It started with Scene of the Crash, or Crash for short. Next came Comet. If Jenna Hansen had her way, she jokes that she’d probably have a whole herd of reindeer.
But for now the trio, along with some help from family and friends, makes an unusual team educating students and raising money for kids in need on the Kenai Peninsula.
At the Alaska State Fair, The Summer of Heroes program recognized Hansen for her community service and presented the 17 year old with a scholarship for $1,500.
Alaska Communications and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alaska are partners in the program, which recognizes youth heroes throughout the state. Along with the scholarship, this year’s six winners selected by a panel of judges, received a trip to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer.
About a month ago Hansen started picking up clues that her older sister nominated her for the award. She found the nomination essay in her truck and there were missed phone calls for her mom from Alaska Communications. Eventually everything came together when her sister told her she was a finalist for the Summer of Heroes and then her mom told her she got her first scholarship.
“I felt really honored because I don’t consider myself a hero,” she said. “I’m just trying to be a good person.”
Hansen is a Nikiski Middle-High Senior and is in the process of deciding where and what major she would like to seek in college. She is looking into animal and wildlife-based degree options both in Alaska and Washington State and will use the money to help fund her academic goals.
When Hansen was about 3 years old, she got her first horse. Since then she has raised lambs, goats and steers — everything expect pigs, she said.
In the fall of 2011, she brought Crash home. Originally, she got him for the Junior Market Livestock Program through 4-H.
“I was thinking about selling him, but I got too attached to him,” Hansen said. “So I couldn’t sell him, and I didn’t want him to be lonely. So the next year I got Comet.”
When Hansen learned about the number of homeless students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, she wanted to do something about it
Her 4-H group had previously planned a few fundraisers. Hansen asked if the other members would support changing the recipients of the money to homeless students. The entire group helped with the first photo shoot from setting up to waiving signs.
At the first photo fundrasier in late 2011, Hansen said she wasn’t sure how well Crash was going to behave at the event.
“We would have the people sit down and I’d lead him behind them and he stood perfectly,” she said. “I was so happy with him.”
Hansen sets up photo opportunities with the reindeer at various businesses in the area. The suggested donation for a sitting is $5 where people are invited to take as many of their own photos as they would like.
“It would be kind of hard to print out pictures,” Hansen said. “I’ve sat when it was about 10 (degrees) below (zero) and done pictures. If my fingers don’t work, I don’t think a printer would.”
Hansen said during the past three years she has arranged the photo opportunities, she hasn’t seen an increase in clients, but the trio does see returnees.
Crash has his own Facebook fan page called “Scene of the Crash.” The most recent post says he and Comet raised more than $600 at the Kenai Peninsula Fair for homeless kids in the community. The post also challenges area organizations and businesses to match their donation. Hansen posts about photo shoots on the Facebook page.
Hansen has also gone to classes to educate students about reindeer from what they eat to how they differ from caribou. Then Hansen either brings a reindeer to the class or the group comes to her home to see them.
“It takes a lot of people’s breath away — even adults,” she said. “It’s really cool because a lot of people have not seen reindeer up close. So there’s always the question, ‘Oh, can I pet him?’ And they’re alright with being pet, just don’t touch the antlers.”
Having their antlers handled can make reindeer aggressive, Hansen said, which was a problem that Comet had when he first came to Nikiski.
Comet had been at a petting zoo prior to being raised by Hansen and had been handled by his antlers.
“So we actually had to cut his antlers off before they fell off, so that I could work with him without fear of getting stabbed,” she said.
Crash wasn’t as used to being around people as Comet, and Hansen worked with him daily to get him adjusted to humans.
“I would come everyday after school, get a hold of my snowsuit, and I would sit with him and I’d just read until he was comfortable with me,” she said. “And I would take him out take him on walks and let him play in the snow.”
Then she started getting him used to other people and then larger groups before taking him to photo shoots.
Depending on where Hansen decides to go to college, she said she may have to sell Crash and Comet.
“If I get to keep them, which I hope I do, I’ll be home for Christmas break, so I’ll hopefully still be able to fundraise for the homeless,” she said. “And I have a feeling if I go Outside and people find out that I’m from Alaska and I had reindeer, I’m going to be educating people just right and left.”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org