Caring for the Kenai contest thinks long-term

Even if she didn’t win, Caring for Kenai participant Krysten Maxson said she would continue with her project.


The judge’s panel and audience were clapping before Maxon finished the final sentence of her presentation Thursday at Kenai Central High School. Walking away with second place, she earned a $1,100 cash prize. Her idea is to install junk mail recycling receptacles at mailbox clusters around Kenai.

Maxson’s idea originated from discussions with her family, who felt the common frustration over piles of junk mail, Maxson said. It takes 30 years for one piece of mail to decompose. Why not get rid of junk mail “right where you receive it,” she said.

Soon into the project Maxson found out renovating federal property is not easy. After receiving positive feedback from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maxson sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. She is still waiting to hear back from him.

“I am going to push really hard for what my idea already is,” Maxson said. “But if it’s a solid no, then Plan B is to ask for donations from local metal companies.”


During the event, Contest Coordinator Merrill Sikorski praised educators in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for a commitment to teaching in ways that venture “outside of the box.” This practice has resulted in a crop of students capable of self-initiated learning, he said.

Development Director at the Kenai Watershed Forum Josselyn O’Connor said one of the great aspects of a plan, such as first-place winner Katherine Dolma’s goal to install “green roofs” in the KPBSD, is they can be easily implemented.

“It was really incredible,” Dolma said. “There were so many amazing projects, I was shocked when they called my name.”

Dolma plans to appoint a test school to install “any kind of organic matter” on its rooftop. The living surface can then be utilized as a greenway for local fowl, a garden for educational purposes, or even a way to reduce a building’s ecological footprint with the added insulation.

O’Connor, who has been involved in the contest for a decade, said submitting a project to Caring for the Kenai facilitates the continuation of projects outside the scope of the contest. Many projects from years past, even ones that didn’t win, have continued on to become influential in the community. For example, Courtney Stroh first came up with ROC the Kenai for Caring for the Kenai in high school, she said.

“The extraordinary talent of students in this area and their creative ideas the come up with makes us think ‘OK, we’re going in the right direction,’” O’Connor said.


“I thought there was a lot of really good projects,” said third place winner Taylor Sheldon. “I am really honored to be in the top three.”

Alaskans buy $2,000,000 in produce annually, Sheldon said during her presentation. Only 2-3 percent comes from within in the state. She asked the audience to consider the consequences of outside food sources becoming cut off from the Kenai community.

“High tunnels can extend growing up to 6-8 weeks,” Sheldon said. She witnessed how feasible it is for locals to produce more while gardening with her grandmother this past summer.

Sheldon said her next step will be to bring her brochures and miniature high tunnel to stores like Walmart and Home Depot, where the average shopper is rarely exposed to local produce.


Huddled together against a line of rusty-red lockers, Austin Craig, Aurora Derflinger, Morgan Chesley prepared for their presentation on Books for Africa.

“I’m excited. We’ve worked really hard to get here,” Chesley said. “There’s been a struggle in some of the aspects but were better for it.”

Craig said he had some shaky nerves before speaking. “I’m nervous I will stutter,” he said.

“Or not talk loud enough,” Deflinger added.

“Yes, be sure to enunciate,” Chesley said.

Without pause, or stumble Craig discussed the repercussions of tossing out library books across the Peninsula. Plastic covers, glue and binding take centuries to decompose, and unnecessarily add to the volume of local landfills.

“This is our duty as people,” Chesley said during her turn. “We’re not just caring for Kenai, we’re changing the world.”

The team won fourth place, and walked away with a $750 cash prize they will put toward shipping more books from the community to African schools.


2014 winners

First — Katherine Dolma, Homer

Second — Kyrsten Maxson, Kenai Central

Third — Taylor Shelden, Kenai Central

Fourth — Morgan Chesley, Austin Craig and Aurora Derflinger, Skyview

Fifth — Braden Ellis, Nikiski

Finalists — Haley Trefon, Skyview; Afton Carlson, Soldotna; Patrick Latimer, Homer; Melissa Ehlers, Ninilchik; Lisa Wisner, Homer; Cassidy Soistman, Homer


Kelly Sullivan can be reached at


Wed, 05/23/2018 - 16:14

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