Investment in youth pays big dividends

  • Thursday, April 28, 2016 4:23pm
  • Opinion

Congratulations to Nikiski Middle-High School seniors Marguerite and Evangeline Cox, who last week were awarded first place in the Caring for the Kenai contest for their program to supply oxygen masks for pets to area fire departments.

And kudos to the other 300 students who participated in the contest. Now in its 26th year, Caring for the Kenai challenges students across the peninsula to come up with ideas that address an environmental or emergency preparedness concern in their community. The contest has generated thousands of great ideas — many of which are still benefitting the Kenai Peninsula community. Such projects have included habitat enhancement and protection projects throughout the Kenai River watershed, dune protection in Kenai, state legislation that allows alternative energy credits for homeowners, beach clean-up efforts during the dipnet season — even the popular Salmon Run Series, a summer 5-k race series, started as a Caring for the Kenai proposal.

Beyond the projects themselves, Caring for the Kenai has done something even more important: participation in the program has instilled a strong sense of community service in a generation of Kenai Peninsula students. That’s a powerful idea.

During this year’s competition, Cameron Hunt, vice president of Tesoro’s Kenai Refinery and a judge, noted that current students will be called on to continue to solve problems in the coming years.

“It’s fantastic. It’s my second year judging, and I have an ulterior motive,” Hunt told the Clarion. “I’m looking at each one of these as future employees for, you know, five, six years down the road, and this kind of science, technology, engineering (and) mathematics approach is so critical to the Kenai Peninsula economy while we’re in a little bit of a downturn right now.”

We’re sure there are many other potential employers thinking the same thing. We’re proud of what Caring for the Kenai participants have accomplished, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they do next.

So, a big thank you to Caring for the Kenai, and to all the area businesses and individuals that support the program. Your investment in our youth has paid dividends for our entire community.