Courtney Stroh rallied other teenagers to clean up guts, and Shaylee Rizzo dressed up like a moose for elementary classrooms.
Both girls wanted to change something in their communities, and for their efforts Alaska Communications awarded them $1,500 Summer of Heroes scholarships.
Sixteen-year-old Stroh, of Kenai, founded ROC the Kenai, a teen-based team of volunteers who rallied to clean up and raise awareness about fish waste on the beaches during the dipnet season.
Concerned with the number of vehicle collisions with moose, Nikiski resident Rizzo, 17, wrote and illustrated a children’s book, and, wearing a moose suit her grandmother sewed, she educated elementary classes about moose awareness.
“I’m pretty proud of myself because I’ve been working on my project for a while and it’s nice that I got the scholarship,” Stroh said.
The girls’ projects started with the annual Caring for the Kenai contest.
“You have to come up with an idea to either improve the environment in the community or help better prepare the community for an environmental disaster, like a tsunami or earthquake,” Stroh said.
With the initial push from the contest, the two took off.
Ever since she was a child, Stroh has enjoyed playing on the beaches with her family and friends.
She remembers collecting mud at low tide and making mud cookies and donuts. They would let the sun bake them.
“That was always really fun,” she said.
She does not remember the fish guts back then because it might just be an old memory, she said.
But now she is older and it is a problem, she said. On some level, she feels responsible for it.
“I’m not the one creating the mess, but it’s still my home and my town and I have pride in it,” she said. “I just don’t like seeing it like that.”
Rizzo focused on moose crashes after she and her father learned of Ivira, an infant moose orphaned when a car killed its mother.
Inspired by Ivira, Rizzo invented her children’s book character Missy the Moose.
Missy soon also became the costume Rizzo wore to elementary school classes.
“It’s just really fun to go and talk to people about this whole project thing,” she said. “We even made this theme song and that was just a bunch of fun to do.”
While both girls enjoyed interacting with the community, they said their projects were also a step forward in their futures.
Stroh, a high school junior, wants to make a career of biochemical engineering.
“I just think it’s so cool,” she said. “I took chemistry last year and it really fascinated me. It was hard but interesting.”
She said the scholarship will help with college payments.
She is looking at Claremont College in California because the college has an engineering program. She is also considering Carleton College in Minnesota and the Colorado School of Mines.
“I’m pretty proud of my self because I’ve been working on my project for a while and it’s nice that I got the scholarship,” she said. “I’m excited because I can use it to help me go to college and that’s important to me.”
Rizzo is a senior in high school, and she plans to study veterinary medicine in college.
She is looking at Brigham Young University in Idaho.
“I want to get my major in animal sciences so I can go to vet school,” she said, “and I think I’m going to do my minor in theater just in case the vet thing doesn’t work out.”
She has been acting nearly her entire life, and she grew up with animals.
“We used to have 30-something animals,” she said. “We had cats, we had rabbits, we had hamsters, birds.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.