For 14 years, the Caring for the Kenai competition has encouraged Kenai Peninsula students to think up and act on ideas promoting environmental awareness. In all those years, no Kenai Central High School student has nabbed the championship until Thursday night.
The 15th annual competition narrowed the field of 500 applicants to 12 students. Sophomore Hannah Watkins of Kenai won the top prize for the emergency preparedness children's book trilogy she wrote and illustrated. In her presentation, Watkins said she had assurance from Central Emergency Services Director David Gibbs that there would be books printed with saddle stitching that would be donated to libraries and handed out to peninsula parents.
Gibbs said deciding to help Watkins was a no-brainer.
"She came to us and we were interested in supporting the idea. We felt it was very well written and beautifully illustrated," Gibbs said. "We thought it was valuable enough that we committed staff time to help her out."
Gibbs said he's looking into getting it printed, partly because he said it's a thoughtful and creative series, and partly because nothing like it has been done recently.
"There was a coloring book made many, many years ago, but nothing like this. She covered all the big issues kids deal with like uncertainty when there's a disaster," he said. "We'll need to shop around for a publisher but we're looking to print somewhere around 500 copies. It's an excellent publication."
KCHS Assistant Principal Alan Fields said he's looking forward to getting a signed first edition to display in the school.
"Hopefully it would inspire future Caring for the Kenai contestants," Fields said.
Watkins plans to put her $1,500 winnings toward her college fund. She hopes to study chemistry.
"This started out as just an assignment for class, but it's made me more aware of being prepared for emergencies," Watkins said. "I'm excited."
Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and event judge, said Watkins' idea was well thought out.
"This is the first time someone has explained to me how a young kid would think about natural emergencies," he said.
KCHS will receive the heaviest portion of $10,000 which will be dispersed among the winners' schools. Watkins' chemistry teacher, Christine Bergholtz, said she plans on putting those funds toward lab equipment.
Runners up Katie Thornton and Kelsey Shields sang a song they wrote that went along with a slide show about keeping the Kenai beautiful through recycling. The juniors at Skyview said the growing mountain of trash at the Soldotna landfill is a growing problem because people are ignoring the possibility of recycling. Their solution was to place recycling bins in the schools to help with the 1,000 soda bottles thrown out per day in the six schools they polled.
"We're starting this at Skyview soon," Shields said.
A banquet honoring the winners with Lt. Gov. Loren Leman as a guest is scheduled for Friday.
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