Alaska teens select winners for the 2014 Spirit of Youth Awards

Alaska teens select winners for the 2014 Spirit of Youth Awards

Anchorage, AK – Feb. 27, 2014 – The Spirit of Youth Teen Advisory Council has selected 22 recipients for this year’s Spirit of Youth Awards. Teens from Nunam Iqua to Thorne Bay will be recognized for their community contributions at an awards dinner in April. Award categories range from Cultural Pursuits to Media & Technology.

The members of SOYTAC met regularly throughout January to analyze 156 Spirit of Youth nominations and determine the winners. Having teens select the winners is a top priority for SOYTAC.

Kayla Craft, a four-year SOYTAC member, said the advisory council understands the sacrifice and effort the nominees put into their projects.

“Instead of being selected by random people, their peers know the nominees well and know that they truly deserve this award,” Craft said.

Jenny Sheasley, also a four-year SOYTAC member and board member, said having youth review and select the winners exemplifies the organization’s purpose.

“[Advisory Council] youth have a unique and unmatched perspective,” Sheasley said.  “They often participate in similar service activities of their own so they can tell when a project is especially powerful.”

Most SOYTAC members agree the best part of being on the council is the Spirit of Youth Awards Dinner in April. It’s the organization’s premiere event highlighting dedicated young people and unsung heroes from around Alaska.

“Seeing all the hard work we've put in come together into the final event is pretty special,” Sheasley said. “It’s wonderful to meet the winners who we've read so much about.”

Now in its 16th year, the awards dinner recognizes the hard work and effort of future leaders who utilize the opportunity to share their inspiring and heart-warming stories. Guests at the event include the families and supporters of the awardees as well as community leaders, educators and dignitaries.

The Spirit of Youth Awards Dinner will be held Saturday, April 5 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown. Doors open at 6 p.m. Dinner starts at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at

Individuals and groups to be honored by category:

Lifesaver & Prevention

Teck John Baker Youth Leaders (Kotzebue) prevent suicide and promote well-being through interventions, role modeling, classroom presentations, and sponsoring healthy activities. This student-led and directed program teaches students about suicide, bullying, sexual assault, domestic violence and substance abuse prevention.

Donald Auliye (Shaktoolik) is an experienced fisherman. On two occasions he has responded to distress calls from other boats. His keen observation skills, clear thinking and spirit of helpfulness proves he is a strong young man willing to risk his own life to save other families from the heartache of loss.

Cultural Pursuits

Trinity Viveiros (Kotzebue) is active in the traditional way of life. She hunts and prepares caribou and seal, renders oil and shares her catch with other people in her community. She participates in monthly community potlucks where she helps elders enjoy traditional foods.

Raymond Atos (Barrow) is part of a whaling crew in Barrow. He hunts for his family and community year round and is part of the young generation that wants to keep the Inupiaq tradition alive. He takes younger children camping, boating, whaling and hunting to teach them to be safe and to survive.

Fine Arts

Bethel P.R.I.D.E. performs and sponsors healthy youth events. They lead by example and send a strong message to their peers to be expressive and to take pride in yourself and others.

Erica Loughrey (Anchorage) is passionate about the issues facing homeless teens in Anchorage. She works with the youth at Covenant House and performed her original music at their “Night of Broadway Stars” fundraiser. She also performs at their open houses and private benefit concerts.

Service to Community

Anchorage Youth Development Coalition LGBTQ Youth Interns engaged in youth-led community assessments and developed an interactive training for adults to support the equality of LGBTQ teen experiences in youth-serving agencies.

Brooke McPheters, posthumous, (Anchorage) was passionate about children and science. She volunteered for six years at the STARBASE Program, which helps at-risk youth with science, technology, engineering and math. She also volunteered more than 400 hours at the Children's Lunchbox. 

Business & Government

Grayson Davey (Anchorage) is an avid outdoorsman and used his experiences and innovation to design a paracord survival bracelet that incorporates everything you need to start a fire. He sells them locally and teaches young children how to make a simple survival bracelet.

Heather Johnson (Wasilla) published a book called "Hidden Voice: A Story of Discovering Strengths," about helping youth build self-esteem and deal with bullies. She is a delegate to the People to People Ambassador Program and an instructor at this year's Alaska Young Writers Conference.

Media & Technology

Christian Hartwell (Anchorage) is a film maker and recently produced a short film called "Skateboarding in Alaska," which was featured at a youth film screening. His films provide an opportunity for young Alaska skaters to have a voice and showcase their talents.

Pippin Hum (Fairbanks) uses his technological skills to empower and engage young people in Alaska. He has worked on creating educational computer games that meet science standards in an effort to get young people interested in science.

Science & Environment

Leila Pyle (Kodiak) Leila is an active member of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action. She is a leader in the Kodiak Youth Conservation Corps and is dedicated to educating youth about recycling, climate change, marine debris and other important conservation topics.

Shanelle Afcan (Nunam Iqua) began an initiative at Mount Edgecumbe High School to integrate local seafood into school meals. She educated students on the importance of local eating and took her campaign to the legislative session to further teach Alaskans about food security and preserving culture.

Overcoming Challenges

Dao Her (Anchorage) was born in Thailand and spent her early childhood in a refugee camp before moving to the United States when she was 10. She spoke no English but has come a long way since then. She volunteers for Muldoon Elementary School helping students with their homework and spelling.

Samuel Allred (Wasilla) has battled a rare kidney disease since he was a toddler and created the non-profit organization Project Comfort that makes travel-sized pillows and distributes them to hospitalized children all over the United States. He is also the author of "Opening Hearts," a book that aims to provide hope and encouragement to kids who are chronically ill.

Faith-Based Service

Taylee Nyquest (Thorne Bay) traveled to Slovakia to work at an English camp where she developed lesson plans about mentorship, team building, mission work and oral English skills. 

Luke Cooley (Anchorage) has been actively involved in the Alaska Greek Festival for 13 years, performing with the youth dance group and volunteering on the management team. He has invested countless hours preparing for and cleaning up after the festival, which raises money for the construction of the Byzantine-style Greek Orthodox Church.

Service to Peers

Elizabeth Willis (Stony River) efforts have kept her school going and her culture alive. She has donated her free time and learned to speak to large audiences to be sure there will be a school for future generations in Stony River.

Jezzroy Gordon-Wolfe (Fairbanks) is active in the North Star Youth Court. As a prosecuting attorney he influences his peers to make positive life choices. He also tutors for the Literacy Council of Alaska and volunteers with the Food Bank and the local library.

Service to Children

Trinity Standifer (Tyonek) is dedicated to helping young people in her small community. She is a member of Native Youth Leadership and represented her village at Juneau Close Up 2013. Whether she's babysitting, helping kids with their homework, or teaching respect in school, Trinity is a positive role model and leader. 

Gabrielle Zaleski (Wasilla) is committed to serving her community. She volunteers for several local causes and spends time with young children at her church and a local elementary school. She created the Miss Snowflake Pageant, specifically designed to spotlight girls with special needs and their abilities.

Spirit of Youth builds resiliency in youth through encouraging, recognizing and celebrating meaningful participation in the community. Its media campaign highlights the positive contributions of Alaska’s youth. Story leads come from nominations submitted by the public, which are broadcast to nearly 100 communities across the state. Since its start in 1997, thousands of youth have been celebrated through their efforts. This campaign ultimately improves how adults view teens and breaks down barriers between them.

Sponsors of the 2014 Spirit of Youth awards include: Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Chevron, Atwood Foundation, ENSTAR and NANA.


Spirit of Youth press release