The Chugach Children’s Forest is not a place as much as a philosophy. The vision of the program is that public lands belong to everyone, and that everyone is well served when young people develop an appreciation for and practice stewardship of these national treasures.
Engaging youth, their families, caretakers, and communities helps young people develop the technical skills to experience public lands on their own, and to share those experiences with others. In the process, many increase self-confidence, make new friends, discover passions, and set career and educational goals.
The two agencies partner throughout the year to host multiday backcountry trips (kayaking, backpacking, and the like), conservation projects (trail work, invasive-species removal) and leadership and outdoor-skills development opportunities for kids of all ages in the communities that border the forest.
I got to talk to so many interesting young people, staff and partners as part of this project. It really opened up a world with which I was completely unfamiliar.
Take, for example, Reth Duir. Duir is the son of South Sudanese immigrants who grew up in Anchorage, went to West High, and as a teen, experienced the trauma of his older brother’s murder in an East Anchorage alley. Duir was lost, by his own telling, when he was connected to Alaska Geographic and went on his first backcountry trip. The solitude of nature and teamwork of group backcountry travel eased his deep depression, helped him form meaningful connections to people and place, and gave him an avenue for giving back. Duir became a volunteer and later a staff member at Alaska Geographic, recruiting others like him for Chugach Children’s Forest activities.
I also got a huge kick out of talking to Mike Woods, a 30-year public school teacher at King Tech High School in Anchorage. Woods teaches a class called “Career Pathways,” in which he invites in representatives of different Alaska industries to talk to students about their jobs and the educational path they took to get there. Students do a lot of field trips to experience career options firsthand, and Alaska Geographic connected with Woods to help showcase careers in land management, wildlife biology, forestry and the like. Woods is so passionate about what he does – talking to him was uplifting, and had me wishing I’d taken a class like that in high school!
Then there’s the Griffith family, composed of four siblings adopted by one amazing couple after trauma in their family of origin led to their permanent removal. Three of the four have been avid participants in CCF programs and have gained confidence, leadership and outdoor skills, and a strong network of healthy relationships with other young people and adult mentors.
The project consisted of developing a 20-page eBook, a slide deck for an end-of-season celebration, and a bunch of social media and blog content to go along with it. The beauty is that everything flowed from the eBook. Alaska Geographic invested in the big content piece upfront and then everything else was developed by taking pieces of the book and repurposing them in other formats. Infographics and “about” material from the book can be used as handouts for prospective partners and sponsors, the profiles stand alone as blog posts, and an abundance of stunning photography works well for social media.
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get to know to all these amazing people and help them celebrate 10 years of making a major impact on Alaska youth.