As part of the United Way of Mat-Su’s “Play 60” event held on July 12 at the Curtis Menard Sports Center, eight talented students from Alaska Job Corps demonstrated important aspects of Alaska Native culture to more than 100 children and even to two Seattle Seahawks football stars. The “Play 60” event is held each year to emphasize that children should practice at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The Alaska Job Corps NYO station was one of several activity stations held at the event, and was declared by many children to be their favorite station.
Alaska Native students from Alaska Job Corps taught children how to do the Alaskan high kick, the one-foot and two-foot kicks, the wrist carry, stick pull and the seal hop. Carpentry students from the Center built a seven-foot tall kickstand and children were taught how to kick a seal-skin ball at varying heights depending on the child’s age and ability. Because of the difficulty of the wrist carry, only older children practiced that event, and it was modified so that smaller children could participate. The school children were fascinated as Job Corps students told them the history and meaning of some of the activities and as they watched the NYO pros kick the seal-skin ball over six feet and more.
Children loved doing the stick pull, and the Alaska Job Corps students even taught two Seattle Seahawks football players how to do it. The stick pull between the two Seahawks was a highlight for the students and children, and a crowd of photographers and video-tapers surrounded the NFL stars and Alaska Job Corps students who acted as teachers and spotters for the celebrities.
The Alaska Job Corps students who volunteered and led the NYO activity station were Andrew Fairbanks (Carpentry), Archie Andrews (Carpentry), Simone Pushruk (Accounting Services), Amber Okleasik (Culinary Arts), Waska Oscar (Career Preparation), Craig Beans (Carpentry), Brian Andrew (Career Preparation) and Mikayla Edmund (Carpentry). Fairbanks, Andrews and Beans built the kickstand and several of the activity sticks during their carpentry class.
More than half of the Alaska Job Corps student population are Alaska Native, with many coming from villages and towns in western Alaska. Every week, the Native Culture Club meets and practices Alaska Native dances and activities. Several of the volunteer students are members of that club.
“We are exceedingly proud of the diversity of our Alaska Job Corps students,” said Malyn Smith, Center Director. “It is exciting to see our students leading the effort in our community to showcase that diversity and the importance of demonstrating the unique heritage of many of our students’ culture.”
July is also “Culture Con” month at the Center. “Culture Con” month features a series of activities and events that celebrate different cultures from Alaska and around the world. The NYO community service event falls right in line with these activities, and Alaska Job Corps students were proud to demonstrate their culture outside of the Center to Mat-Su Valley children and volunteers.
“I really enjoyed this event very much, especially helping and teaching children the NYO activities and about our culture,” said Waska Oscar, a newer student at Job Corps who is thinking about studying either Accounting Services or Security and Protective Services. “A couple of highlights for me included watching the kids do the activities and helping spot the Seahawks as they did the stick pull.”
Oscar is Yupik and is from the village of Tununak, on Nelson Island near the Bering Sea Coast. He has been practicing NYO activities since he was in eighth grade.
The Alaska Job Corps Center is a federally funded career training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and managed by Chugach Educational Services, Inc. The Center is committed to providing the highest quality programs for young adults by offering instructions in academics, trades and life skills through innovative methods that respond to the unique individual and group needs of today’s youth.
Story provided by Carin Meyer, BCL. Photos provided by Carin Meyer.