Tyonek girl wins Spirit of Youth award

Photo courtesy by Bonnie Pierce/ Project GRAD Trinity Standifer working with her Native Youth Olympics team on a fundraiser, in Tyonek.

Eight years ago, Bonnie Pierce noticed one of the second-graders staying regularly after school at Tebughna School, a kindergarten through 12th grade school in Tyonek. She met Trinity Standifer, and learned the young student was spending that time helping the janitor complete her evening work.


“I thought that was remarkable,” said Pierce who is the Campus Family Support Manager for Project GRAD, a non-profit school improvement program. “She was really an impressive, well spoken little girl.”

Standifer, now 15, volunteers for Project GRAD. She has grown into the perfect model of a Native youth leader, Pierce said.

“Trinity constantly seeks out ways to improve herself,” Pierce said. “She is always self-evaluating.”

Pierce nominated Standifer and six other students across the Kenai Peninsula for the 2014 Alaska’s Spirit of Youth Award. Standifer won the Service to Children category.

Pierce will join Standifer and her mother at the Spirit of Youth Awards Dinner Saturday at the Anchorage Marriott Hotel.

Standifer was one of 150 youth nominated statewide by the Spirit of Youth Teen Advisory Council, said Karen Zeman, executive director for Spirit of Youth.

The Spirit of Youth program started in 1999 as a way to recognize positive contributions teens are making in their communities. Every year the applicants are doing more service work and are increasingly qualified, Zeman said.

Standifer is incredibly active, Pierce said. She attends the local Boys and Girls Club, participates in Native Youth Drum and Dance, coaches and competes in the Native Youth Olympics. On the side she babysits, goes to church and sometimes takes kids to open gym.

Standifer’s cousin, whom she calls Auntie, Betty Valka said Tebughna, the only school in the village, houses 35 students Kindergarten through 12th grade. Only a handful of students are in high school, Valka said.

The older students are often elected to hold a higher level of responsibility, a role Standifer is always eager to take on, Valka said. Standifer takes her work in the community very seriously, Valka said. She is always ready to step into any kind of role that’s needed, she said.

Many of her peers are Standifers’ immediate and extended relatives, but Trinity refers everyone as family, she said.

The village of Tyonek rests up against the western gravely, glacial shore of Cook Inlet, Valka said. Tebughna, the name of the village’s school and Tyonek people, translates “the Beach People,” according to the Tyonek Native Corporation website.

Tyonek heavily relies on caught fish dried, smoked, frozen and salted, and moose the village resident’s process personally, Valka said. Otherwise groceries are purchased and brought back by relatives on Spernack Airways. Flight is the main transportation to and from the village, she said.

In the darkening, deteriorating September cold, Standifer one year took part in a successful moose hunt, Valka said. Standifer takes part in the camps in the village where children are taught traditional hunting and fishing practices, she said. When her mother Lindsay Bismark heard the news she began to cry tears of joy. She was finally seeing her oldest daughter’s constant service reap a worthy reward, she said.

Standifer has also been nominated for two other awards, Tyonek Native Corporation’s Youth of the Year award and the Peace First award, for which Standifer would receive a $50,000 Peace First Fellowship over two years. The winner will be announced in May.

Bismark taught Standifer and her two younger sisters the same lessons as they grew up. However, their persistent and compassionate nature is just who they are, Bismark said.

“I teach them they can change they world,” Bismark said. “And they know it.”

Bismark also instilled in her children the unequivocal value of an education. If Standifer wants to improve her life, and the life of her tribe and community, she will have to continue to excel in her studies, she said.

Standifer is currently looking to attend a boarding school outside of the village to extend her education, Bismark said. She is encouraging her daughter review her options even beyond Alaska.

Trinity will achieve wonderful things, but she will have many hurdles to clear to get a good education, Bismark said. Growing up in a very rural community is one example.

Moving will give her a chance to really see the kind of impact she can make on the world, she said.

In the mean time, Standifer stays focused on her family. Whether they are doing homework or just hanging out together, she constantly has a group of five to eight other children around her. Standifer said she is looking forward to the changes ahead. She loves the opportunity to meet new people, even though she considers herself to be a shy person.

Standifer said one minute she will remain reserved, and the next minute she acts like she has known a person forever. She said she just has to figure out she is in a safe place first.

Last summer, her work with Project GRAD earned a meeting with Governor Sean Parnell and a visit to to Juneau.

Standifer hopes to go to college and become a lawyer, Pierce said. Last year she began to talk about orienting her focus on helping women and children. Improving life in her tribe always comes first though.

“I am trying to basically be the best I can,” Standifer said. “I want to help kids realize their courage and trust and help them realize their responsibilities, and be there for them when they’re having a rough time.”


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