A Special Retreat for Wellness

Youth leadership retreat, Unalakleet

The Western Alaska communities that your support enables KNOM to serve face a unique set of challenges — many of them severe. Among the most heartbreakingly persistent of our region’s woes are the related issues of isolation, poor mental health, and suicide, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

Many of the organizations and schools in rural Alaska are taking steps to combat the staggeringly high rates of depression and suicide in our corner of the world, and through your support, we’re doing all we can to help.

One recent example this autumn has been our reporting on a unique, powerful leadership retreat that took place in Unalakleet (YOU-nuh-luh-cleet), Alaska, a community located on the coast of the eastern Norton Sound (which some readers may recognize as one of the checkpoints of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race). Organized by regional school districts, the event gathered local youth to learn from a series of impactful speakers and teachers, who emphasized mutual communication, self-esteem, and concrete steps for suicide prevention.

As our on-site reporter, volunteer Laura Kraegel, describes, the students tackled these difficult subjects with aplomb:

At a recent youth retreat in Unalakleet, I sat in on student workshops covering suicide prevention, gender dynamics, racial representation, and school culture. All weighty, complex topics that give most adults a tough time. All topics that I find tricky to cover in my reporting.

But throughout the weekend, no matter the subject, I saw youth leaders dive into discussions with great intelligence and care.

They asked thoughtful questions. They shared personal stories. And they always seemed to have fun doing it — making new friends from different schools, and then supporting their peers through every icebreaker and share circle.

It was a wonderful reminder that while there are challenges in our communities, we’re working through them — with each generation bringing new insight.

We thank you for enabling us to bring these crucially important stories to a wider audience. Especially with regards to the subjects this youth retreat addressed — mental health and suicide prevention — the need to serve our region could not be more urgent or vital. Your generosity makes such an incredible difference.

Photos: scenes from throughout the Unalakleet retreat, including a board of the students’ future goals and aspirations for the event. (Photo credit: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.)


  1. Sr. Marilyn LeDoux on November 2, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    In order to reduce the terrible instances of depression (long, dark winters contribute to this) How about asking Catholic Charities or like minded organizations to support your people with special broad-spectrum lights which are used in the mornings by those who sink into depression. I can’t give you the name of a company that makes them, but I know of one here in Vancouver, Washington that makes them. Bright light helps combat that depression and would be a worth-while tool for your people who have very dark mornings about half or more of the year.
    If I can find the name of a company you can contact, I will reply to you again.
    Sr. Marilyn LeDoux

  2. Ron Sagnella on November 3, 2015 at 1:24 am

    You folks are always an inspiration for us in the lower states….

    • David Dodman on November 9, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks so much, Ron! —David

  3. Marilyn LeDoux on November 3, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Hello Rick,
    I wrote to you last night after reading that depression was quite a problem in your area. I now have a contact for the bright light that can be used to ward off depression:

    made by Enviro-Med


    I truly hope and pray that this can make a difference in people’s lives!

    Sister Marilyn LeDoux

    • David Dodman on November 9, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Hello, Sister Marilyn! Thanks very much for reading, for your support, and for your suggestion about the specialized lights. Indeed, some in our region do use lights of this type to help avoid, or lessen the severity of, some mental health issues.

      Appreciate you reaching out — and especially, doing a bit of legwork/research on our behalf!

      Best regards,

  4. Letitia Hale on November 5, 2015 at 3:01 am

    Shalom: Depression & suicide are spiritual; but don’t forget the physical factor. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be helped by special lighting. If we don’t get enough sleep the brain doesn’t make enough serotonin, the happy hormone. Adults(20 & older) need 8-10 hours. The younger children are, the more sleep they need.
    Miss. Hale

  5. Letitia Hale on November 5, 2015 at 3:05 am

    P.S.:I meant to say that depression & suicide are attacks by the devil & his demons. Always pray!!!