March 25, 2024

Congratulations to the 2024 Spirit of Youth Awardees and Runners-up!

We will celebrate this year’s amazing honorees at the 26th Annual Spirit of Youth Awards, Saturday, April 13, 5:00pm at the Heritage Theatre at 49th State (717 W 3rd, Anchorage, Alaska).

The Spirit of Youth Awards will recognize 16 teens and youth groups from across Alaska who have demonstrated outstanding dedication to their communities. The ceremony is an opportunity to share their stories of courage, inspiration, and innovation.

Tickets to the event are now available and can be purchased here:

Individuals and groups will be honored by category:

The Phoenix Award celebrates youth who display exceptional determination and perseverance as they overcome significant life challenges.

Josephine “Josie” Herbert (Wasilla) has volunteered for multiple fundraising efforts across Southcentral Alaska. Josie does not allow anything to hold her back, despite a traumatic start in life, and recently won the title of Miss Alaska High School. Josie wants to be a pillar of hope to girls who might feel alone as they navigate through the emotions of being a teenager or subjected to a bad situation.

Runner-Up: Preston Maes (Anchorage) is an engaged member of Service High Schools Partners Club serving as a peer teacher and community volunteer. He embodies the principles of inclusion, demonstrating acceptance and respect for the differences and inherent dignity of individuals experiencing disabilities.

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.

Sara DeVolld (Soldotna) is a 16-year-old, fourth-generation Alaskan whose L.E.D. “Artwear” creations have been recognized by 3M, Discovery Education, and The Alaska Society for Technology in Education for her innovative fusions of science and technology with art and design. Her design company, “Vintage Train Case,” produces dresses, jewelry, and ballet-performance costumes. Sara has developed and implemented fundraisers for the dance non-profit, Peninsula Artists in Motion and also teaching and mentoring 7-12 year old ballet students.

Runner-Up: Innoko River Middle and High School (Shageluk) Shageluk has a three-mile road between the village and the runway which is under construction. There are ancient pit houses of Shageluk ancestors along the road. This spring, students at Innoko River School ensured their community’s history was being preserved while a construction company came in to resurface the road. Students put markers out that identified the pit houses, which the company honored and left the area alone. They are learning how to own their history including the land, lifestyle and beliefs.

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.

Lily Gosnell (Ketchikan) is a founding member of Ketchikan Youth for Change, a group of youth who are dedicated to substance misuse prevention. She serves as the student body president and serves on the school board. She volunteers on the Lords Table, a program serving home-cooked meals to community members experiencing homelessness. Lily works as an intern at the Women in Safe Homes Organization and as member of their peer education team.

Runner-Up: Anamanu Tu’uholoaki (Anchorage) currently works with children at the Hmoob Cultural Center of Alaska. Anamanu has volunteered by cleaning Anchorage, constructing a blessing box to feed homeless. She’s spent time volunteering with Clare House, Beans Cafe, Food Bank of Alaska and Suicide Prevention Awareness. Additionally, Anamanu has gone on two missions, one to clean up ocean waste in Kodiak and another to serve those living on Navajo Land.

The Visionary Award recognizes youth who have turned their creativity and knowledge into an entrepreneurial or economic venture.

Jack Boelens (Aniak) In his rural community Jack secured a coffee machine and sells espressos, lattes, and breves along with food, starting his own entrepreneurial venture to reach his financial goals. He taught other students how to run the espresso machine as well as consumer math, profit margins and customer service. Community members look forward to hot lattes at morning athletic events or hot breakfast items to pick up on busy workdays, along with great customer service.

Runner-Up: Lola Swanson (Seward) at the age of 10, Lola decided to share her love for dance with the Seward community and began teaching classes to young people. She started a business offering week-long summer camps, earning a reputation as a mature and talented youth teacher and leader who inspires her students to love dance. Determined to not let finances stand in the way of a young person’s desire to learn to dance, Lola formed a partnership with Seward’s Youth360 program to provide dance scholarships to families in need.

The Lifesaver Award celebrates youth who have gone above and beyond “the call of duty” by preventing injuries and illness and saving lives.

Madeleine (Maddy) Reckmeyer (Anchorage) started working with special-needs students in middle school and continued her involvement at Service High in Partner’s Club, a social inclusion club for students with and without intellectual disabilities. Maddy has participated in Mental Health Advocacy Through Storytelling as a storyteller, advocate, and facilitator, founded the Health and Wellness Club at Service High, and developed her own mental health platform, The Future Is Good.

Runner-Up: Arianna Anderson (Seward), as part of the Seward Sources of Strength Peer Leader team, creates and implements youth-led campaigns to foster connection, highlight resilience and increase help seeking behaviors in her school and community. Arianna also shines as a leader, putting on school-wide activities to increase connection and fight isolative factors. She serves as a resource to her peers and provides other teens with knowledge of local resources and trusted adults that can help in a time of crisis.

Teens nominated for the Role-Model Award lend a helping hand to peers and younger youth in their community.

Anika Biss (Anchorage) has helped form a teen volunteer program where teens spend time helping teach Sunday School to elementary-aged children and toddlers. She plays keyboard for worship at her church and school while encouraging young musicians to pursue their passions and inspiring young pianists. Anika has been a part of American Heritage Girls, including hosting caroling nights in her neighborhood. She has also set up her own entrepreneur booth to display and sell her items, donating a portion of her proceeds to charity.

Runner-Up: Ben Kolendo (Wasilla) is the Student Advisory Representative of the Mat-Su School District School Board. In this role, he is an outstanding example to his peers. In 2023, the Adult School Board acted to remove the student representative’s ability to offer student input to the Board of Education. Despite this, Ben has continued to represent his fellow students in a respectful courteous manner.

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.

Evelyn Mills (Fairbanks) is an avid chess player whose passion for chess drove her to approach her teacher to be the sponsor to start a club at her school. The chess club is now incredibly active, hosting tournaments for the school and the community at large. Most recently, Evelyn worked with UAF and coordinated a tournament on an even larger scale. Evelyn is a quiet leader who leads by positive example.

Runner-Up: Sahara Brentor (Trapper Creek) joined the Trapper Creek Community Council to represent the youth of the community and participate in local governmental activities. She developed summer Saturday sports events that hosted both youth and adults to engage in physical activities such as softball, frisbee, and volleyball. In addition, Sahara and family baked or purchased items to sell to participants.

The Discovery Award highlights accomplishments made by youth in science with a specific focus on the environment.

Dimond NOAA Ocean Guardians (Anchorage) have been involved in remote beach cleanups near Whittier and have removed over 1,000 pounds of marine debris off of remote beaches in Prince William Sound over the last three years. The students worked with a local engineer to learn how to sort the debris, grind some of it, and extrude it to make recycled lumber. They have also removed hundreds of pounds of trash from their school campus, performed weekly recycling of paper, aluminum, and plastic bottles, started a coral reef tank to teach their peers and students from nearby Chinook Elementary about the importance of coral reefs, and given out prizes of reusable water bottles decorated with student art and t-shirts decorated with student art to celebrate recycling and trash cleanups.

Runner-Up: Nora McBride (Anchorage) has worked with the Ocean Club in the removal of hundreds of pounds of debris from beaches in Alaska. She has contributed to college-level papers for the Tsunami Bowl, helped present those papers to students and scientists, and also competed in the quiz bowl. Nora shared the results of her carbon sequestration experiment with the students in her Ocean Club and also with teachers to share with other students in science classes. It was an inspiration for other students to see and hear about a youth-led experiment that was related to solving a global problem.

Sponsors of the Spirit of Youth Awards include: Alaska Airlines, Alaska Children’s Trust, Alaska 529, Altman, Rogers & Co, Atwood Foundation, ENSTAR Natural Gas, Nick Begich Scholarship Intern Fund, and Recover Alaska.