Kids of all ages enjoy the sport fish simulator at the KRSA Volunteer Olympics.
At the heart of all of the terrific events hosted through out the year on the Kenai Peninsula is a committed group of volunteers, who give of their time and energy to make those events successful. One such event is the world famous Kenai River Classic hosted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA).
The idea of the Classic was spawned in the chambers of Alaska's Senior U.S. Senator Ted Stevens and over the last decade has raised millions of dollars that has funded a myriad of habitat rehabilitation and education projects. Yet, according to KRSA Board members, the success of the event hinges on the tremendous volunteer effort that is put into hosting the annual Classic. Last year Dan Mortenson, owner of 4-D Interiors and KRSA Board Member, created what has become known as the Volunteer Olympics for folks who help out with their events, "Our volunteers put in a lot of time in helping us put on the Classic, it's a big effort at a time when they all have at least 10 other things they could be doing, so this is our way of saying thank you and letting them know we appreciate them while having some good competitive fun as well," said Mortenson. The Volunteer Olympics included some unique events that also came from Mortenson's imagination, such as the "Slingy Ball Toss, Fly Casting, Fish Toss away, and Fish On Tournament." "Anyone can create an event for these Olympics, as long as it's competitive, but also a little crazy and a lot of fun for all of us who share the common purpose of preserving the greatest river in the world," added Mortenson.
Another group that has experienced great success with its projects due to volunteers is the Kenai Watershed Forum (KWF), and the day after the Volunteer Olympics the KWF hosted a volunteer appreciation barbeque. "Without volunteers and our supporting members, non-profit organizations like the Kenai Watershed Forum would not be in existence. It's that simple, we rely on people from within the community to help us pull our projects off whether it's cutting willows in the spring time for restorations projects or flying a small plane to count boats from the air, or wading in the river to take water samples, we couldn't do the work we do for the low costs if it weren't for our volunteers, and while some of it is fun, a lot of it boils down to hard work, and that's why we have an annual barbeque to say thank you and review the work that we have been able to accomplish with the help of our volunteers," said Robert Ruffner, KWF executive director.
Ruffner said he believes what motivates people to volunteer again and again is the sense of accomplishment they receive from being able to do something as a group that they couldn't accomplish as an individual. While volunteering can be an educational experience, Ruffner feels it's a two way street, "Often times the professional people leading the project learn as much from the people who volunteer to come and help out, as the person who is doing something for the first time. There is definitely a sense of comradery that happens and a building of friendships that carry on in the future," added Ruffner. Whether it's a hot dog, T-shirt, a game of Slingy Ball, or a simple thank you and pat on the back that expresses their appreciation, non-profit organizations attribute their success to the strength of their volunteers.
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