Shana Sheeha of the Spirit of Youth organization came to Kenai in the waning weeks of 2013 to interview Moira Pyhala, a junior at Skyview High School who has been nominated for the Spirit of Youth Award. Sheeha also produces feature segments for Public Radio and the Pyhala interview was recently aired statewide and on KDLL and KBBI in Homer. According to Sheeha, Spirit of Youth is an Alaskan nonprofit organization whose full mission is to recognize young people for the positive accomplishments and the ways they give back to their communities. The organization issues a call for nominees for kids ages 12-19 from anywhere in Alaska from anyone. Lisa Beranek of the Kenai Watershed Forum nominated Pyhala for several such positive accomplishments. “When I saw the call for nominations Moira Pyhala came to my mind instantly. In addition to volunteering for our Streamwatch Program at KWF, Moira has volunteered in a variety of other capacities and took her volunteering to the ultimate level starting a Rotary Interact Club at Skyview to get other students involved in volunteering in our local community”, Beranek told the Dispatch.
Pyhala says the recognition feels good, but it’s the reward that comes from volunteering that is the best, “It’s a great feeling that comes from volunteering. I do it for those personal rewards and now that those efforts are encouraging others it’s an even better feeling,” she said.
Sheeha has been traveling Alaska for the last 12 years with the Spirit of Youth and says it’s the best job ever, “It’s a wonderful thing to go all over Alaska; meet young people and shine a light on what they are doing in their communities; finding out what motivates them to contribute and giving them the recognition they deserve. I have seen the results of the positive recognition in young people who I have done stories about, who have gone on to accomplish really great things and returned to Alaska and are giving back to their communities in an even larger way. That of course is the purpose of Spirit of Youth,” said Sheeha.
Only a few of the nominees have stories on them done by Sheeha for Public Radio. All nominees for the Spirit of Youth Award are reviewed by a committee comprised of their teen peers (who use their own criteria). They select two from each of the 10 Spirit of Youth categories and those 20 individuals or groups of individuals are then recognized at an awards banquet, “Perhaps the greatest thing about the Spirit of Youth Awards is that those teens who receive it are being recognized by their peers,” said Sheeha. Nominations may be made any time throughout the year by going to www.spiritofyouth.org. Spirit of Youth is also part of the Pick Click Give program that allows all Alaskans to give portions of their Permanent Fund Dividend checks when applying for the this year’s dividend.