When Jessica Roper, 17, sat in her Kenai Central High School government class with other seniors and heard about the class project assignment, she got excited.
The assignment was to create and follow through with a project to benefit the community. The project requirements were to be documented with 20 hours of work, along with a progress report and an overall presentation due in December.
While the project is a requirement to graduate, for Roper it means even more.
“I decided to find a way to benefit the fire departments on the Peninsula,” she said. “I have decided to swift water certify 24 firemen from various departments.”
Her plan is to hold an Oct. 26 event at the Kenai Visitors Center from 1 to 4 p.m. to raise $13,000 for the training.
The event will feature a silent auction, spaghetti feed, meet and greet with firefighters from local departments and live music. Because the event is the weekend before Halloween, she is asking attendees to come in costume.
The swift water certification course provides rescuers with the fundamentals of survival in moving water and is recommended for anyone who may be called upon to effect in-water rescues. Practical skills include self-rescue, swift water swimming and the fundamentals of shore, boat and in-water rescues. Students are also introduced to the basics of handling and the fundamentals of rope rescue.
Roper’s interest in firefighting began almost three years ago when she became interested in the Explorers Program through Central Emergency Services.
Roper said the program allowed teens to learn about the life and job of first responders.
“And kind of just live (as a first responder),” Roper said.
She said she would go to CES once a week, go over fire drills and learn how to wear the gear properly. After she became CPR certified, she was going on calls with the crew.
Once she started going out on calls, she became close to the firefighters and paramedics at CES Station 1.
“They kind of turn into family,” she said. “They are so smart. They teach you everything you need to know. They even helped me with my homework.”
With that experience, Roper said working as a first responder soon became her goal. She has been state certified as an EMT I and she plans on going to paramedic school in August of 2014.
Unfortunately, the Explorers program was suspended when the instructor left to further his education.
When the government assignment came up, she went to CES and she brainstormed project ideas with her mentors. She and others came up with the idea of swift water rescue project.
“It all just blossomed into this $13,000 program,” Roper said.
To begin the process, Roper went to talk to Johna Beech, executive director of the Kenai Visitors Center. Beech was able to give Roper some helpful ideas about fundraising.
“At first I was overwhelmed,” Roper said. “But I am not going to say I can’t do this. I am going to make it happen.”
Roper wrote a letter and set out into the community to ask for help.
“After school I would go to local businesses and talk to whomever I could,” she said. “That was a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
So far she has receive donations from 17 companies, both monetary and items for the silent auction. But she admits it is not enough to meet her goal.
She also talked to Kenai Mayor Pat Porter.
“She encouraged me to not give up,” Roper said.
With Porter’s help, Roper applied for and won a $500 City of Kenai mini grant to help with her project.
Justin Carr, KCHS government teacher and activities director, said each student is assigned to come up with a long lasting project that will not only benefit people in the community, but also teach students about their civic duty.
Carr said Roper approached him about her project and he thought it was a huge undertaking.
“It is quite ambitious,” she said.
Carr said there is usually one student per year that expands the project, but nowhere near what Roper has put into her project.
While Roper said she received a lot advice early on telling her to make the goal smaller, her project has become something more.
“If you want to be the best and do something great, then do it,” she said.
As an added benefit, Roper came home to a box from United States Senator Lisa Murkowski last week. Inside the box was an American flag and a letter of gratitude for her effort.
Roper said while she put in a lot of work for the project, the community has made a difference.
“I don’t want to be the only one praised for this, it’s everyone. It’s all of these people who are donating,” she said.
For more information about how to donate to Roper’s Oct. 26 event, call 907-598-5377.
Sara J. Hardan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.