Investing in our Communities: New Teen Center in Kake

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Sealaska is partnering with the village of Kake (Keex’ Kwaan) to help stand up a youth teen center. Community partners include the city of Kake and the federally recognized tribe, the Organized Village of Kake (OVK). As part of these joint efforts, Sealaska approved $50,000 that will help to open a facility that can support a positive space for youth. This is the story of a community coming together and listening to the needs of their teens.

It started with asking a simple question, said Damen Bell-Holter, Sealaska’s director of youth development. “Every community I visit, I always ask the youth, how can we support you? For teenagers in Kake, the answer was clear: they wanted a safe, central place to gather.”

Damen has been running workshops and basketball camps throughout Southeast, working with children on confidence and motivating them to invest in themselves. Sealaska’s goal is to see 100 percent graduation rate for all children in Southeast Alaska. This new teen center will help remove some of those barriers.

Conversation by conversation, the community came together to come up with a plan. Teens took the initiative to work closely with different community leaders to ask for their own space.

“Damen planted the seed. It was just an idea, but it keeps growing, it keeps multiplying,” said Paulette Jackson, Native Connections Director, Organized Village of Kake. “

Paulette then helped circulate a survey of what the youth wanted. “They want to know their heritage, their culture and they wanted to know the land that they came from,” she said. This will help inform what kinds of activities and programs
 
The plan is to renovate the former National Guard Armory building. According to the city, the building is still in good condition but there are issues with the water and sewer. The $50,000 donation from Sealaska will allow for renovations to the building utilities.

“We know from our shareholder surveys that investments in our youth are a top priority,” said Sealaska Board Chair Joe Nelson. “We commend the youth who identified a critical need and developed a solution. This approach made the investment an easy decision.”

OVK Transportation has already dug the trench for the sewer and water lines. Paulette is busy ordering the kitchen and bathroom equipment and looking for contractors to carry out the renovations. If they keep moving at this pace, she thinks the center could open as early as next May.

The Organized Village of Kake along with Kake teens are identifying potential opportunities for positive youth programming such as health and wellness, cultural teachings, technical skills, and dedicated space for studying.

For Paulette, the end result will be worth it. “The new teen center means we can have a place for youth to do cultural activities and socialize—that means a safe space, in a drug and alcohol-free environment,” said Paulette.