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Stony River students honored as heros


Alaska Communications

Brothers Eric and Tyrel Gusty, of Stony River, were honored last month by the Alaska Communications/Boys & Girls Club – Alaska Summer of Heros program for their efforts to keep their school open.

Last month, Tyrel and Eric Gusty of Stony River were named to the 2013 Summer of Heros. They were honored at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer with the Alaska Communications and Boys & Girls Club – Alaska sponsored titles, with vice president and general manager, sales at Alaska Communications, and Alana Humphrey, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska presenting $1,500 scholarship checks to each of the seven heroes during a special recognition ceremony, thanking them for their community service efforts.

Now in its third year, Summer of Heroes promotes awareness and support for youth development programs throughout the state. As part of the program, Alaska Communications and Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska recognize youth who are creating a positive impact in the community by raising significant funds for a cause, making a difference in school through education or sports or inspiring others to take action.

This year’s honorees range from ages 9 to 18 and represent communities across Alaska, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seldovia and Stony River, with their unique stories of heroism.

Brothers Tyrel and Eric Gusty, ages 13 and 12 respectively, were born and raised in the Athabascan and Yup’ik village of Stony River. They are passionate about preserving their community, heritage and education. Inspired and empowered by their teacher Debi Rubera, Eric and Tyrel, along with their 10 classmates, started the village’s first store. Stocked with the only food available for purchase in the village of about 60 people, the students first used the store to raise money for an educational field trip to Southern California in 2011. The trip was the first time that many of the students, including Tyrel and Eric, traveled outside of Alaska.

The brothers attend Gusty Michael School, a K-12 two-room schoolhouse in Stony River. The school was recently threatened with closure when enrollment dipped below 10 students. The students banded together to ask the school board to keep the school open for another year, both for the current students and for the many preschool children who were about to begin their education. The students donated money they had originally raised for a trip to Washington, D.C. to help offset the deficit, and went on to raise additional funds to offset the monthly electricity bill for the following school year.

Tyrel, Eric and their classmates won’t give up in raising the $10,000 needed to keep their school open for another year. They’ve helped plan many fundraisers throughout the year and are leading the charge to keep the store running all summer to generate funds for the school. The students are also expanding their avenues of revenue by learning to trap so they can use the fur to make hats and mittens to sell, building children’s toys, and adding to their bakery. They are confident they can raise the money needed to keep the school open through their hard work and dedication.

In addition to looking out for their classmates and younger children in the community, Eric and Tyrel are always looking to protect their elders. When temperatures ran low during recent harsh winters, the boys noticed that some elders were missing lunches. They took it upon themselves to ensure the elders always had a hot lunch and someone to talk to, and even delivered groceries from the store to the elders’ homes.

As demonstrated by their efforts to keep the school open – even when it meant donating two years’ worth of hard-earned travel money – the brothers value the place of education in their lives and their community. They aim to pursue higher education themselves and are committed to ensuring that all children in their village, including those in generations to come, have a school where they too can learn and pursue their dreams.

Kearstyn Cotten, age 9, Anchorage – Despite having Type 1 diabetes since age six, Kearstyn has never let it stand in her way. She is passionate about increasing awareness about the disease and raising funds for her local chapter of the American Diabetes Association. Kearstyn assists with organizing diabetes fundraisers in Anchorage, including Tour de Cure and Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes, and getting others involved. She also made an inspirational video to show other kids all the fun and amazing things they can do despite having diabetes. Kearstyn is the recipient of the 2013 employee hero honor, which recognizes a child of an Alaska Communications employee.

Jezzroy Gordon-Wolfe, age 17, Fairbanks – With a passion for the community justice system, Jezzroy is involved with the North Star Youth Court in Fairbanks and worked diligently to become a youth court prosecutor. Outside of the courtroom, he spends his time volunteering and fundraising for many local organizations. He’s involved in cross-age tutoring for the Literacy Council of Alaska; volunteering at the local Food Bank and the public library; and fundraising for his martial arts studio, the Midnight Sun Run, the Fairbanks Resource Agency, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, among other organizations.

Chance Haller, age 16, Seldovia – Chance’s commitment to community service sets him apart as a role model for other young people. Inspired by his father’s career as the chief of police and volunteer fire chief, Chance has been serving as a volunteer firefighter and emergency trauma technician with the Seldovia Volunteer Fire Department since age 14. He also volunteers his time to help local elementary school kids in the Seldovia Prevention Program, educating kids about drugs, alcohol and other negative influences. Not one to ever slow down, Chance is currently seeking his Firefighter 1 Certification to advance his training and take on more responsibilities at the fire station.

Sarah Mixsell, age 11, Anchorage – On Sarah’s ninth birthday, she realized how many clothes and toys she already had, and decided that instead of birthday presents, she would much rather have her friends bring toys to give to children in need. Together, her friends assembled “birthday parties in a bag” so that all of the children at the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis Center in Anchorage could have a present and a birthday celebration of their own. Seeing the positive impact she could make in the lives of others, Sarah was inspired to launch Alaska Kids for Kids, a youth-led nonprofit that encourages kids to make a difference. Now, each year on her birthday, she and her friends spend the day working on a project that helps kids in Alaska.

Cassie Welch, age 9, Anchorage – After being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age eight, Cassie discovered Tour de Cure, a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. A longtime bike rider, Cassie recruited 14 friends and family members to ride with her in the 25K ride, raising more than $5,000. This year, Cassie took it to the next level, building a team of 25 riders who collectively raised $7,200 for the cause. She is now training for a 50k Tour de Cure. Cassie also creates “spirit bracelets” to sell at her school, with the proceeds benefiting the American Diabetes Association.

“When we launched the Summer of Heroes program with Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska three years ago, we could never have imagined all of the inspiring stories we have heard as the program has grown,” said Heather Cavanaugh, director of corporate communications at Alaska Communications. “We are proud to recognize this year’s youth heroes for their acts of generosity and commitment to their communities.”

“Each year during Summer of Heroes we are moved by the stories we hear about children across the state who go above and beyond to make a positive difference,” said Alana Humphrey, CEO at Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska. “Their selfless actions and compassion for others represent why many of us are proud to call Alaska home. Congratulations to the 2013 youth heroes!”

Since 2011, the Summer of Heroes program has recognized Alaska youth for their acts of generosity, courage and achievement. In addition to the scholarship program, Alaska Communications also pledged to donate $25 to Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska for every new smartphone sold during the nomination period, up to $15,000. The final donation amount will be announced during Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska’s 31st Annual Auction Gala on Sept. 14.

Information for this article provided by Alaska Communications.


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