ALASKA IS HOME TO HALF this nation's wilderness, yet for many Native youth it remains The Last Frontier. "Until SCA, I'd never been out in the wilderness," admits Teshonda Thomas, an Alutiiq and Inupiaq high school senior in Anchorage.
SCA is reconnecting Alaska Native youth with their culture and heritage by forging youth-focused networks of government agencies, Alaska Native corporations, and local organizations.
A powerful job-training partnership with Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI), Cook Inlet Tribal Council, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and others last year contributed to a four-fold increase in the number of Alaska Native teens participating in habitat protection, trail construction, and historic restoration. "I've not only learned how to overcome the physical challenge of hard work, but I've also learned how to become a leader," states Teshonda. "I am proud to say that I have done something positive that will inspire nature lovers and give back to CIRI land."
SCA is also collaborating with Alaska Geographic, an educational nonprofit, to create new opportunities for young women and men in Chugach National Forest, and the trails built by SCA members in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are strengthening the local environment as well as the borough economy. SCA crew leader Nathan Bolton notes while the impact on the land is significant, it's even greater on the students. "A lot of transformation takes place in just one month," he says. "It's spectacular to see."
Our agency partners agree and are quick to take advantage. "I have at least four people on my staff who started their careers in conservation with SCA," states Ann Rap¬poport, a field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage. "SCA is a way for us to hire more youth and access better diversity. These young people inspire us and remind us why we're here."
"A lot of our folks are retiring," adds FWS Volunteer Coordinator Kristen Gilbert. "A lot of institutional knowledge is going to be lost, and we don't have a lot of young people coming in. SCA is helping us fill this need."