If this month is any indication of Lincoln Wensley's future, it will be bright, as the Kenai Central High School sophomore has been honored with two national awards in the past 30 days.
"It all started with a dune project for the Caring for the Kenai contest two years ago," he said.
Under the tutelage of Kenai High instructor Richard Fredrick, Wensley, 16, developed a project for the environmental competition that aimed to protect the sensitive dunes and beach grass around the mouth of the Kenai River from human impact -- a contributing factor to coastal erosion in the area. He put together a three-minute video that informed people about the fragile dune environment and provided tips on how to protect it.
"I saw, and I think the city agreed, that this was a very big issue that needed to be recognized," Wensley said.
With a grant from the city of Kenai, his movie was distributed on DVDs to local visitor centers, chambers of commerce and other organizations. He also produced a shorter version that was broadcast as a public service announcement on local television stations. He recruited several community leaders to record a series of PSAs for the radio.
Wensley also made presentations at local elementary schools, and his project was featured in a city of Kenai newsletter mailed to every household in town.
"I ended up winning the Caring for the Kenai contest that year. After that, I was advised by my counselor to apply for these other programs," he said, referring to the Prudential Spirit of the Community Award program and the President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) program.
The Prudential Spirit of the Community Award, conducted in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, seeks to encourage youth volunteerism and identify and reward young role models.
Wensley was selected as one of 100 winners from more than 20,000 applicants. He was also one of only two youths chosen from Alaska. The other was Katherine Dolma, 13, of Homer. On May 4, the two, and their families, were flown to Washington, D.C. -- with all expenses paid -- where they each received $1,000 awards, as well as personal congratulations from former First Lady Laura Bush.
"It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but getting up to talk to her wasn't that bad," Wensley said of the experience.
Roughly a week later, Wensley again flew to D.C. with his family -- with all expenses paid -- and accepted another award and another $1,000 check, only this time it was for the PEYA award.
PEYA invites youth from all 50 states to participate in the program which recognizes projects that demonstrate a young person's commitment to the environment. Wensley was the Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 winner.
"Basically, the way the EPA splits it up, I won for the Alaska region, which also includes Oregon, Washington and Idaho," he said.
As to the two national awards, Wensely said he felt honored to receive them.
"Both are equal in scope, so they are very exciting and fulfilling," he said.
However, Wensley didn't set out to win awards, he set out to educate visitors and the local community about an environmental issue, and in that respect, he feels like he has also succeeded.
In the past few years since he developed his project, Kenai has passed an ordinance that increased the fine for trespassing on the dunes from $100 to $500, and the city assigned two officers to patrol the beach during the peak of the fishing season.
"Family members and friends have also told me they started asking people to get off the dunes after they saw the video, so I think we're seeing positive results," he said.
Wensley said he has also started to think about pursuing an environmental career after high school, as a result of seeing the positive effects of his project.
"It showed me the impact one person can have, so I've been thinking about becoming an environmental lawyer. I think all of this would be a good start toward that career," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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