This year we awarded three Chugach Children’s Forest participants with Leadership Awards for their extraordinary dedication to stewardship of the Chugach National Forest and other public lands in Alaska.
Ka Yang (pictured on the right) first participated in a Chugach Children’s Forest Habitat Restoration Kayak expedition in 2014. Before that trip he had little experience camping, hiking, kayaking, or exploring wild places. After completing his first trip, Ka stayed involved. He was the first to sign up for nearly every opportunity through the Chugach Children’s Forest Outdoor Club. The next summer he stepped into a bigger leadership role as an alum kayaker. He developed leadership skills through recruiting other students for the program, presenting at King Career Center and other schools, encouraging students to take advantage of the opportunities offered through the Chugach Children’s Forest. We were proud to recommend him for a job with Youth Employment in Parks this past summer doing trail work and park improvement projects in Anchorage’s local parks. With this award we recognized Ka for his growth in leadership.
With this award we recognized the student who made the largest contribution to the Capitol Christmas Tree project. Gloria Alsworth shared about her experience growing up as an Alaska Native in an urban environment at the 50th National Wilderness Conference in 2014, where she credited Chugach Children’s Forest with introducing her to wilderness for the first time. During the Capitol Christmas Tree she blossomed into a community leader, leading events to make ornaments in several community venues around town. Most significantly, she was supported by Alaska Humanities Forum to work with her high school where she had recently graduated from to have every art teacher include ornament making in every student’s art class. Through the project Gloria invited all the students to explore their own connections to the outdoors through art. In Washington, D.C., Gloria spoke eloquently to the Forest Service leadership and also introduced the Chugach Children’s Forest at a reception Chugach National Forest hosted in D.C. in celebration of the tree. This young woman has shown incredible leadership for the Chugach Children’s Forest.
We were proud to award Deborah Bitanga for her leadership in stewardship. She is from Kodiak and has participated in Chugach Children’s Forest expeditions and she led community events in Kodiak for the Capitol Christmas Tree ornaments. This summer she was a scholar at The Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington, bringing diverse voices and topics of social justice to the field of environmental conservation. She writes that her experiences with Chugach Children’s Forest “have contributed to who I am now and who I dream to become, and I want other under-served young people to experience the kind of privilege I had, to learn, grow, and meet new people that will, I hope, help them make their dreams their reality.” Deborah is a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholar at Evergreen State College in Washington.