With temperatures hovering in the teens and a bright moonlit sky over 80 people gathered at Farnsworth Park last week for the second annual candle light vigil to promote awareness of homelessness among teens on the Peninsula. Debbie Michael was an organizer of the event and said she was pleased with the turn out, "We feel like the community always rises to occasions like this and we were also pleased with the weather compared to last year when we couldn't keep a candle lit in the rain and snow," she told the Dispatch in an interview. The theme for the night was "Do one thing." "It was not just the theme for the night; it's a theme that we feel is important year round. It's simple and a theme that everyone in the community can grab a hold of to do one thing to bring encouragement and hope to the people around you," explained Michael.
It was said that the number of students in our school district who are without the basic necessities of a stable, safe, adequate, permanent place to sleep at night is growing and will likely meet or surpass the 301 students enrolled in the transitions program during the 2010-2011 school year. Those who gathered at Farnsworth Park heard from teens that had lived the experience. Speakers shared stories bringing a sobering perspective. People listened, looked down, and around, spoke softly. The dozens and dozens of candles cupped in holders provided by Covenant House in Anchorage illumined the sentiment of care and compassion in the quiet, reflective faces of all ages. Kelly King, one of two Kenai Peninsula Borough School District homeless liaisons spoke eloquently, reminding everyone, "Students are homeless for a variety of reasons. Each family and student has their own story and their own experience. Some leave homes that are not safe, other students are abandoned. The reasons are varied, and differ drastically from one another."
According to King 121 students are currently enrolled in the program, of which 93 are in the Central Peninsula and Seward area, and 28 are in the Homer to Ninilchik communities. Thirty-five are unaccompanied youth. The Students in Transition Program goal is to provide consistent, uninterrupted education so that students can succeed in school.
Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche in addressing those assembled said, "The one thing that I want to do is spread the word to adults how important it is to communicate with young people and not view them as substandard people that are not worth communicating with because it can just one adult with the right message of care and support to save the life of a young person and move them in the right direction." Forrest Vest, a senior at Kenai Central High School was the recipient of the 2010 Scholarship of Hope. Vest shared his story of substance abuse, homelessness, and subsequent positive choices and support he received. His message to youth: "If you have a family to go home to--go home." Vest seeded "The for Rest Fund" with his scholarship, offering his vision to build a shelter for teens who are homeless in the central Kenai Peninsula.
The evening concluded with organizers Debbie and Dave Michael thanking everyone for showing up and asking everyone to return for next year's vigil on November 10th which is the annual date for the event. Dave is a teacher at a KPBSD school, and the Michaels are committed to starting an emergency youth shelter. Debbie invited people to talk about the vigil with family, friends, and co-workers. Her closing words were to "make tracks" in order to grow awareness of students and families who are homeless in our neighborhoods. Homeless students or those who know a homeless or want to learn more about the Students In Transition Program, should contact a school principal, secretary, counselor or nurse, or the KPBSD local area liaison directly: Central Peninsula and Seward: Kelly King, (907)714-8869, firstname.lastname@example.org Homer and Ninilchik area: Kelly Luck, (907)235-8130, email@example.com.