To ensure Alaska Native youth remain connected with their land, culture and heritage, since 2010 CIRI has sponsored a Student Conservation Association (SCA) Youth Crew. “Our goal is to build the next generation of conservation leaders,” said SCA Partnership Director for Alaska Jeff Samuels. “We accomplish this through hands-on service to the land, providing experiences for high school students to get their hands dirty as they tackle environmental challenges.”
This summer, the CIRI Youth Crew – comprised of eight youth ages 15 to 19, several of whom are CIRI shareholders and descendants, and two adult crew leaders – camped out on the Kenai Peninsula near the city of Homer. From June 12 to July 6, the crew tackled three projects: revegetating and redirecting a trail that crosses CIRI-owned land onto state land, clearing debris on a property being leased from CIRI to develop agricultural projects, and trail resurfacing at Kachemak Bay State Park.
“Each year, we match up projects that would suit the youth and benefit the landowner, whether it’s CIRI or the State of Alaska or another entity,” Samuels said.
A nationwide program founded in 1957, SCA has been active in Alaska since the 1970s. However, the first Youth Crew wasn’t fielded in the state until 2010. Instrumental in establishing Youth Crews in Alaska was former CIRI president and CEO Margie Brown, who serves on the CIRI Board of Directors and was recently appointed chair of the national SCA board.
“I joined the national SCA board in late 2010. At that time, none of Alaska’s youth were participating in the programs offered by SCA. It was hoped that with an Alaska office and an Alaskan on the board of directors, we could help Alaskan youth – and, in particular, Alaska Native youth – find their way to the SCA programs,” Brown said. “I am happy to say that since CIRI’s sponsorship of the first all-Alaska Native SCA crew, nearly 300 Alaskan youth have participated in SCA’s high school crews. Over half of those youth self-identify as Alaska Native.”
In 2010, SCA fielded one Alaska crew of six; in 2017, eight teams were fielded in locations throughout the state. “The Alaska program has really grown over the years, and it has as big spotlight on it now that Margie’s been appointed national SCA board chair,” Samuels said.
Camping out for nearly a month away from family and friends, without an internet connection or access to a hot shower, might not sound like most high schoolers’ idea of a good time. But according to Samuels, it’s the “unplugged” aspect that makes the program so appealing. “What I’ve found in talking to participants is that they most enjoy that their lives are distilled and simplified for one month,” he said. “There’s a project to do, a cohort to work with, meals to prepare and a camp to keep. And of course most of the kids have an interest in science and environmental issues already.
“When I asked this particular group what they wanted to do career-wise, they were shooting for the moon,” Samuels continued. “One wanted to be a nurse, one a social worker and another a nuclear physicist. Several others had interests in wildlife management and fisheries. Especially for youth from the villages, they have a closer connection with the land and can imagine going back to the village and doing that work.”
Helping the Youth Crew participants get a leg up on their educational and career goals was a day dedicated to workforce development. “This was the first year we did this, and it was thanks to Margie’s input,” Samuels said.
The day began with an instructor from King Career Center coaching the youth on resume writing and identifying scholarship and grant opportunities. It was followed by a tour of the Fireweed Business Center, CIRI’s corporate headquarters in Anchorage, where time was spent with staff in CIRI’s Real Estate and Land and Energy departments discussing future career possibilities.
“CIRI is proud to have helped the SCA Youth Crew program get off the ground in Alaska, and our continued support helps strengthen Alaska Native youth, improve our communities and protect the environment,” said CIRI’s Jason Brune, senior director, Land and Resources. “Ultimately, CIRI’s goal is to train Alaskans to be our future land managers. SCA gives them the skills and experience they need to go further.”
“Thanks to CIRI’s support, the SCA is providing Alaska Native youth with the tools, training and opportunities to realize their full potential,” Samuels said. “In recent years, this collaborative effort has helped achieve a four-fold increase in the number of Alaska Native teens participating in habitat protection, trail construction and historic restoration. We couldn’t do what we do without CIRI.”
Recruiting for summer 2018 Youth Crews will begin in February. For more information about the SCA Alaska program, visit www.thesca.org/about/region/ sca-alaska.