Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 9:31 PM on Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Homer high grad chosen for 'Spirit of Youth' award

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

As a Homer High School senior last year, Cody Gaines needed 30 hours of community service work.

Fulfilling that requirement not only led to a fulfilling experience for Cody, but has now also earned him a Spirit of Youth Media and Technology award.

Cody's award and awards to 10 other Alaska youth will be presented at a banquet at the Marriott Anchorage on March 19.

Cody completed 10 of the 30-hour requirement by working on the 2009 production of the Nutcracker.

The remaining 20 were earned working with Doug Ryerson, 58, a resident of Friendship Terrace. Ryerson is blind, uses a wheelchair and has one leg. He and Cody found common ground through music. Ryerson plays the guitar, sitar and flute; Cody plays the guitar.

After graduating from HHS, Cody discovered an opportunity that allowed him to continue spending time with his new friend while earning additional college money.

"After learning how knowledgeable he was with computers, I was able to procure a donated computer," wrote Ryerson in a letter he and Amanda Neal, an independent living older blind specialist, composed that nominated Cody for the SOY award.

"He was able to obtain grant money from our Independent Living Center to teach me how to use a screen reader that reads everything on the computer out loud."

First, however, Cody had to learn the computer program.

"I think I've got a good aptitude for computers in general, but I did have to figure out the software," said Cody.

"They gave me a book that described the software and I had to study, but to be honest, most of what I taught Doug were techniques that I had to figure out, a combination of how to manipulate the software and looking up ways to navigate the computer."

The two of them spent the summer months working out a process.

The grant limited Cody to 16 hours a month, but he often worked additional hours on his own. Cody used the hours between his and Ryerson's scheduled times together to keep learning more about the program.

Their shared love of music also inspired some of their computer efforts.

"I remember one instance when I was teaching him to use the computer and he had me look up how to tune a sitar," said Cody, laughing.

For Ryerson, learning his way around a computer was like being introduced to a "world of new horizons and opportunities."

"I am now able to access the Internet, e-mail my family and friends and use the computer to record my music," he said.

Watching Ryerson solo on e-mail is a memory Cody has held onto.

"I remember the first time I saw him check his e-mail without me saying or doing anything. I was thrilled. He was actually able to read e-mail from his brother and understand and laugh at it," said Cody.

"Sometimes people would tell me how, when I was gone, (Ryerson) would talk about what he was learning and that made me feel so good."

In Ryerson's letter nominating Cody for the award, Ryerson detailed how his life changed as a result of their meeting.

"Cody is a wonderful teacher; he is patient, a good communicator, a hard worker and understanding of my disabilities. He has improved the quality of my life by being willing to take the time out of his busy teenage life for me and making every day more interesting for me," Ryerson wrote.

Looking beyond the impact Cody's efforts have had on him, Ryerson was aware of a bigger picture.

"There are many people who are blind or disabled who don't think they can do certain activities that would enhance and improve their lives. With the assistance of Cody Gaines I feel things are brighter in my existence and I feel more independent. I feel that Cody would be an asset to any community either on an individual or group basis," Ryerson wrote.

As the recipient of an SOY award, Cody had his choice of either a $250 cash award or $500 to help with his tuition.

Now a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Cody chose the $500.

The awards banquet begins with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m.

For more about Spirit of Youth or to hear a radio story on Cody and Ryerson recorded by the Spirit of Youth visit the web at www.spiritofyouth.org.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben. jackinsky@homernews.com.