Alaskan Villagers Prepare for Trip of A Lifetime

A school teacher in the Alaskan Bush encourages her k-12 students to dream BIG; planning a field trip to the lower 48. A film crew from Santa Barbara, California will document the historic journey. Please visit this site for frequent updates on their progress.

A Dream Come True

Club 33 was such a treat

Friday, May 20, 2011

A First Class Farewell

Nearly a week ago, at 1am, outside the main entrance to Disneyland, I told the group from Stony River that I am not long on goodbyes. The trip to Disneyland, California Adventure Park, and Club 33 was Disney-licious, and we were all worn out from the seemingly endless string of activities of the past several weeks.

So the kids gathered around Jenna and me. We embraced in a group hug, exchanged a few thoughts and high-fives, I gave Robert some last minute advice to take with him to college, and we went our separate ways.

In the days since then, my thoughts about Stony River, the trip, the kids, the village, and the film have been maturing in my mind. I know that many are anxious to see the images on film; to see the adventure unfold on screen. I too am excited about the story of courage and encouragement, commitment and hard work, amazement and education, fun and opportunity, and the difference that each of us can make in the lives of others if we listen to the calling.

I am certain that it will take some time before I am satisfied with the telling if this story before it is ready to be viewed on film. But in the meantime, I will try to forward more bits and pieces like the link below to a wonderful story from the Santa Barbara Independent:

There are two more newspaper stories, a TV news story, a radio interview and more photos to come so please check back every so often. It seems like once a week is the blog update schedule for now.

I do want to thank Cox Communications, Alaska Airlines, and Planet Solar again for making it possible for the film crew to get this far on the journey. In the coming weeks expect to hear more about sponsorship opportunities within the television half hour.

I also want to thank Debi Rubera, Brian Volk, Mary Macar, the kids from Stony River and all their parents for trusting us enough to allow us in to follow and document the trip. I know I can speak for Mike Braniger, Branden Aroyen, Paul Mathieu, and many others involved, who feel privileged to have spent time getting to know all of you.

Lastly I want to thank Santa Barbara, the home-school families who welcomed and provided for this group throughout their long journey, the businesses and individuals who went out of their way to show these kids a good time, the media who covered the trip and made the group feel "famous" while they were here.

Thanks to all of you, and please keep up your support for this blog and this project. I feel more strongly now than ever before that this story is INSPIRATION! Just Imagine what could come next...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rolling Hills to Rollercoasters

The trip to Santa Barbara has been a whirlwind of activity. From basketball and science lessons at Westmont College, to executive level decision making at the Reagan Library, to surfing and sailing, horseback riding, swimming, and visiting the Santa Barbara Mission, Zoo, Sea Center, Natural History Museum AND MORE! It has been quite a trip.

Families and businesses in Santa Barbara have continued to pour out the support, hosting lunches and dinners, providing gifts, tours and educational opportunities. Even the local media has gotten into the action with front page newspaper coverage, radio interviews, and TV broadcasts.

The trip has now shifted to the Los Angeles area for Magic Mountain, the Long Beach Aquarium, and Disneyland! You see dreams really do come true!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Arrival in Santa Barbara pt.2

Many things can go wrong on a long journey from the interior of Alaska to the concrete jungle of Southern California. But as Debi Rubera told me in an interview in Stony River, "this trip has been blessed from the beginning."

The blessings continued as all of us and our belongings arrived safely in Los Angeles at approximately 3:00pm. By the time we rounded up our luggage and transportation it was closer to 4:30 and rush hour traffic loomed ahead on the 405.

Somehow the traffic waited long enough for the convoy to make it to Pacific Coast Highway and wind our way along the coast to Carpinteria, where a huge group of pen pals and well wishers welcomed the group with a pot luck feast. The outpouring of love and support from the Santa Barbara community has been a constant the entire time here.

I imagine the kids were a bit overwhelmed at first, but the setting sun and warm waves of the Pacific Ocean invited them to play and relax. Shortly after their arrival at the beach a group of dolphins appeared in the surf to encourage the kids into the waves.

An out of town tourist from New Mexico was so moved by group of families and kids playing in the water that she inquired how she could help. She wound up purchasing some beaded jewelry from one of the girls, and making a substantial donation toward whatever opportunity the trip might afford in the near future.

And so it has gone for the last week here in Santa Barbara. The kids have done more activities, and been more places, and seen more things than I can describe here at this time. But I continue to be amazed at how the story of these kids, and this teacher, and this community have come together to make this a "dream trip come true."

It is amazing the impact that each of us can have on those around us, when we follow our heart and do what we can do to help others.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Departure to Santa Barbara pt.1

Thank you to all who are following and have commented on this blog site. I apologize for waiting nearly a week to post again, but so much has been happening so quickly that it has been difficult to find time to write. As many of you know we are all now in Santa Barbara; the "trip of a lifetime" is well underway. Before I forget however, I want to reflect on some of the events that have brought us to this place.

On April 30th the village was alive well into the morning hours with preparations for Robert's graduation. I was struck by how the kids, and the villagers, bonded together to make this a very special event for Robert and his family. Extended family, previous teachers, and school district officials flew in by Bush plane to congratulate the school's single graduating senior. There was a pot luck feast honoring Robert Kevin Gusty Jr., the eldest of six siblings, and the first in his family to be attending college in Anchorage next year.

The lights had barely been turned out after graduation before preparations to leave the island moved into full swing. Rounding up the suitcases and backpacks, packing, preparing, saying goodbyes, and taking last words of advice and encouragement.

For the film crew our goodbyes were bitter sweet. We knew that we would be reunited with Debi, Brian, Mary, and the students a day later in Anchorage. We were happy that soon we would have the opportunity to share our homes and families with all of them. We were touched by the gracious invitations from several villagers to return someday soon to Stony River. We were somehow changed by the quiet isolation and relative simplicity that our lives had become while in the village.

Our flight to Anchorage on the evening of May 2nd was spectacular. Golden light from the setting sun followed us through the Kuskokwim River valley, over the majestic peaks and craters of the Alaskan Range, across the vast Alaskan tundra, and into the seemingly chaotic streets of Anchorage. Soon after landing I remember looking at, and listening to the cars whizzing by on 5th Street, and wondering how I ever became so accustomed to the commotion of city life in the first place? Later that evening the crew wondered what LA would feel like to our new friends from Stony? None of us imagined that it would feel so different to us also.

The trip from Anchorage to Los Angeles was an adventure in and of itself. The group of 15 from Stony River shopped for last minute supplies until 1am, and then spent the wee hours trying to sleep in the airport waiting to board the plane. Our stop over in Seattle was marked by curious looks of wonder as the kids rode the airport train between concourses, carefully stepped on and off the escalators and moving sidewalks, and looked every which way at the busy world around them. Some remarked on the view of Seattle from the air; we told them to pay close attention to the size of Los Angeles when we land there, a sight that amazes me every time I fly into the city.

We expected a certain amount of culture shock to hit the kids at LAX and on the freeways as we traveled to Santa Barbara. I did not expect to look down from the window of the plane at the cacophony of homes, and buildings, freeways, and roadways, cars, and more cars, and to feel somehow sickened by the sight.

How has life come to this point? Is more really better? What have we lost by being so busy building and growing and expanding and tearing down and building again? I felt myself struggling to hold on to the sensations of self reliance, quiet, isolation, and solitude that a village 250 miles from the nearest roads had given me.

My cautious self reflection gave way to an unbridled sense of belonging as we turned up PCH to take the coastal route home. The sun was low on the horizon, the waves were clean and glassy, the air was warm and smelled of salt, we were home at last and it felt quite good to be here.

To be continued...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Gusty Michael School Prepares For Graduation

Today was the last school day before graduation. We have been shooting two cameras all day and are getting some GREAT footage. We interviewd 8 of the 12 kids and filmed them doing their schoolwork, beading, lunch, basketball, etc. Today for the first time I was asked if I wanted to interview a villager. I hope to do that on Sunday. Tomorrow is graduation.

Thanks for following.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Our Arrival In Stony River Alaska

Wow, what a day! As we flew through the snow covered peaks of the Alaskan Range, past glaciers and volcanoes, we were awestruck, and a bit apprehensive. Moments after our departure, we flew past the last roads that we would see for hundreds of miles. The flight was spectacular, and so was our greeting at the end of the runway in Stony River.

Debi Rubera and two of her students met us in a quad atv with a trailer attached, to cart the three of us, and all of our gear and belongings a few hundred yards to Gusty Michael School in the center of town.

Not certain if we should film or not, we carried our cameras into the school. Branden discovered two students working to make traditional knives called Ulaqs. I was surprised to find the younger children practicing their reading skills behind two desktop computers. A few of the older girls were working on laptops given to the school by apple. They politely told me that they were learning to use imovie (I loved that... an instant connection based on a common technology).

I was struck by the thought that these kids, and this school, were like many others that I have visited across the US. But this location was like no place that I had ever been. So remote, so quiet, so peaceful, so beautiful already in so many ways. Brandon was immediately invited after school to a villager's homesite to film his family as they milled the lumber and worked on their new house.

What a day! What an opportunity! Thank you to all who are supporting this trip and these kids!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Alaska Dreams Travel Far

Today is the day our journey begins...

Actually it began for me about three weeks ago when an email solicitation for funds found its way into my inbox. After reading about Debi Rubera, a school teacher in the Alaskan interior who encouraged her k-12 students to dream big and set their sights on a field trip to the lower 48, I thought to myself "HOW CAN ANYONE NOT HELP THESE KIDS?"

My initial thought was to send funds, but then I too started to dream bigger. I imagined myself growing up in a small remote village, on an island in the middle of the wilderness, with limited access to resources, and even less opportunity to break out of the isolated life that I was accustomed to. I thought about the courage it must take to dream big under these circumstances. I felt inspired by the story of these children, and reminded that the process of making dreams come true is the same whether you come from an island in the wilderness, inner city, or suburbs.

Realizing a dream come true involves first believing that it can come true. Then comes hard work and perseverance, overcoming adversity, more hard work, and often a helping hand or two.

It turns out that my way to help is to produce a film about Stony River Alaska and the transformation that is happening there RIGHT NOW as these Alaskan villagers prepare to send their children on the "trip of a lifetime." I am hopeful that this will become "Opportunity For a Lifetime" for these kids and others that they touch with their incredible story.

Special thanks go out today to Cox Communications, Alaska Airlines, and Planet Solar who have sponsored the film and enabled me and my dedicated film crew to travel to Anchorage today, and on to Stony River Alaska tomorrow.