Kenai Alternative High School’s annual thanksgiving celebration serves a dual purpose.
Turkeys are roasted, potatoes are peeled and pies are baked to thank a very specific group of people that play a vital role in the lives of 71 students, and without whom, the school would feel a little more like bare bones.
“We do it so they know how much we appreciate their support,” said Loren Reese, principal at Kenai Alternative. “They are a vital part of this program, all of the volunteers in this building. We have three to seven volunteers come every single school day of the year.”
Reese said the volunteers enrich the students’ academic experience. They cook, clean, supervise, help educate and find funding for daily services, he said.
“We have kids from 5, 10, 15-years-ago come back and say ‘this school made all the difference in my life’,” Reese said. “That sends a good message.”
Dining on traditional fare Tuesday, at the 23rd annual feast, was the “breakfast crew,” all members of three local church groups, Soldotna United Methodist Church, Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church and the River Covenant Church that provide breakfast every morning.
Susan Smalley and her Husband Hal Smalley, who sat with a table full of other volunteers, have been attending the thanksgiving celebration for nearly two decades, “since it first started.” She said her group is responsible for the notoriously sought after biscuits and gravy, made fresh every Wednesday.
“We know names and faces, and hairstyles,” Smalley said. “The police come to it, parents, anyone is welcome. In this fast paced world to come and sit down together is a wonderful thing.”
After eating, senior Kodi Vaught immediately went back to work breaking down tables, and cleaning. He has been at the school for three years, “three good years.” Every autumn he said, he and his peers await the school’s twist on thanksgiving.
Teacher Susie Byrne said the entire school, staff and students alike school participates in the cooking, construction and cleanup of the meal every year.
“It’s a chance to say “’thank you for all you doing’ and everything they are going to do because I know it wasn’t the last time they are going to do it,“ Vaught said.
Vaught said he believes the whole attitude of the school would change without the volunteers.
There would be less grant money secured for activities in the classroom and for the field trips, which make learning more interactive.
“It definitely adds to it,” Vaught said. “It would change how people wanted to go here. I don’t know how many schools have made a hand made meal for breakfast.”
Wade Armstrong joined his daughter, junior Glenda Armstrong, Tuesday. He said he was invited to join during the recent parent-teacher conferences, and that the two came “for the fellowship.”
He said he could tell the morning meals played a big role in improving the academic experience for Glenda and her peers. He said he knew because when he was growing up he went without.
Glenda said she the volunteers always deserve to be thanks because “they help us out and they don’t have to.”