Caring for my Backyard

Each year students across the Kenai Peninsula are tasked with finding a way to care for the place that they call home in the annual Caring for the Kenai competition, but this year the competition is expanding to include the backyard.


“It’s time that idea, which started as Caring for the Kenai, becomes about more than just the Kenai Peninsula,” said Caring for the Kenai Founder and Contest Coordinator Merrill Sikorski.

To achieve this, Caring for the Kenai is now Caring for my Backyard, and is being touted as a community partnership available anywhere there are backyards and youth with creative ideas.

The competition tasks students with answering the question “What can I do, invent, or create to better care for the environment in my area, or to help improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster?”

In the past, students have answered that question as it pertains to the Kenai Peninsula in a variety of ways, from puppets to 5Ks and everything in between.

This year’s winner, Anya Hondel aimed to improve the Kenai Peninsula with Captain Conservation, a puppet show highlighting the importance of conserving energy.

“We’ve seen incredible results here over the past 28 years, from the Salmon Run Series which raised $60,000 for habitat restoration, R.O.C. the Kenai which taught fishermen to reduce waste on Kenai’s dipnet beaches, light-penetrating walkways which are now a requirement along the Kenai River, oxygen masks for pets donated to local fire departments, apps for wilderness survival and salmon identification, even legislation carried to the Governor’s desk by local representatives,” Sikorski said in a press release. “These are projects that have earned recognition by three different Presidents of the United States. Our young people can make a difference, if we give them the opportunity and the motivation to do it.”

Through the rebrand, Caring for my Backyard will be able challenge high school students across the world to care for their home, not just Kenai.

Caring for the Kenai is administered by the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska and as the program moves onto a wider stage, the center will act in the same role if a community requires it.

The Challenger Mission to inspire students in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines while connecting with the relationships and applications to real world situations creates a seamless backdrop for a program such as Caring for Kenai that was designed to have students think of creative ideas to help their local environment and prepare for natural disasters” said Challenger CEO Marnie Olcott.

Caring for the Kenai will continue on the Kenai Peninsula, offering more than $30,000 in prizes to students who participate with their ideas to better the community, while the program itself works to find it’s way into other backyards.

Reach Kat Sorensen at