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An hour in their shoes

Vigil for homeless youth inspires residents to reach out

Posted: November 12, 2011 - 9:24pm  |  Updated: November 12, 2011 - 9:40pm
Tiffany Grimm, right, and her husband Corey hold candles Thursday evening at a candlelight vigil for homeless youth.  M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
Tiffany Grimm, right, and her husband Corey hold candles Thursday evening at a candlelight vigil for homeless youth.

Do one thing.

Those words rang through the frigid November air on Thursday.

Despite inspiring speeches, words did little to fight off the creeping cold. Wool socks weren’t even enough that night. A bit of heat came from a small distant campfire, but more comforting was the soft flicker of the 85 candles that illuminated Farnsworth Park in Soldotna.

What those words and candles didn’t provide in creature comforts, they made up for in the warmth of hope and determination to the 85 residents attending the vigil. 

A determination to do one thing, something, anything.

A hope to help those who are forced to live with little or no shelter day and night in the almost unbearable Alaska winter conditions.

Debbie Michael, who organized the vigil with her husband Dave, asked the crowd to put themselves in a homeless person’s situation, if only just in their minds.

“Tonight it’s a little cold, it’s a little dark — it’s challenging,” Michael said. “That’s part of the reason we’re out here, we want to experience what some people experience day after day.

“We can do it for an hour, right?”

The idea behind the vigil was to raise awareness of the homeless youth in the community. Similar vigils held across the country and the state, all on the same day — Nov. 10. Last year was the first vigil to take place in the central Kenai Peninsula. This year’s ceremony continued the work done last year.

“This year’s theme is ‘Do one thing,’” Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche said to the crowd. “That means we all need to do one thing to encourage homeless youth that may be struggling.”

Noreen Sullivan, of Soldotna, knew she was going to attend this year’s vigil after she kept hearing about it from her friends who went last year.

“They couldn’t stop talking about it, they felt it was very powerful,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said having the vigil outside was a good way for the community to reflect on the challenges homeless youth face.

“I definitely think that it makes people stop and think about that environment,” she said. “And about what it would be like, I think that’s part of the power about having it out there.”

Kay Gardner, who works at Soldotna High School, agreed that having the vigil outside was important.

“Here we are, just being there for an hour,” she said. “And these kids are living that all the time.”

Gardner was impressed how the community came together for the event.

“It was really nice to have so many people,” Gardner said. “There was a lot of different age groups, a lot of people were represented there.

“Hopefully we can make something happen, get together and get something done.”

Jason Manalli, of Soldotna noticed the abundance of community support.

“We’ve got all these people from different churches and organizations, people from positions of influence with different perspectives coming together for the kids,” Manalli said. “There’s a unity between these leaders coming together that’s bigger than them — that was really encouraging to see.”

Micciche said the outside venue for the vigil was a way of knowing what it could be like for those who aren’t as fortunate.

“It helped people understand the risk and discomfort and all of the other risks that come along with being on the street,” he said.

Micciche’s three children are what makes him so passionate about helping youth.

“The shivers that I was feeling was not just because of the weather,” he said.

He also spoke to the crowd about the city’s plans to try and mitigate some of problems through a Teen Center.

“Our entire plan is to start with a low cost option and at least offer some services that kids have a healthy and safe place to recreate and just hang out,” Micciche said. “In a safe place with trained and qualified guidance available.”

The next step to seeing that come to fruition Micciche said is to get a committee appointed, which would include parents, teachers, counseling professionals and teens. After the center is in place, where it goes from there is up to the community.

“If we have support for a center that has more services to offer then that will be the goal,” he said.

Despite the freezing temperature Thursday, Forrest Vest, last year’s recipient of the Scholarship of Hope played the song he wrote last year that drew from the emotion of being a homeless youth sleeping in the back of his car or from couch to couch. 

He serves, in a way, as the voice of youth that may not have a bed to sleep in. Having lived that life two years ago, he knows what it’s like. 

“Forrest is a great spokesperson,” Gardner said. “He sounds like he wants to get something going, and what an awesome person to start that, what a great kid.”

Gardner said it’s important to focus on the youth of the community.

“That’s our future generation, it’s all about the kids, that’s our future,” she said.

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