The winners of the 33rd Caring for the Kenai competition were honored Wednesday at a joint luncheon for the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce.
Held April 20 at Kenai Central High School, the contest challenges peninsula students to devise ways to improve the environment or prepare for a natural disaster.
At Wednesday’s event, organizer Merrill Sikorski brought up to the front each of the winners — sans two who weren’t able to make the trip from Homer and Seward — to talk about their projects, with the goal of helping them network and establish connections to realize their award-winning ideas.
Taking home the top honor — and $1,600 — was Cook Inlet Academy’s Paxton McKnight, who designed “Life Bucket,” a filtration system designed of two 5-gallon buckets, a small filter and a small spaghetti screw, Sikorski said.
“This ugly water, he pours through this filtration and it came out at the bottom in a glass,” Sikorski said of McKnight’s winning presentation. “And then he drank it.”
McKnight said he’s moving forward with producing two versions of the product — one for emergency situations at home and a collapsible model that can be used while hiking or camping.
In second was Soldotna High School’s Emerson Kapp, who was awarded $1,100 for an 8-foot tall educational game she built called the Kenai Peninsula Maze Board.
“You definitely couldn’t miss it,” she said.
The game will be donated to the Kenai Watershed Forum, Kapp said, where she hopes it will be used at events like the Wednesday Market and the Kenai River Festival.
For a poetry project called “Create to Relate,” CIA student Laurel Matson earned $900.
Matson said her project will be implemented in multiple ways as soon as this summer. She said she’s looking for a venue to host a poetry slam later this month, and in June she intends to launch a writing contest.
“We can use storytelling and poetry to inspire appreciation for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula,” she said.
Coming in at fourth place was the only pair represented among the finalists — CIA students Grace Henry and Hope Hillyer. They were awarded $750 for the Green Salmon Business Award, which would recognize environmentally conscious businesses in the community.
The two said they were hoping to make connections with Chamber of Commerce leadership before the end of Wednesday’s joint luncheon to discuss realizing the award — which they said would be assigned by a committee.
In fifth was Seward High School’s Lucy Bamford, who proposed a picture book for second graders that identifies edible and inedible plants — complete with simple recipes for cooking with gathered materials.
Rounding out the top six is Homer High School student Kavindra Johnson, who proposed the implementation of full-spectrum lighting in all Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools.
Johnson was unable to attend on Wednesday, but Sikorski said she will present her plan to the school district in the near future.
The remaining six finalists were also recognized during the luncheon as “Runners-Up,” and were awarded $400 each. These included SoHi’s Nova Paulk, Sophia Jedlicki and Kiernan Lapp, as well as CIA’s Liam Bartholomew and Matthew Schilling and Homer’s McKenna Black.
In addition to the individual awards, each of the schools that produced finalists received a share of $20,000 for their classrooms. Nikiski Middle/High School will receive $750, Seward $1,968.75, Homer $2,781.25, SoHi $5,625 and Cook Inlet Academy will receive $8,875.
Sikorski said these awards aren’t used by the school; they’re used to leave a “legacy” for the winning students in the form of technology or materials for the classrooms.
During the luncheon, Sikorski also introduced to the chambers Hadassah Knight, who he called “the future of Caring for the Kenai,” and said that an endowment has been established to fund the program “into perpetuity.”
“It’s been 33 great years, and yet I don’t have another 33 years,” he said. “That being said, I am not retiring … we are transitioning.”
For more information about Caring for the Kenai, and to view the full presentations of all 12 winners, visit CaringForTheKenai.com.