Alaska Job Corps Center

Alaska Job Corps celebrates culture and diversity with “Culture Con” month

August 7th, 2017

Throughout the month of July, students at the Alaska Job Corps Center rallied around the importance of different cultures at both the Center and from around the world. They celebrated diversity and culture through multiple events, held every Thursday during July, which they called “Culture Con” month.

The Alaska Job Corps Center is highly diverse, with slightly more than half of the student body being Alaska Native. Other ethnicities represented at the Center include Asian, African-American, Caucasian and more.

Although the month of July featured “Fun Days” with activities and speakers that highlighted different cultures, Malyn Smith, Alaska Job Corps Center Director, says that the Center’s diversity is something they celebrate every single day.

“The theme of this month’s activities was a perfect fit for our students because the population of Alaska Job Corps is so diverse,” said Smith. “We love to celebrate the variety of cultures here and ‘Culture Con’ was both fun and enlightening for our students as they learned about the different cultures of our students and those found all over the globe.”

On the first Thursday of the month, Doug Yates, an Alaska Native inspirational speaker and flutist, spoke about the importance of forgiveness, moving forward in your life and against violence and suicide. He also played different types of traditional flutes and even taught students the basics of flute-playing.

The second Thursday of July featured the “Highland Games,” where students participated in athletic activities such as javelin-throwing, archery and volleyball. Students also enjoyed a special show called “Culture Con’s Got Talent.” During this talent show, several students sang, while others played the guitar. Three staff members at the Center served as judges for the event.

On July 12, several students from the Center also volunteered to teach school children Native Youth Olympics activities, like the Alaskan high kick, the wrist carry and the stick pull as part of United Way of Mat-Su’s “Play 60” event. This community service project dovetailed perfectly with the month’s diversity and culture theme.

On the third Thursday of the month, students celebrated our “sister state,” Hawaii, with a Hawaiian-themed lunch. This was followed by a group of African drummers called Oni Ilu, who not only performed but offered a short speech on how we should be proud of all cultures and how we may look different but are truly all the same.

The final Thursday of the month culminated in the Culture Con Carnival, an American-style carnival and picnic featuring carnival games such as the ring toss, tug-of-war and plinko, and which included an inspirational speech and songs by American country singer Ken Peltier. Other highlights of the carnival included a lip-synch concert by three Alaska Job Corps staff members, and performances by winners of the Culture Con’s Got Talent show. Students won a variety of prizes for participating, all of which were sponsored by the Center’s Student Government Association.

“My favorite event during the month was when the African drummers played,” said Trevor Wiseman, an accounting services student at Alaska Job Corps. “It was my first time hearing that kind of music. I learned that each drummer has to focus on their own individual beat, instead of focusing on the other drummers. During Culture Con month, I learned a lot about different cultures.”

Although the primary focus of the month was on diversity and culture, a second, underlying theme was the ongoing battle against youth suicide, youth violence and bullying. Several inspirational speakers talked about overcoming these challenges.

Donna Keilitz, Alaska Job Corps Center Food Services Supervisor and Culture Con organizer, offered this nugget of wisdom to students about accepting different cultures and changing mindsets about diversity: “We don’t think we can change things, but it only takes one seed to plant a forest, or one person to change an attitude.”

The Alaska Job Corps Center is a federally funded career training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and managed by Chugach Educational Services, Inc. The Center is committed to providing the highest quality programs for young adults by offering instructions in academics, trades and life skills through innovative methods that respond to the unique individual and group needs of today’s youth.

Story and photos provided by Carin Meyer, BCL.