get a personal connection with the kids. He’s genuinely an awesome kid who went above and beyond to exemplify the Air Force values that whole day. When we left to line up for the bus that day, [my students] kept saying ‘Ms. Murray, Sloan is just like us. He’s just like us!’”

K.I.D. allows students and airmen to bond over common interests, such as their favorite games or movies. One airman even sent a Pokémon card for the student with his return letter, and others are encouraged to write back and share what makes them happy as well.   

2nd grader Paige R. said, “It is worth it because it makes the airmen so so happy.” And Payton said, “Good! I’m happy he felt so happy when he got the letter!”

Murray said she hopes that K.I.D. can bring light into the lives of those airmen who are alone and far from home here in Minot, and hopefully that little bit can help those who are struggling to find the strength to keep going another day. “Those tragedies, they never go away. It’s just me, it’s just one person, but a change needs to happen. Even if it’s something small like a note on their door, I can’t go by and think that I didn’t do anything. This is a program that I don’t want to die down even after I leave, because it’s working. Through the surveys, through the kids’ faces, through the airmen that are reaching out and going above and beyond…” said Murray.

Not only is K.I.D. bringing joy to the airmen, but it is also teaching the children the value of those little efforts that make a huge impact in the lives of others. They may not realize how much their letters mean, but to those who need it most, K.I.D. is making a world of difference.

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