June 12, 2017
Homer’s Haven House is a shelter that offers a safe space for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and provides vital support to families in need. Several years ago, the organization’s director noticed that the children’s room at the shelter had become neglected. One 12 year old decided to make a difference.
Aviva Hirsch grew up in Homer, and had always believed in giving back to her community. Upon coming of age when she turned 12, Hirsch was given the chance to complete a service project as part of her Bat Mitzvah ceremony and decided to help improve the children’s room at Haven House,
“This was my service project to be in the shelter and play with kids and help that place seem inviting for young people in a kind of a scary, unpredictable time,” Hirsch says, “I felt connected to the women’s shelter in Homer because it was a place that we had gone and donated cookies mainly, or clothes, but then also we had this tradition of bringing jewish cookies to the shelter.”
That year, Hirsch was nominated by her project supervisor and eventually received a Spirit of Youth Award for her hard work, “It feels really awesome to be recognized when you’re working on a project because I think, for me, as a young person, I had no idea about awards that you could get or just the whole idea of being recognized…It felt really empowering, and the impact was broadened because more people knew about what I was doing, and they could maybe be inspired to do projects or just learn about what was going on and how it was benefiting our community in Homer.”
A couple years later, Hirsch moved to Anchorage and got involved with the Alaska Teen Media Institute,
“I think one of the things I really became excited about at ATMI was storytelling and radio and the capacity of radio and how unique radio is in terms of being a platform to stimulate ideas and really engage listeners in a way that other forms of media don’t.”
Now, a decade after receiving her award, Hirsch continues to carry her experiences at Spirit of Youth with her as she begins tackling new projects. Most recently, Hirsch started a radio show called AKNamaste, which features interviews with yoga instructors in the Anchorage community, inspiring yoga music, and short yoga practices led by the instructors on air. She hopes that the show can become syndicated in the future.
“Spirit of Youth definitely gave me a lot of skills and empowerment,” Hirsch says, “Being a part of the Spirit of Youth awards ceremony was also very—I think it’s really empowering for young people like myself to be amongst other people creating really neat projects around Alaska in different places, and connecting to those people and hearing their stories.”
AKNamaste airs Sunday mornings at 8am on KNBA 90.3 FM.
April 25, 2017
Become part of a group of caring individuals whose efforts champion Alaska’s youth. Spirit of Youth has set a goal to raise $7,500 by the end of our fiscal year June 30th. Any size of donation is greatly appreciated.
Donors who give $200 or more between now and June 30th will be recognized on the Spirit of Youth radio series aired in communities across Alaska.
Our programs motivate youth to work harder to achieve their goals. Youth feel more valued by their community and have an increased interest in helping others.
Please support this positive effort today. Donations can be made online here.
March 13, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—
Anchorage, Alaska (March 13, 2017)- 16 teens and youth groups from communities across the state of Alaska to be recognized at the 19th Annual Spirit of Youth Awards
The Spirit of Youth Awards highlights dedicated young people and unsung heroes from around Alaska. Now in its 19th year, the awards recognize the hard work and efforts of these future leaders who use this opportunity to share their inspiring and heart-warming stories. Recipients were chosen by the Spirit of Youth Teen Advisory Council. Individual recipients will receive a college savings scholarship account from the University of Alaska College Savings Plan, while groups selected will receive a grant.
This year Spirit of Youth is partnering with the Alaska Postsecondary Access & Completion Network for their awards event. The Network works to increase the percentage of all Alaskans who complete postsecondary education. The Spirit of Youth Awards will join their annual “Alaska CAN” conference expanding both organization’s reach and impact. To learn more or register for the conference visit their website.
The Spirit of Awards will be held on Thursday March 23, 2017. The reception will start at 6pm, with the awards ceremony beginning at 7pm. Tickets can be purchased at spiritofyouth.org.
Anchorage Marriott Hotel, 820 W. 7th Avenue, Anchorage, AK, 99577
Individuals and groups to be honored by category:
The Phoenix Award celebrates youth who rise with new life like a phoenix and display exceptional determination and stamina as they overcome significant life challenges.
Denali Schultz (Soldotna) volunteers often, and joined the Native Youth Leadership team in Kenai. Working two jobs and overcoming a number of personal challenges, Denali continues to give back to her community.
Runner-Up: Samir Akal (Anchorage) lives with diabetes, and hopes to help others combat the disease by working towards becoming a nurse. He has volunteered at Providence Hospital, and tutors other Somali speaking students in math.
The Dreamer Award recognizes teens who are actively engaging in their community through the preservation of cultural practices and arts, those who share personal expression through visual or performing arts, and those who cultivate youth voice through media and digital art forms.
Maiya Anderson (Kenai) has started a piano lesson program at the senior center in Kenai. The lessons bring joy to the elders in the community, while also helping to bridge a generational divide.
Runner-Up: Alyssa Madrid (Kodiak) has been a member of Kodiak Island’s Alutiiq Dancers since 2011 and is now training to become a lead drummer and song caller. Alyssa has also served as a youth ambassador for the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance, and currently acts as the Cultural Programs Assistant for the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak.
The Humanitarian Award recognizes youth who have put forth efforts to make their community a better place or are active in local or state government.
Kaulani Napoleon (Eagle River) organized a donation drive aimed at collecting school supplies for refugee youth in the community. At the end of three months, Kaulani had collected hundreds of school supplies from people across the country.
Runner-Up: Jivan Gordon-Wolfe (Fairbanks) has led a Make A Difference Day project in October every year for the past 4 years. He has also been involved with the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance Youth leaders program.
The Visionary Award recognizes youth who have turned their creativity and knowledge into an economic venture.
Savannah Rizzo (Kenai) has worked to establish an organization called T-Books, which provides new books to disadvantaged youth in her community. Savannah is working hard to inspire youth, and reduce poverty by promoting literacy.
Runner-Up: Haley Edmondson (Anchorage) is an active leader of her community. Her achievements include raising money for breast cancer research, planning quarterly blood and canned food drives, and organizing bonding activities with life skills students.
The Lifesaver Award celebrates youth who have gone above and beyond “the call of duty” by preventing injuries and illness and saving lives.
Kaisa Reese Ahluniq Kotch (Kotzebue) is devoted to combating suicide in her community. Kaisa is a member of the TECK Youth Leader’s Program, which trains youth in bullying and suicide prevention. She also serves in the Maniilaq Behavioral Health Program.
Runner-Up: Jackson Blackwell (Soldotna) has been involved in Teens Against Tobacco Use for the past 4 years. He has given tobacco prevention lessons to his peers, and has also testified to the Alaska State Legislature on the importance of a smoke-free workplace.
Role Model Award
Teens nominated for the Role-Model Award lend a helping hand to peers and younger youth in their community.
Shaela Asbury (Palmer) has created, organized and directed Agents for Change, a youth-led initiative at Colony Middle School designed to study and raise awareness about local and global issues where children face adversity and crisis. Agents for Change members fundraise for organizations that support children.
Runner-Up: Tasha Elizarde (Juneau) works as a Peer Educator with the Juneau Teen Council, which focuses on teaching teens about healthy sexuality and healthy relationships. Tasha presented a workshop at the 2016 Teen Council Summit in Washington DC, and exhibits exceptional skills in leadership, writing, and advocacy.
The Innovator Award shines the spotlight on the efforts of youth who have shown excellence in the fields of math, science and engineering through research, study, or improvement in their community.
Quantum Mechanics FTC Robotics (Eagle River) is a rookie, community-based robotics team for the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). The members of The Quantum Mechanics team are highly motivated boy scouts that are working to expand STEM activities to all youth, including those with challenges.
Runner-Up: Fairbanks Skate Park Coalition (Fairbanks) was formed in April 2016 by a group of young skateboarders, BMX bikers and other action sport riders who want to create safe, fun skate parks in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Since that time, they have gained non-profit status, and assisted in designing and refurbishing the North Pole Skate Park.
The Discovery Award highlights accomplishments made by youth in environmental advocacy projects and technology ventures.
Jedediah Dean (Palmer) has been conducting independent research to determine whether radiation levels have been rising on the beaches of Prince William Sound as a result of the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Jedediah’s work has won state and international awards.
Runner-Up: Port Graham High School students (Port Graham) spearheaded a project to raise rabbits that would eventually be used for skin-sewing and tanning hides. The students used hands-on experience to build scientific and traditional skills.
Sponsors of the Spirit of Youth Awards include: Enstar, Atwood Foundation BP, Mat-Su Health Foundation, the UA College Savings Plan and the Nick Begich Scholarship Intern Fund.
Contact: Nithya Thiru, email@example.com, (907) 272-2875
February 16, 2017
Samir Akal – Anchorage
Samir Akal came to Anchorage two years ago after leaving a refugee camp in Egypt. Going above and beyond what was required of him, Samir has achieved a high level of academic success. But his hard work has not stopped there. Living with diabetes himself, Samir hopes to help others combat the disease by working towards becoming a nurse. He has volunteered at Providence Hospital, tutored other Somali speaking students in math, and spent this most recent summer volunteering at the Mountain View Public Library.
Award Category – Phoenix
Alyssa Madrid – Kodiak
Alyssa Madrid has been a member of Kodiak Island’s Alutiiq Dancers since 2011, and is now training to become a leader drummer and song caller. Alyssa has also served as a youth ambassador for the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance, and currently acts as the Cultural Programs Assistant for the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak.
Award Category – Dreamer
Jivan Gordon-Wolfe – Fairbanks
Jivan has led a Make A Difference Day project in October every year for the past 4 years. He has also been involved with the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance Youth leaders program for over a year, and has attended two trainings in Anchorage on tobacco education, prevention, and advocacy topics. Jivan has worked and volunteered for Green Star, and raised awareness of plastic bag waste.
Award Category – Humanitarian
Haley Edmondson – Anchorage
Haley Edmondson is an active member of her community and volunteers her time to better the lives of those in her community, particularly other youth. Her achievements include hosting a fashion show to raise money for Breast Cancer research, raising over $4,000 for the Children’s Hospital, helping to create a nationally recognized “Raise Your Voice” video with the Alaska Injury Prevention Center, and organizing bonding activities with life skills students attending South Anchorage High School.
Award Category – Visionary
Jackson Blackwell – Soldotna
Jackson has been involved in Teens Against Tobacco Use for the past 4 years. He has given tobacco prevention lessons to his peers, and has also testified to the Alaska state legislature on the importance of a smoke-free workplace.
Award Category – Lifesaver
Tasha Elizarde – Juneau
Tasha Elizarde works as a Peer Educator with the Juneau Teen Council, which focuses on teaching teens about healthy sexuality and healthy relationships. Tasha attended the 2016 Teen Council Summit in Washington DC and co-presented a workshop about youth involvement in advocacy efforts. After the summit, Tasha was invited to write an article for an MTV news blog. Tasha exhibits exceptional skills in leadership, writing, and advocacy.
Award Category – Role Model
Fairbanks Skate Park Coalition – Fairbanks
Fairbanks Skate Park Coalition was formed in April 2016 by a group of young skateboarders, BMX bikers and other action sport riders who want to create safe, fun skate parks in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Since that time, they have gained non-profit status, assisted in designing and refurbishing the North Pole Skate Park and then hosted a grand opening and competition. They have started working with our Borough and Parks and Rec department to get a new skate park built in Fairbanks to replace the 20 year old park that has become unsafe.
Award Category – Innovator
Port Graham High School – Port Graham
8th through 12th grade students in Port Graham spearheaded a project to raise rabbits that would eventually be used for skin-sewing and tanning hides. The students were involved in the process from beginning to end and used hands-on experience to build scientific and traditional skills. The rabbits were raised and treated with the utmost care and respect.
Award Category – Discovery
January 17, 2017
Youth from across the state of Alaska will be honored for their hard work and contributions to the community at the Spirit of Youth Awards, March 23, 6pm at the Anchorage Marriott Hotel. Purchase your tickets here, and join us in celebration of the 2017 Spirit of Youth Award recipients!
This year Spirit of Youth is partnering with the Alaska Postsecondary Access & Completion Network for our awards event. The Network works to increase the percentage of all Alaskans who complete postsecondary education. The Spirit of Youth Awards will join their annual “Alaska CAN” conference expanding both organization’s reach and impact. To learn more or register for the conference visit their website.
*Important note: If you are paying by credit card, please select the PayPal option and then the “pay with debit or credit card” button on the next screen.
December 15, 2016
Way back in the ‘90s, during the era of Alanis Morissette, Dawson’s Creek and fruit by the foot, Anchorage teen Marie Acemah opened the Crooked Rascal, a small shop nestled on the third floor of the 4th Avenue Theatre.
The shop shared its quirky name with a zine (short for magazine) created and produced by Acemah. Selling records, and zines from across the U.S., the Crooked Rascal was more than just a store—it was also a community space aimed at fostering creativity. Patrons of the Crooked Rascal could borrow a shared film camera, or sit down to write at a communal typewriter.
In 1998, Acemah was honored for her entrepreneurship with a Spirit of Youth Award, and as a true rebel of the ’90s, Acemah delivered an anti-corporate acceptance speech in the form of a sonnet. Although Acemah had never heard of the organization prior to her nomination, being honored was an invaluable experience that she continues to carry with her.
Today, Acemah runs a digital storytelling business called See Stories, which works with teens in Kodiak and around the state,
“I just feel extremely blessed to do the work I do,” Acemah says, “and it’s entrepreneurial, which is what I was awarded for all those years ago. So, I feel like that [the Spirit of Youth Award] was the first step of, y’know, kind of positive reinforcement for my entrepreneurial side. And it’s not an easy path financially, and in a lot of ways it’s not an easy way to go. But it’s really gratifying, and I get to see the fruits of my labor with young people who blossom. And I get to nominate for Spirit of Youth Awards and kind of bring it full circle for me.”
For the past five years, Acemah has been working with youth in Kodiak to make films on local history. In partnership with the Baranov Museum, the films are incorporated into the museum’s archives and exhibits. Students who participate in the program get school credit for their work.
Most recently, the program received the National Youth Arts and Humanities Programs Award. Acemah traveled to Washington D.C. with student Rafael Bitanga,
“We got to collect it [the award] from Michelle Obama in the White House, and it was just, for me it was like the ultimate affirmation that you’re on a good path and that even when it’s hard and even when the pay isn’t super duper, that you’re doing something meaningful and important, and to not lose sight of that greater vision.”
Almost two decades after receiving a Spirit of Youth Award, Acemah continues to see hope and resiliency in the organization, “Spirit of Youth is a really neat program and I’m happy that I can connect my students now with it, and students from around the state can really shine this way. We need all this focus on positive energy because there’s so much negative media out there.”
July 19, 2016
The Alaska Teen Media Institute is currently working in collaboration with Grace Art Camp in Portland! As part of this collaboration, ATMI’s Francisco Martinez created a short film about art and culture in Alaska.
The film was made for students in Portland who are studying Alaska this summer. Fransisco will be in Portland throughout the month working for the camp.
Check out Francisco’s film here, and don’t forget to stay tuned with all things ATMI!
*Contributors to the film also include Drew Michael and I Sing. You Dance.
April 15, 2016
January 14, 2016
“Teens are often painted in a negative light, but so many kids are doing outstanding and important work. This needs to be noticed and encouraged as an incentive for teens to keep on achieving and helping their communities.” -Spirit of Youth Teen Advisory Council Member
Help make a difference in the lives of Alaska teens and consider Spirit of Youth when you Pick.Click.Give. When you Pick Click Give to Spirit of Youth you are helping create, promote and recognize youth involvement in communities across Alaska.
Enter the Pick.Click.Give Double Your Dividend Sweepstakes when you give a portion of your PFD to Spirit of Youth by March 31!
If you’ve already filed, it’s easy to log on again and choose a cause that matters to you. A small donation can make a big impact.
Hundreds of youth get more involved in their communities each year through Spirit of Youth’s programs. Spirit of Youth helps teens prepare for careers, earn respect from people in their community and stay motivated to work hard to achieve their goals.
Just as importantly, adults touched by our programs have a higher opinion of teens and their contribution to our communities.
Spirit of Youth relies on support from individuals like you in order to make our programs possible. Shrinking grant dollars mean we need your help to accomplish our mission. Please consider donating a portion of your dividend when you apply online.
Thank you for your support and involvement!
November 30, 2015
Nominations are still being accepted for the 2016 Spirit of Youth Awards. If you know any amazing Alaska youth, age 12-19, please tell us about them! It only takes a few minutes to nominate. Nominees are eligible to receive a $2,000 scholarship from the UA College Savings Plan. The deadline to nominate is December 31.
May 6, 2015
The Anchorage Museum is looking for creative and curious elementary through high school students who love technology to inform, inspire and engage the museum regarding digital and technological topics. The Youth Digital Board of Directors (YDB) is composed of students from the Digital Generation, the first generation to grow up without knowledge of life before the Internet. Visit for more information.
Nominations are now being accepted for the 2017 Spirit of Youth Awards. If you know any amazing Alaska youth, age 12-19, please tell us about them! It only takes a few minutes to nominate. Nominees are eligible to receive a $2,000 scholarship from the UA College Savings Plan. The deadline to nominate is December 31, 2016.
February 3, 2015
The 2015 Spirit of Youth Awards highlights 11 dedicated young people and unsung heroes from around Alaska.
This year’s Award recipients hail from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, Juneau, Soldotna, Toksook Bay and Wasilla. We invite you to honor them March 28 at the Anchorage Museum at 7 p.m. as they share their inspirational stories.
January 16, 2015
Nora Herzog and Madelyn Taylor found their voice through spoken word poetry. They started a club at West High School where they inspire others to reach into their souls and speak from the heart. KTUU’s Corey Allen Young has a full report on Nora and Medlyn’s passion for words in his monthly Spirit of Youth “Spotlight on Youth” series. ===> http://bit.ly/SOYSpotlightJan
September 2, 2014
Alaskans aren’t the only ones who are impressed by our youth. The New York Times wrote a feature about Máire New, a Spirit of Youth nominee from Juneau, and her experience going to school at the Bolshoi Ballet academy in Moscow.
Click here to read about her daily life at her multicultural dance school.
Shana Sheehy sat down with Máire last year to discuss her achievements. Listen to the story here.
August 21, 2014
MyHouse, a youth homelessness outreach center in Wasilla, is getting ready to open its steampunk thrift store in early September. Kyra Hoenack, a Spirit of Youth nominee, has been prepping the store all summer with other teens from the center.
Check out the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman’s story about Steam Driven and how teens put it all together.
And listen to Kyra’s Spirit of Youth story at http://bit.ly/Hoenack
Anchorage high school students Kathryn Casello and Katherine Murray discussed suicide prevention awareness on Channel 2 News, KTUU.com August 21.
Kathryn, a Spirit of Youth nominee, is a member of the Governor’s Statewide Suicide Prevention Council and is a leader in Anchorage for educating peers about the recognizing the warning signs of suicide and how to get help. She has led talks with Anchorage School District students and helped organize a peer training at the Boys and Girls Club.
Both Kathryn and Katherine encourage others to not sit by while a peer struggles with life, but to stand up and do something about it.
Click here to learn about how these teens are directly contributing to their community.
July 28, 2014
Youth from seven western Alaska communities met with Bethel’s Teens Acting Against Violence in June for the fourth annual Teens Lead Ahead workshop. Teens spent four days discussing the theme “Keep the Cycle Positive,” while celebrating Yup’ik culture.
The Tundra Drums has the full story.
Are you between the ages of 13-18? Are you a youth leader that wants to make positive changes happen in your community? Apply to Lead On 2014 and join other Alaskan teen leaders in making a difference. Click here to apply.
At Lead On, national and local speakers engage youth from all regions of the state through presentations on various topics, including healthy relationships, non-violence, leadership, positive choices and community involvement. Youth plan and lead much of the conference.
The next deadline to apply is August 15.
July 7, 2014
The Northwest Film Center’s annual Fresh Film NW (formerly the Young People’s Film Festival) celebrates the next generation of regional filmmakers by showcasing their work and circulating it around the region and beyond.
Submissions are judged by a jury panel of professional filmmakers and educators. Individual and group submissions from youth ages 13 to 19 are accepted.
The deadline to submit a film is August 1.
Click here for more information.