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Kenai vies for All-America title

Posted: May 31, 2011 - 10:00am

Next month, more than a dozen Kenai residents will travel to Missouri seeking a second All-America City designation.

The Kenai delegation rehearsed its 10-minute presentation at Wednesday's Chamber of Commerce lunch, complete with singing, bear suits and fishing vests. The group aims to repeat Kenai's success in the 1992 All-America City competition, when the presentation focused on building projects. Kenai was looking to develop its infrastructure at that time.

"We're hooked on Kenai," the delegation will tell people from around the country when they compete in Kansas City on June 15, explaining the city's efforts to protect water and wildlife.

Christine Cunningham, co-chair of the city's team and assistant to the city manager, said the competition organized by the National Civic League asks cities to reflect on problems and how each city has solved them.

"The All-America City competition is a civic pride competition," Cunningham said.

Kenai's group will start by talking about the most fundamental element of the city -- water. The delegation also will talk about the interactions between bears and humans, and the Caring for the Kenai competition that encourages local students to tackle environmental issues in the community.

The Kenai delegation relies on youth and longtime residents to share the city's story. Perhaps the biggest surprise is a bear that stands on two legs and never dives into a trash can filled with goodies. At the end of the presentation, he takes off his hat and introduces himself to start the question-and-answer period. It's City Manager Rick Koch.

The traveling team members aren't the only people who have helped the city prepare for the competition, Cunningham said. The leadership class at Kenai Central High School assisted the city with making and packing items for the civic fair, where Kenai gets to give out small items to visitors from other cities. Local businesses have also helped out.

"We've had a lot of donations from the community," Cunningham said.

The community support could pay off in the form of increased tourism, better bond ratings and other perks if the city receives the All-America designation, Cunningham said at the lunch.

Besides just promoting the city, Cunningham said the competition is a good chance to network. Because the competition focuses on problems and how to solve them, communities share a lot of good ideas, she said.

Mary Jo Joiner, the other co-chair, and Cunningham attended the competition last year to get a feel for how to put together Kenai's entry.

Out of 60 applicants for the All-America designation, 26 were selected as finalists. Those teams will compete in Kansas City, and 10 will be named All-America Cities for 2011.

Kenai's delegation heads to Missouri on June 14, has an opportunity for a dress rehearsal on June 15 and competes at 8 a.m. June 16. The finalists present in alphabetical order by state. With no cities from Alabama and just one from Alaska, Kenai will be the first to present.

In addition to being on the presentation team, Hannah Coffman, the student representative on city council this year and a recent KCHS graduate, and Kelsie Leaf, this year's Caring for the Kenai winner, will also represent the city in another part of the competition -- a youth leadership forum. They're also eligible for a youth award given by the National Civic League.

"I'm blown away," Cunningham said of their qualifications. "Hannah and Kelsie are both outstanding individuals."

Anchorage, Seward, Valdez, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Kotzebue and St. George Island have all received the designation in the past. With a designation, Kenai would be the fourth Alaska city to receive the honor twice. Valdez has been honored twice and Seward three times, while Anchorage has nabbed the designation four times.

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