Speaker brings inspirational message to peninsula youths

Posted: Monday, March 18, 2002

A water bottle is taped to the corner of a table in the Sterling Elementary School gym. A small ball of paper and tape balances on the mouth of the bottle.

One by one, more than 20 elementary students take their turns walking toward the bottle, arm extended, trying to flick the ball off the bottle without slowing down or bending their elbows.

It may sound easy, but as the kids quickly learned, it's not. Only two of the students managed to hit the ball once. None could do it twice.

"There's a trick to it," admitted Earl Polk, the AmeriCorps speaker who challenged the children to the game.

What is the trick? He wouldn't tell. The point of this game is persistence.

Polk, known as Keggulluk in his Yupik tongue, spent Wednesday and Thursday bringing inspirational messages to youth in the central Kenai Peninsula.

Wednesday afternoon, he spoke to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Sterling Elementary, encouraging them to channel energy and adventure into positive work for the community.

"Each of you -- no matter where you are from or how you grew up -- can be a leader," Polk told the students. "You all have a chance, but you have to be willing to step up there first. You have to be willing to make a commitment."

Polk talked to the students about avoiding drugs and cigarettes, seeking help in dangerous situations and making a positive contribution to their community.

Polk works with AmeriCorps, a domestic branch of the Peace Corps. Calling himself a "tundra tumbleweed," he travels through Alaska, Canada and reservations in the Lower 48 speaking to youth about various issues.

He said he has about 20 different presentations for different ages and settings. Some of his topics include HIV/AIDS, drug abuse and suicide prevention -- a topic near to his heart since his son died trying to stop a friend from killing himself.

"What I do is address issues relative to the community," Polk said before the Sterling session. "I'm what some people call a motivational speaker."

Polk also offers presentations on cultural sensitivity and encouraged many students at the school to learn more about their heritage.

"People look at me and say, 'What is that Hawaiian dude doing wearing Native clothes?'" Polk told the children. "I am Yupik, black and Mohawk Indian. So I guess that's how you make a Hawaiian."

Prior to the Sterling engagement, Polk spoke to the Title IX class at Soldotna High School and visited Sterling Head Start. Thursday he ate breakfast with the morning class at Head Start, spoke to sixth-graders at Kenai Middle School, visited Kenai Alternative School and offered a presentation to youth at the Boys and Girls Club.

Polk's visit to the central peninsula was sponsored by Rural Alaska Community Action Program, (RuralCAP) which sponsors Sterling Head Start.

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