“The Best Summer of My Life”

Kodiak’s Volunteer Science Camp Counselors Lead and Learn

From tide pool exploration to fish eyeball dissection, Kodiak Refuge’s summer science day camp leads kids in a week-long discovery of the place where they live. And when a camper snags their first cast on the bottom of the river, someone else is nearby to gently untangle it and give a helping hand. Volunteers are vitally important to the Refuge’s award-winning Salmon Camp program, which serves kids from kindergarten to 8th grade and visits all six of the Island’s remote villages during the summer.

Left: Volunteer instructor leading an activity with campers. Right: Youth volunteer Arielle helps a young camper during fishing day.

Volunteers bring their love for the outdoors and a commitment to educating future generations. Most are youth, and some even bring their own special memories of growing up attending camp. Senior Nia Pristas has been an avid volunteer instructor assistant throughout her high school years:

“I wanted to volunteer for Kodiak Refuge because when I was little, I went to Salmon Camp … I want to help give kids the same (great) experience I had with the wildlife refuge when I was their age. I want to help them appreciate and learn about the wonderful island we have.”

For Nia, volunteering means staying connected:

“The refuge means so much to me. It’s probably my home away from home. It’s like an old friend, who you’ve been with since the beginning.”

Nia is one of several students in junior high and high school who volunteer at Salmon Camp each summer through the Kodiak Refuge Youth Leadership (KRYL) program developed by Education Specialist Shelly Lawson.

“Volunteering is the next step in both education and leadership. It is a bridge for youth who have been to camp and want to stay involved or want to develop their skills in mentoring younger kids. That is one of the wonderful things about Salmon Camp: it doesn’t stop at 8th grade.” — Lawson

Each week, Salmon Camp participants spend a day fishing at the nearby Buskin River — volunteers keep everything going smoothly with instruction, untangling, and educational games.

Volunteer opportunities at camp extend beyond high school and can create a career path for college students interested in natural resources and environmental education. Lawson recruits for three seasonal volunteers each year as lead instructors, and most applicants are recent graduates seeking relevant experience.

“My first season working as a volunteer for the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been incredibly formative on my development as a young professional in the field of natural resources. The outreach and education I have been a part of in Kodiak and the villages has been incredibly rewarding. It is my aim to retain the energy and momentum I have witnessed in this community as I move forward with my career.” 2018 instructor Frank Prince, a recent forestry graduate.

Volunteer instructor Frank Prince with campers investigating the forest, making a group sign, and in the field at Adventure Camp.

Maggie Russell enjoyed sharing her love of science through education:

“I became more confident in my teaching and mentoring skills, problem solving abilities, and leadership. And it was so fun to watch the campers grow as well! They each became more and more comfortable as the week progressed all while gaining an increasing excitement about science.”

Volunteer Instructor Maggie Russell with campers exploring the beach and making a salmon mobile.

For many seasonal volunteer instructors, their summer of service is also an opportunity to learn and grow. Ashleigh Lusher wrote at the end of her experience last summer:

“I feel like I will never be able to put how meaningful this summer has been into words. I know that my job here has been to teach, but I feel that I learned even more. I learned about the history of Kodiak, and the environment that the refuge protects. I learned more about other parts of the country through my coworkers and new friends. I learned about how to communicate and interact with different age groups. But mostly, I feel like I learned more about myself.”

Volunteer Instructor Ashleigh Lusher with campers on a tide pool field trip and in the classroom.

As our staff prepare for the 2019 camp, we feel so incredibly lucky for the support, time, and enthusiasm that our volunteers contribute. Their love of nature and dedication to conservation and education makes an unforgettable summer at Salmon Camp possible.

Contributed by Lisa Hupp, Outreach Specialist for Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

In Alaska we are shared stewards of world renowned natural resources and our nation’s last true wild places. Our hope is that each generation has the opportunity to live with, live from, discover and enjoy the wildness of this awe-inspiring land and the people who love and depend on it.

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service