community

100 Women Who Care Soldotna-Kenai

There are many ways to support the organizations that matter to you, whether you’ve got funds, time or just word of mouth to share. Tami Murray, with 100 Women Who Care, and Rhonda McCormick, with the Soldotna Cash Mob, join the Kenai Conversation to talk about easy, direct ways to give.

To find out more about 100 Women Who Care Soldotna-Kenai, email Murray.

As anyone who’s done a home improvement project knows, building materials can be expensive. And as anyone who goes to the landfill knows, people throw away perfectly good stuff.

There’s a solution to both those problems, and it now has a home in Soldotna. BuildUp opened its physical doors two weeks ago. It’s a nonprofit organization that takes donated construction items that otherwise would be headed to the dump, and sells them to the public at deep discounts.

Amy Anderson, of Anderson Custom Builders, has been frustrated for years with throwing away usable materials.  

“Just from our own jobs, the accumulation of leftover doors, windows, tile, grout, Sheetrock was piling up and a lot of it ended up at the dump because we ran out of space,” Anderson said. “I go to the CD cell probably once a week and that’s hard to do.”

 


Jenny Neyman/KDLL

A year and a half ago, Rhonda McCormick localized a nationwide effort to support shopping and eating at locally owned businesses. The Soldotna Cash Mob was born.

Once a month, she invited any interested participants to eat at a designated restaurant at a designated time, then, as a group, go shop at a selected store. But since March, the “mob” mentality needed to change.

“Well, when COVID came and we went into lockdown, that kind of changed things a little bit and someone asked me if we were going to do a takeout version,” McCormick said. “And I was like, ‘Well, that’s a great idea.' So I set that up and then I thought, 'Well, we might as well do shopping that way, too.'”

Anna DeVolld

The 30th annual Caring for the Kenai program ended up finishing virtually, given the coronavirus pandemic, but the winning projects will make real-world differences.

The program usually ends in April with students giving their presentations and standing for questions from judges. But that part was put on hold until August, with the final judging happening over videoconferencing Aug. 6.

“We did a lot of planning, a lot of thinking and we had a lot of ideas of what we wanted to do for our 30th anniversary and, of course, everything changed. And this shows how the real-world experience of Caring for the Kenai helps the next generation change. And what you’ve learned from this, what we’ve learned from this, gives us all a lot of hope for the future,” said Merrill Sikorski, program founder and director.

Caring for the Kenai challenges high school students to come up with a project to better care for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster. Finalists and their schools get cash prizes. Students can participate with the same project more than once but repeat entries are judged on what they’ve done to further their project in the last year, rather than the initial idea.

Rogers family

A GoFundMe account has been set up to benefit the family of David Rogers, one of the seven people who died Friday morning in a midair collision near Soldotna.

He was a guide at High Adventure Air, which flies out of Longmere Lake, east of Soldotna. Rogers, pilot Greg Bell and four clients from South Carolina were in a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. Kenai Rep. Gary Knopp, who was running for reelection to his Kenai District 30 seat, was the sole occupant of a Piper PA-12.

Investigators from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Maddy McElrea works at High Adventure Air and set up the GoFundMe account to cover the expenses of getting Rogers and his dog home Kansas, as well as funeral and other expenses. Rogers had a wife, Rhonda, and three kids. 

“And just really anything that’s going to help them get through these next few months. Because I know that David was kind of the worker in the family for them,” McElrea said.

It’s going to be a little less fashionable for women on the central peninsula, with a much-loved clothing design businesses leaving town. After 14 years creating colorful, cozy hoodies, pullovers, pants, skirts and more in Soldotna, Susanna Evins is buttoning up Mountain Mama Originals and selling off her fabric, trim — even her signature chunky buttons.

Her family is moving back to Montana. The move isn’t completely COVID-19 related but the pandemic has been an impetus to embrace life as it comes.

“I think that’s kind of what I’ve heard with a lot of people in the last few months. They’re kind of readjusting and figuring out, ‘OK, this means the most to me, so I if want this, then I need to make it happen,’” Evins said. “Yeah, family does (matter). And that’s where it comes down to is I want a better balance. And not even just family, I want to have time to learn other things besides just hustling and bustling, doing the same thing.”


City of Soldotna

Though most social events on the Kenai Peninsula have been upended this summer, one staple is still going forward: the Wednesday Markets in Soldotna Creek Park.

The markets feature local crafts, foods, and other goods spread out in stalls all around the park. The first one is scheduled to begin this Wednesday at 11 a.m. Annette Villa, who organizes the markets, said the stalls will be a little more spread out than in the past.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

Soldotna’s Music in the Park series will sound different than expected this year but the show might still go on.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanon Davis spoke to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday night. The chamber secured another $25,000 grant from the Levitt AMP Foundation to fund an expanded music series this summer, bringing in bands from outside the peninsula and Alaska. But with the uncertainty of the pandemic, the chamber decided to take Levitt AMP’s offer to defer the money until next year.

“A month ago I was absolutely convinced that there wasn’t going to be a need for that but as time’s gone on, I realized this could be a real opportunity for us because it would be dangerous for us to take that grant not knowing if we can actually fly the bands that we booked here to Alaska or if we’ll even be able to gather because our number-one priority is the safety of the members of our community,” Davis said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management focused on community needs in its twice-weekly community conversation Thursday night. 

Love, INC., a faith-based community support organization headquartered on Kalifornsky Beach Road, is serving as the donations and volunteer coordinator during the COVID-19 pandemic. Executive Director Leslie Rohr said they’re at home in that role, even if the needs lately are higher. 

“We operate as a clearinghouse on a regular basis and that is, needs come into our ministry and then we do find the appropriate resources to fill those needs, and we just are doing it on a larger scale now,” Rohr said.

Kenai Watershed Forum

The Kenai River Festival should be celebrating its 30th year this June but the Kenai Watershed Forum announced today that the festival will be taking a year off in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Branden Bornemann is the executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. He said staff and the board of directors made the difficult decision.

“We did not feel comfortable, we did not feel like we could successfully hold the festival and keep people safe, and that includes the many hundreds of volunteers who help us put on the festival, the vendors, all the local businesses and everyone who comes out to enjoy the festival,” Bornemann said.

Kenai Fire Department

Kyler Michlitsch’s birthday Sunday was a lot different than it would have been outside quarantine. It was just his immediate family at their home in Nikiski to celebrate. 

Mom, Britney Baier, said there was no extended family, no friends and no fun outing to Jumpin’ Junction, as would normally be the case. 

“Just us here at the house, just the family members. We had cake and presents but that was it. No other family members, no grandparents, no aunts and uncles and cousins, it was just us. It was sad, his grandma actually dropped the cake off on the front porch. She made his Garfield cake but he had to wave through the window and he couldn’t go out and hug her or anything,” Baier said.

Kyler just turned 4 and doesn’t have the life experience to expect much else. Baier said it was fine but a pretty quiet affair. That is until the Nikiski Fire Department showed up in a fire truck, lights flashing and sirens blaring.

“They came by, they had the dog (Sparky the Fire Dog) and they had a fire hat to give him and a little stuffed animal. It was just really awesome. They sang happy birthday to him through speaker thing on the truck. It was special, it was just for him, they talked to him and said his name and happy birthday. I know he’ll remember it forever,” she said.

Kenai Change

Looking for a way to save the world? Here’s an idea: Feed chickens, not landfills.

OK, that’s maybe overly optimistic, but Kenai Change is finding that even a small project, like repurposing food scraps, can have a big impact. In October, the group started a community composting project to reduce the amount of organic waste going to the Soldotna landfill. The idea came out of a book-to-action series, which helped the group brainstorms ways the central Kenai Peninsula could help combat global warming.

The book, “Drawdown,” presents potential solutions, large and small, and the group used it as a way to research and plan what to work on locally. Kaitlin Vadla, with Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio in Soldotna, helped facilitate the program.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce is encouraging families to go on a bear hunt.

“Not real, furry, live bears, no,” said Sarah Hondel, tourism and education director at the chamber.

It’s a scavenger hunt for stuffed bears or pictures of bears, not actual, live bears. Similar bear scavenger hunts are happening in communities nationwide.

“For the idea of kids that are at home during the pandemic, they can have a chance to go out with their families from a safe distance, i.e., in their car for family car rides, to try to find on a scavenger hunt where all of these bears are hiding in their own communities,” Hondel said.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

When local LGBTQ activist Tammie Willis was attacked by a man with a knife outside her Sterling home early the morning of Dec. 9, the experience was all the more terrifying because she was alone.

At a town hall forum held Saturday at the Soldotna Library, she met more of a community than she realized existed on the central peninsula.

“And seeing the outpouring of support and the people who want to make a difference and who really, genuinely want to make the community more open, more accepting and more welcoming and safe for everyone is really, really helping me move forward,” Willis said.

More than 150 people squeezed into the community room at the library, some to share their experiences as LGBTQ people in the central Kenai Peninsula, most to listen to those experiences and show their support.

Willis reported finding a threatening note on her truck, full of homophobic slurs, on Nov. 11. On Nov. 22, she reported someone throwing a rock at her windshield as she drove near Kenai Peninsula College, where she works. Then came the assault Dec. 9. Soldotna Police and Alaska State Troopers are investigating the incidents but have made no arrests.

“I don’t want to stand up here and say, you know, this act of violence is the reason why we should do better, we’ve always needed to do better. And I’m sorry that I had to bring it to attention this way because this is not the way I wanted to do it,” she said. “But now that we have everybody’s attention, I’m really hoping that this community, the people who have gathered in this room here, will help me work to do better.”

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Close to 100, rainbow-bedecked people walked from the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to Soldotna Creek Park Saturday afternoon as part of the Two Spirits Pride March and Celebration.

This is the second year for the event, held to raise awareness of and support for the area’s LGBTQ community. This year’s turnout was nearly double last year, and included LGBTQ people and allies. Meredith Harber, the pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna, marched carrying a sign saying, “This pastor believes you are a beloved child of God.”

“I come because I’m an ally and I believe that all people deserve love and acceptance for who they are. I think it’s important because, especially in a small community, it allows support and love to be shown to people that sometimes feel like you need to hide. And so this is a great public expression of an accepting place for all people in our community,” Harber said.

Courtesy Jenny Neyman/Redoubt Reporter

Anybody who grew up 30, 20, even 10 years ago, would know a library as a place for quiet reading and study, whispered conversations and stern looks for causing any sort of disturbance, no food or drink, no music outside of headphones, no video games or messy art activities. And certainly no running.

Those libraries are a thing of the past.

“This last Friday we had live-action Pac Man tag, which is exactly what it sounds like — they pretend to be characters from the videogame Pac Man and they chase each other throughout the library after hours. Which is a lot of fun to be in a space that usually you need to be very quiet, and they get to really be themselves,” said Rachel Nash, director of the Soldotna Library.

The library celebrates five years since its building expansion with a party from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday in the community room. The original facility, built in the early 1970s, was a constrained, and, yes, pretty quiet place. The expanding role of community libraries got too big for the cramped space.


Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The turnout for the big race Sunday in Soldotna was competitive with other major running events in the area — 110 preregistered racers and another 100 signed up at the start line. The course was laid out with plenty of signage and aid stations at the top of the incline and at the turnaround. And race swag was available so people could boast of their big athletic accomplishment.

If you looked closely, though, the distance printed on the braggy stickers and T-shirts was point 5 K. As in, a half a kilometer. A third of a mile. Sixteen hundred forty-ish feet, and every one of them for a good cause.

“We want to eradicate cancer, we want to raise money for programs and research and in about a hundred years or so, we don’ t want to hear anyone say, ‘You have cancer,’” said Johna Beech, event chair for the local Relay for Life organization.


Join Bill Howell on this month's Drinking on the Last Frontier for dispatches from Frozen River Fest, a conversation with Denali Brewing Co., thoughts on alcohol education and a flavor of brewing science — hops.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The #MeToo movement started raising awareness of sexual assault and harassment through social media and leaped off the Internet with events, marches and gatherings in real life. On the central Kenai Peninsula, the Many Voices organization has taken up that banner with a gathering and panel discussion held last month. Susan Smalley, a community volunteer with Many Voices, and two panelists from the event, Dr. Kristin Mitchel and Dr.

Foraker

Laurie Wolf, president and CEO of the Foraker Group, talks about the changing landscape for nonprofits in Alaska.

Alaska's largest charitable organization announced awards of $6.6 million Monday for a variety of projects around the state. Among the myriad projects funded, the Rasmuson Foundation directed $330,000 to Hope Community Resources for a project in Sterling. 

Those funds will be used to help complete what Hope is calling "an intentional neighborhood" on 20 acres just outside Sterling.

Rally in Soldotna tries to open dialogue

Aug 17, 2017
Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

 

 


 

National events over the weekend have sparked a new debate and fanned a lot of emotions about race relations in America.