On Thursday June 27, The BankWest office on Pierre Street hosted a heart-health research fundraiser in its parking lot, in partnership with the American Heart Association (AHA) of South Dakota. The event ran from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and consisted of bank employees allowing themselves to be dropped into a dunk tank by anyone with the arm and aim to trip the tank’s trigger with softballs. Not the most elaborate of fundraisers, but effective.

Each softball throw cost a few dollars and, combined with pledges that had been collected earlier in the week, the fundraiser ended up raising more than $4,000 by the time it finished up. As an added bonus, the BankWest CEO, Charles H. Burke III, promised to match the raised amount — bringing the total amount for the AHA to a little over $8,000.

The event was planned and organized by a BankWest employee Clarissia Drefs. Drefs said that the idea came to her “about a month ago,” and that she had worked with her coworkers to make the event a reality since then.

“[The event planning] has taken it a lot longer than I expected it to, but it all turned out really well,” she said. “It exceeded my expectations which are usually pretty high, so that’s awesome.”

A representative from the AHA who was present for the fundraiser, Robin Albers, said this was only one of several different fundraising efforts the local AHA was undertaking with BankWest. Others included a 5k “Heart Walk” to take place on Saturday, September 21 in Pierre’s Hyde Stadium.

“We partnered with BankWest for the Heart Walk here in Pierre; they’re our lead local sponsor… the funds raised at the Heart Walk will support local and national research… for heart and brain health,” Albers said.

The Heart Walk will also feature a quilt raffle — no central South Dakota fundraising effort is complete without a quilt raffle. Tickets for the raffle will be available until September 21. Contact Albers at (605) 484-1853 or robin.albers@heart.org for more information.

“It’s an event in itself which is already in the planning,” Drefs said of the Heart Walk.

There was one aspect of the “Dunkin’” fundraiser — otherwise successful — that several people the Capital Journal spoke to gently criticized: The food offered to attendees consisted of grilled brats, potato chips, cookies and lots of sugary soft drinks — all foods the AHA has declared heart-unhealthy.

Drefs said the food selection wasn’t much up to her or her coworkers.

“That part, it kind of collaborated with a BankWest community customer appreciation thing,” she said. “That’s why that was that.”

But while the high-fat, high-sugar menu may have garnered some raised eyebrows from some, at least one important fundraiser attendee, Elizabeth Zavesky, considered it just part of the price of success. Another founder of the event, Zavesky owned the dunk tank into which BankWest employees were plunged for several hours.

“It’s a good event, they raised a lot of money, it’s for a good cause,” she said. “I get it though. That’s something that a lot of people like to eat. If you serve something else, most people won’t come.”

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