A look back at the headlines of 2003 could paint a dismal picture of the last year.
It was a year of financial frets, bear battles and terrorism threats.
But here on the Kenai Peninsula, the proverbial silver lining still shined: 2003 also was a year of compassion, caring and charity.
When the worst did happen, the people of the peninsula were right there to lend a helping hand to friends, neighbors and even pets in need.
Making ends meet
The last year hasn't been an easy one in the financial world. The economy still is rebounding from a short recession, Alaska is coping with a fiscal gap, and Kenai Peninsula communities have lost some state funding.
Still, peninsula residents more often than not took what they had and gave it to someone who needed it more.
This summer, a group of eight peninsula women collected money and medical supplies for hospitals and clinics in Swaziland, Africa, a sub-Saharan nation. The women not only donated what they had collected to the struggling medical facilities in the country, they also hand delivered it.
They spent two weeks in July volunteering in Swaziland, comforting children, AIDS patients and others in need in the AIDS-devastated country.
More recently, two groups of peninsula residents went out of their way to help women in transition and their children get through the holidays.
Members of the Kenai Piecemakers quilting club donated 53 handmade, kid-size quilts to the Women's Resource and Crisis Center. The kids who pass through the center with their mothers often are homeless or fleeing dangerous domestic situations. The quilts not only will help the children stay warm this winter, but also will give the kids a tangible piece of love and comfort to carry with them.
A group of fifth- and sixth-graders from the Academy of Higher Learning, a private school in Sterling, also helped out women and children in Alaska.
The students had raised about $600 for new playground equipment at their school when they overheard teachers talking about Hope Ranch, a halfway house in Palmer for women transitioning from jail back into the community.
The children decided those women needed money to buy their own kids Christmas gifts more than the school needed new playground equipment. So they sent their hard-earned cash to Palmer and started fund-raising all over again.
Saving our best friends
People weren't the only ones getting a helping hand this year. Peninsula residents also made an effort to lend aid to animals in trouble throughout the year.
When the year started, nearly 200 pets from the peninsula were lodged at "Camp Collie" in Montana, where a Nikiski couple was stopped Oct. 31, 2002, and arrested for animal cruelty. Athena Lethcoe-Harman and Jon Harman were sentenced in June to 10-year suspended jail terms and agreed to give up almost all their 191 animals.
However, in the five months between the arrest and conviction, people from the peninsula and around the country went out of their way to donate time, money and food for the dehydrated, emaciated animals. And, after the sentence, even more people took the rehabilitated animals into their homes for a second chance at healthy and happy lives.
Likewise, in June, a Homer man made an extra effort to protect yet another friend. When workers at the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Plant, 20 miles northeast of Homer, learned a seal pup was stranded in the waters near the base of the plant, they called the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward for advice. But before professionals could handle the situation, the pup got trapped in rough water near the pool. Jon Kleine, an operator at the plant, took it upon himself to wade into the rapids and rescue the pup, who later was transferred to the SeaLife Center's rehabilitation program.
Braving the worst
Finally, when tragedy did strike, peninsula residents made every effort to meet the needs of their friends and neighbors, regardless of the outcome.
Over the summer, residents were inspired by the health woes of their neighbors. Sue Stein and Tommy Ellison, who both were diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1999, battled their second rounds of the cancer this year, both needing stem cell transplants. In August, the Blood Bank of Alaska-Kenai Peninsula Chapter hosted a drive for stem cell testing. Though both Stein and Ellison found donors prior to the drive, peninsula residents turned out to give blood and have their stem cells tested and entered in the National Marrow Donor Registry, in the hopes of helping other patients with similar conditions. The drive was so successful it was extended by a day and nearly 100 residents were tested.
In August, a 6-year-old boy became a hero, spotting a boat sinking in Cook Inlet off Deep Creek. The young boy immediately notified his father, who called a boat launch operator who was able to contact charter boats in the area. The three men who had been on board the sinking boat were pulled to safety after only about 20 minutes in the water, while the boy and his family watched the rescue from their window.
Finally, back in January, hockey coach Joe Perletti fell on the ice, hitting his head. Perletti suffered severe trauma and nearly died from the injury. Though he did recover, he and his family were faced with tremendous medical bills from his treatment. Members of the community came together and organized a fund-raiser to help pay the nearly $100,000 in expenses.
"Joe received over a hundred cards and tons of visitors while in the hospital," his wife, Susan, said.
"It just goes on and on. It's unbelievable," Joe Perletti said.
The support for the Perlettis, like all the incidents of aid noticed and unnoticed are a testament to the heart and generosity of people on the Kenai Peninsula.
"It's a small community thing I can't explain," Susan Perletti said.
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