Story last updated at 11:47 a.m. Friday, August 2, 2002

Port Graham hosts youth program
By Jenni Dillon
Morris News Service-Alaska

Port Graham kids had the chance to go to camp this month -- without ever leaving home.

Two college-age volunteers with Camp Fire USA were in the village for a couple weeks in July offering days of fun, education and team building.

The program is part of Camp Fire USA's annual rural outreach program, designed to bring water safety education to outlying areas in Alaska.

But that's not all there is to it.

"In addition to swimming and cold-water survival, we try to bring a traditional camp experience out to areas where it's not readily available," said Ati Nafiah, a rural director with the Alaska branch of Camp Fire.

And it's no easy task.

Most of the villages the program visits are accessible only by boat or plane. In order to set up a camp, staffers must pack up and ship absolutely everything they may need -- everything from personal items to life jackets to art supplies to food.

Two camp coordinators then show up in the village, pick up their boxes and get going.

"They really have to jump in," Nafiah said. "They have to jump off the plane, introduce themselves, put up signs and get people to come."

In most areas, the staffers provide a two-week camp for children of all ages, focusing on swimming, boating, arts and crafts and team building.

In Port Graham, however, Evan Hobbs and Rebecca Elston, both college students in Ashland, Ore., tried something different.

The Camp Fire program hadn't been meeting the needs of teen-agers in Port Graham, Nafiah said.

"This year, our goal was to reassess our relationship with Port Graham," she said.

Rather than one big camp, the staffers offered a separate weeklong camp just for teen-agers. They spent two days planning with the youth, then took the group of 17 teens to Rocky Bay, a camp owned by an area Native corporation.

The group spent five days and nights at the camp swimming, fishing, boating and team building.

"It was a pilot program," Nafiah said. "We were getting information and decided we needed a bigger special program for older kids."

Based on the input collected, Nafiah said, Camp Fire will try to put on a subsistence camp -- possibly including a longer backpacking trip -- for teens next year. The village will provide subsistence educators and Camp Fire will offer coordinators and other fun activities.

"I'm really hoping to make it happen next year," Nafiah said. "The parents and kids were enthused about the idea.

"It's a way for Camp Fire to bring something to the community and still allow them to step in and work with the kids."

The Camp Fire staff also hosted the traditional water safety, arts and crafts camp program for younger students the next week.

And while Nafiah said the program allows Camp Fire to reach out to kids in rural communities, it is just as much a learning experience for the staffers.

"(The staff) had a great time hanging out and experiencing (the kids') daily routines," Nafiah said. "It's nice for them to have a passionate, fresh viewpoint, to remember how unique and special their culture is."

"Port Graham is an incredible community. The kids are really supported and loved by the community, and they pass that on to one another," she said. "The staff learned a lot from the kids in that way."

Jenni Dillon is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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