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Community was great to visiting relative

June 15, 2017
By HENRY BIRK ALBERT , Lake Placid News

Thanks, Lake Placid, for help during my senior project, "Fresh Start," and here's an update.

I arrived to attend seventh grade to live with my Uncle Mike. I flew 3,000 miles for an education unavailable in a 40-student school in my village of Ruby, Alaska. We have resources from the Nowitna National Refuge and the Yukon River for our subsistence needs, but it's hard to stretch one teacher among 14 students who span eight grades from fifth through 12th in one class! My Indian village rarely has college graduates. Jobs are few, yet Athabascan Americans have skills. And we need leaders with degrees.

I decided my project would impact one Native American youth. I have an older niece, Katrina, who was graduating May 2016. She was to enter the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. So with my mom's help, she came for an uplifting six weeks. I was inspired by the Fresh Air Fund, which has matched inner-city, disadvantaged youth with rural host families since 1877, creating bonds benefiting all. Katrina would arrive for employment, tutoring, volunteering and first-time adventures so she could adjust to the larger world.

I want to thank individuals and service providers who helped my project as she just finished her freshman college year. Thank you, Literacy Volunteers of Essex/Franklin Counties and Sean Bourke, for free math tutoring. She was years behind, and he was her first tutor. Please support this group. Thanks to James Moscatello of Lake Placid Martial Arts for teaching a shy girl self-defense lessons before she moved to a city college. Native American women suffer assault four times more than others. James put her at ease although she never had real gym or team sports. Stu Helmsley and Petra Weber of the Wildwood Inn gave her a chance to save wages for college. Her self-esteem and confidence were boosted.

Assistance came from Cindy and the Bairds, Judy Scammell, the Dirschkas, Jennie McGrew, advisor Mr. Duffany and teacher Mr. Gotham. We have an expression, "NeeTs'ee Neeyh," meaning, "We all give or help." Mom kept me on task. Thanks, everyone, for welcoming Katrina.

Mrs. McConvey and Fred Balzac of the Adirondack Film Society offered volunteer slots so Katrina could paint school picnic tables, usher at a Native documentary and help the I Love BBQ Festival. Reciprocity allows us to say, "I am the greatest," when our individual goals include helping the commons.

Katrina checked off first-time activities often taken for granted by many. She hiked on set trails, kayaked, canoed, bowled, enjoyed soft-serve ice cream cones and galleries, rode a chairlift and gondola, had a mountain bike ride and pedicure, listened to a film panel discussion as well as enjoyed apartment showers and automatic heating! A fun and function trip. She met her 10-year-old half-brother in Oregon and these Oglala Sioux youth, rode a horse for the first time thanks to his mom, Kattaryna, who helped her select courses and a dorm meal plan. Details were finished for a free "Inspiring Girls Expeditions" Mount Baker glacier trip.

Thank you: Patricia Clark at the Olympic Regional Development Authority for Olympic Gold passes, Rana Swistak at Eastern Mountain Sports, Bowlwinkles, Karen at High Peaks Cyclery, Mirror Lake Boat Rental, Lake Placid Film Forum, K-Nails and Spa, and Antonio Olivero at the Lake Placid News. I was on a shoestring budget, grateful for the donated vouchers.

I'm aware 47 percent of American youth face poverty. Forty percent of our school district students qualify for reduced lunches. I suggest we meet and help our neighbors. If you want to host a "foreign" student, then consider a First American (UNITY of Mesa, Arizona, could assist) or Fresh Air Fund. Want to go on a missionary-like service trip? Volunteer closer to home, and donate fundraised unused airfare (save carbon footprint) to legitimate overseas nonprofit organizations that know best how to serve their people. Homegrown Kenyan school-orphanage support group Reason 2 Smile does this! Empathy can be taught year-round to fulfill our grassroots needs as well as to share with distant strangers.


Henry Birk Albert lives in Lake Placid and is a senior at Lake Placid High School.



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