SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – We wanted to start 2023 off by putting a smile on your face, so we are taking a look back at some of last year’s positively KELOLAND stories.

One storm event many people in KELOLAND won’t forget is a tornado that tore through Castlewood in May.

While it caused damage to the town, surrounding communities stepped up to help.

That takes us to De Smet, where the little league teams wanted to help out.

“I called the coaches one-by-one and I told them my idea and right away the coaches jumped on with the idea. I told them, ‘It’s all or none; everybody has to be on the bus for this.’ Then the boys and coaches rolled their sleeves up and they made it happen. I’m just so proud of them,” De Smet coach Wes Clubb said.

Four teams from De Smet started to raise money. In total, they raised more than $2,400.

“They went out there and went door-to-door and told their story and what they’re doing it for. People just poured their hearts out,” Clubb said.

That money was then given to Castlewood when they played each other during a game at the end of May.

“I saw a couple tears come from some parents on the other team and it was so cool to bless some people’s hearts,” De Smet 12-U player Grayson Millman said.

The next story we want to share with you shows that having a victory doesn’t always mean first place.

We caught up with participants of the Sioux Falls marathon in August.

The annual event is a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network, which is an organization that hits close to home for Don Welker and his family.

“Children’s Miracle Network gave to my family and it’s just one way for me to recognize the contributions that they made to us here locally and us personally as a family,” Harrisburg resident Don Welker said.

Don Welker participates in the Sioux Falls Marathon as a way to say thank you. His son Max was born early and spent 127 days in the NICU.

Max and his dad geared up for the 5K portion of the event together.

“We egg each other on so it’s a fun competition,” Don Welker said. “Give each other a hard time,” Max Welker said. “So I always let him win by a step or two but maybe not this year, we’ll see,” Don Welker added.

And that chance to compete together is a victory for this family.

In September we shared the story of how a local high schooler made it his goal to spruce up the veterans park in Hartford.

It was all part of Gavin Gerlach’s eagle scout project.

“Our scout troop was helping a member of the legion, he was putting out flowers along the landscaping during Memorial Day weekend, and he asked if the troop would help, and we helped,” 17 years old, life scout, Gavin Gerlach said. “I think that veterans don’t get enough recognition in this country for what they’ve served so I wanted to make my project here.”

The community even stepped up to help fund the project, which included a picnic shelter, ADA-accessible sidewalk, and some updated landscaping.

“Central States offered to provide tin for the rood, which is a big plus, and then First Interstate gave us a decent amount of money as well,” Gerlach said.

Making it a space for everyone in the town to enjoy, all while honoring local veterans.

In the fall, farmers are hard a work harvesting their crops.

That’s why one KELOLAND FFA chapter wanted to make sure that time and effort didn’t go unnoticed.

Students in the McCook Central FFA planned a harvest meal for area farmers.

“Part of our FFA motto is living to serve, and I think by doing this meal we are fulfilling that and serving the community and the farmers that give us so much, without the farmers we wouldn’t have anything to eat so we’re letting them eat,” chapter vice president, Mason Pulse said.

Students even went as far as delivering meals to the field if necessary.

“A meal may not seem like a lot but when you are out on the farm working all day, then you don’t have to take a break and restart up your operation, then you can keep going on fluidly,” Pulse said.

Our final story we are looking back on is about a group of volunteers that goes out and finds lost dogs and returns them to their owners.

The group is called Retrievers, an animal rescue group out of Minnesota.

“You have to outsmart the dog and some of them are very very smart,” Beth Capistran said.

When they get a report of a lost dog, there’s a lot of work that goes into finding it.

And they’ll keep working, no matter how long it takes.

“We’ve got days where we are out watching the dog for hours sitting there monitoring we had a case where we worked it for 90 days straight,” volunteer Nola Trei said.

Making it a mission to reunite lost pets with their owners.

“It’s hard to put it into words, especially these cases where we’ve done it for several days,” Trei said. “But once that trap door shuts it’s the best feeling ever because we know they are safe.”

Shining a light on some of the stories bringing positivity to KELOLAND.