February 9, 2015
On January 23, 2015, 33 members from 25 different communities were sworn into service for the BIRCH and RAVEN AmeriCorps programs hosted by RurAL CAP. Twelve of those members were returning; 9 from BIRCH and 3 from RAVEN, some for their second, third, and fourth year. These members were locally recruited from rural communities across Alaska and pledged to serve a year of providing local solutions to community issues.
The Building Initiatives in Rural Community Health (BIRCH) AmeriCorps Program supports AmeriCorps Members from rural communities across Alaska. BIRCH Members design and support community-wide events and activities for youth, families and Elders in the areas of health education, substance abuse prevention and wellness.
The Rural Alaska Village Environmental Network (RAVEN) AmeriCorps program serves rural Alaskan communities by promoting environmental education, implementing energy conservation, encouraging recycling and waste reduction, and fostering community involvement in area-wide clean-up efforts.
Congratulations to all of BIRCH and RAVEN AmeriCorps members!
Byron Nicholai, a 16 year old high school junior from Toksook Bay, made the trip to Anchorage to provide musical entertainment and words of inspiration for the members embarking on their service. Byron has been gathering wide-spread recognition from his Facebook page, I Sing. You Dance.
On his social media page he drums and sings songs in his first language, Central Yup’ik. Byron spoke about how he first came into singing and drumming, and despite moving away from home and losing touch with his singing and drumming for some years, how he was able to reconnect with his culture and passions as a young teen. He spoke of perseverance and pushing to post additional videos even when he was worried that no one would appreciate his voice. He pushed on further with encouragement from family and his community to create and post more videos.
“When I made my Facebook page, I didn’t picture myself right standing here, I thought I’d be at home playing video games or something, I got here because of all the support I’ve gotten from people on Facebook and my family. They’ve encouraged me. Couple months ago I was thinking of deleting the page because I thought it was no use so my mom told me just wait something will happen… so I was patient.” Byron has now gathered over 13,000 likes on his Facebook page.
He urged those in the room to get their youth involved and reinvest them in their culture.
“I got here because of all the support I got and I was encouraged by the teachers by the people in the community my friends my family, all those people. A teenager like me in a village can make a big difference if he gets the support he needs and encouragement. I thought I’d never be here today, I live in Toksook, it’s a village, I never thought I’d be here to sing or to speak. To all those people out there, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people like me in the villages but then they’re too nervous… and I encourage you to all encourage them to make a difference because I never thought I’d ever make a difference.”
Byron closed the ceremony with a thank you song and inspiration to the AmeriCorps Members as they charge into a year of service and supporting their local youth and community.
Byron was recently recognized as a recipient of the 2015 Spirit of Youth Award recipients in the area of Cultural Pursuits. The Spirit of Youth Awards highlights 11 dedicated young people and unsung heroes from around Alaska. All are invited to honor the recipients on March 28 at the Anchorage Museum at 7 p.m. as they share their inspirational stories.
Photos by: Angela Gonzalez