Inspiring the Next Generation

Teenagers sit in a large circle on the floor of a school gymnasium to listen to a presenter.

“If you had a problem, who would you go to?” Teenagers in rural Alaska were recently asked that question about their peers. Students who were identified the most in their responses attended a youth leaders retreat in the village of Unalakleet. Volunteer Zoe Grueskin brought the story to KNOM listeners.

The gathering brought together peer helpers from throughout Western Alaska, teenagers eager to find ways to make a positive difference in their communities. Their activities emphasized storytelling. Former KNOM staffer Laureli Ivanoff, as one of the retreat’s facilitators, encouraged and challenged the students to “be brave, be honest, and be respectful” in starting conversations with their classmates and friends.

Those exchanges quickly bore fruit, especially when it came time to talk about how to encourage and help their fellow students and reduce the high rates of suicide in the region. A board titled “How to Help” was quickly filled with sticky notes of suggestions ranging from better communication among friends and peers to deeper, renewed connections to cultural roots.

Colorful sticky notes on a large piece of paper entitled "How to Help."

Ideas, via sticky note, populate the “How to Help” brainstorming board. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.

Teenagers perform traditional Alaska Native dances alongside community elders inside a school gymnasium.

Youth join elders in traditional song and dance near the conclusion of the event. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.

And before the weekend came to a close, an embrace of those cultural roots was on joyous display, as the youth leaders joined local ensembles in traditional Alaska Native drumming and dancing.

For villages that have struggled with isolation, cultural displacement, and community malaise for decades, summits like these can be deeply powerful in revitalizing the resolve of new generations of rural Alaskans. The impact is felt not only among those who attend, but also among those who hear the stories of the gathering on the radio. Thanks to you, KNOM continues to bring news like this to the region each day.

Image at top: a snapshot from the youth leaders retreat in Unalakleet: participants gather in the school gym to listen to a presenter.