Mention pinewood derbies to Northwestern student Nathan Broek and he’ll recall fond memories of making derby cars with his father and grandfather. He can give a detailed description of the racing machines they’ve created together. He describes the one with a green pinstripe and No. 48 on the side and the mostly red imitation of Jeff Gordon’s racecar. For Broek, one of his greatest pinewood derby achievements was finishing fourth his first year competing in the Calvinist Cadet Corps. car races. Like many, he put in hours of work for one race. Friday will offer him and others a second chance at speed, however.
Kindlewood Derby will make its debut at 7 p.m. this evening at the Sioux Center All Seasons Center. The event will give people of all ages the opportunity to dust off old pinewood derby cars and let them ride again.
The vision for the derby came from Sioux Center resident Vern Eekhoff. As a maintenance custodian at Dordt College, Eekhoff works with many students. Eekhoff said he often gets into discussions with students about the derby cars they’ve raced.
“There’s a gazillion cars out there that have raced once and never raced again,” Eekhoff said. “I thought it’d be fun to have the college guys put their money where their mouth is. Everyone says they have the fastest car, and I want to see which one is really the fastest.”
Eekhoff shared his thoughts about a pinewood derby with Dordt student Jordan Shaffer when the two were on a service trip in Tanzania over Christmas break this year.
While in Tanzania, Eekhoff and Shaffer spent time with an organization commonly known as STEMM (Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries).
“As Vern was talking about his idea for a pinewood derby, I thought it would be a great way to support STEMM,” Shaffer said. “We figured doing a fundraiser for STEMM while capitalizing on the derby would work out well. A lot of people Vern had talked to said that if the idea for a derby was in motion, they’d sign up.”
Since visiting Tanzania, both Eekhoff and Shaffer share the same excitement for STEMM and are committed to helping raise awareness about this nonprofit organization.
Tanzania is an East African country located more than 8,500 miles from Siouxland. At first glance, it might not seem like these places have much in common, but what connects them to each other is a group of people devoted to their faith and fellow human beings.
According to its website, STEMM was founded in 1996 and was “created to develop a relational bridge between Siouxland and Tanzania by addressing the priorities of spiritual growth, medical care and educational opportunities.”
The organization runs an orphanage, which is part of a farm that grows corn and green beans. It has also developed an orchard with avocado, mango and banana trees. The hope is to become a self-sustaining farm in the near future.
Additionally, STEMM has a strong educational focus and currently supports 300 Tanzanian students, many of whom are pursuing careers in the medical field. With a goal of supporting 1,000 students by 2016, STEMM stays close to its roots as a medical outreach ministry.
“It goes back to the start,” STEMM Executive Director Dave Heilman said. “STEMM was founded by Dr. Steve Meyer after he and his wife, Dana, went on a trip to Tanzania with their church. They fell in love with the country and saw the great need for medical care. Steve is an orthopedic doctor. He came back from Tanzania and laid the possibility out to Siouxland. A bunch of people responded, so they decided to start the nonprofit.”
During his time in Tanzania, Shaffer witnessed this great need for better medical care.
“A huge thing for me was seeing the medical issues in Tanzania,” Shaffer said. “Even in government hospitals, they’re lacking the education and proper equipment for the most standard procedures. Over half the patients in these hospitals are doomed to be crippled for life because they don’t have the technology or equipment to fix a broken leg. Patients will just sit in the hospital until their leg heals and then will have to live the rest of their life with crutches.”
Northwestern student Mindy Fjeld also had the opportunity to experience the medical field in Tanzania in 2012. As a nursing student, Fjeld traveled to Tanzania with nine other NW students. While there, the team visited homes to check on patients with chronic needs such as AIDS, asthma and malaria; spent time in the antepartum, labor and delivery departments; taught dental hygiene to children; and went to a burn unit in a hospital in Rombo.
“Spending time in the burn unit was probably one of the hardest days,” Fjeld said. “The thing that was interesting was that personal care for patients has to be provided by the family, including meals and bathing. The two patients that were in the unit while we were there were a 12-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy who had burns. The girl hardly had anyone coming to take care of her, so we helped with that.”
Not only do these victims suffer neglect when coping with their bums, but neglect or, more likely, ignorance of simple preventative education is what forced them into their situations to begin with.
STEMM seeks to remedy this by caring for and educating Tanzanians through medical and educational ministries. In turn, Eekhoff and Shaffer are trying to educate Siouxland and raise awareness for this organization through Kindlewood Derby.
“We want to give people the opportunity to blow the dust off their cars and bring out their competitive side, and we want to have a good time for a good cause,” Eekhoff said. “We want people to know that STEMM is all about investing in people. They’re not just a group that went to Africa and waved goodbye. Transformative is the word to describe them.”
Weigh-in for cars at Kindlewood Derby will start this evening at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 28, at the Sioux Center All Seasons Center. Races will begin at 7 p.m. Three classes of competition open to any age: five ounce, six ounce and Corporate Cup, which is open to cars supported by local businesses. Registration for the corporate class starts at a donation of $25, and entries in the other two classes are $10.
Walk-ins are welcome the night of the derby, but racing a car is not required to attend. Pizza and drinks will be available throughout the evening. Additionally, Steve Meyer is scheduled to speak about STEMM, and a silent auction will be take place to raise funds for the organization.
To learn more about Kindlewood Derby, visit sites.google.com/site/kindlewoodderby/home or search “Kindlewood Derby Fundraiser Event” on Facebook.