Contributed by Gordon Fletcher
For those unaware of what the YAK is, I can clarify first what it is not. The YAK is not a musky, majestic, pint sized, mammoth looking cousin to the bovine. The YAK is Palmer’s very own, non-profit, community supported, adult staffed, faith-based youth center.
To students 6th to 12th grade, the YAK is a fun place to hang out after school. To parents, the YAK is a safe alternative to idleness, wandering around town or the solitude of home when perhaps both parents are at work. To the community, the YAK has been a blessing to local businesses who need not worry about their space filled with unsupervised teens. To me, the YAK is much more.
I have supported and co-chaired the YAK since its inception, five years ago. I have ten years’ experience as a youth minister. Four years were spent operating youth centers similar to the YAK. I can tell you first hand, the impact these places have on students is immeasurable.
I tend to be a very straight shooter, so I will not mince words as I define where we are in the scope of societal influences. Morality, ethics, logic, reason, and the differentiation of right and wrong have fallen on some hard times.
Blame has been cast on a plethora of factors from the media, to the educational system, even the aftermath of broken or dysfunctional families. I, however, am not here to play the blame game. Causation for a listless or hopeless teen is a quagmire of events and circumstances known only to the individual. Rather than looking to blame and attempt to, “fix”, the cause, a teen is better served when given opportunities to be mentored. These are the most formidable years for students. These are the years which too often determine their future; whether it be one of promise and productivity, or a future of hopelessness.
The YAK provides a much-needed sanctuary, an environment for mentorship. Often, all that need occur is finding an ear to listen or shoulder to cry on. The goal of the YAK is quite simple. Healthy teens lead to healthy adults. Healthy adults lead to healthy families. Healthy families create healthy communities. Think of the YAK as a type of societal preventative maintenance. The YAK is a proactive, preventative measure, versus a reactive treatment. Students and parents have been given one more resource to help navigate the treacherous years of adolescence.
According to the CDC, Alaska has the highest rate of teen suicides per capita out of all 50 states. This is not a record to balk at. This is not a record to ignore. This is a record to attack one student at a time. The YAK is but one weapon in the arsenal of prevention. Students need hope. They need someone who cares, when they falsely believe no one does. Involved parents are the first line of defense, often times coaches, teachers, close family and positive peers are a second. The YAK is one more opportunity of hope, mentorship and encouragement.
This month, the YAK is moving locations and we need all the help we can get, to minimize the length of time our doors will be closed. Mid-December, the place students have called a second home loses its lease. The YAK’s new home is one block south of our current location and will reside next to Humdinger’s Gourmet Pizza. Our goal is to be operational in the new space before February 1st.
There are several ways you can help us through this transition. First and foremost is financial support. The YAK is currently running the annual, 50 in 50 campaign. This event raises the majority of our operating budget. You will find a link on our website and through our Facebook page. The second way to help is with time. We are still in the beginning stages of planning the buildout, but once the plan is complete, time will be of the essence. We need, electricians, framers, plumbers, mechanical contractors and finish carpenters who might be willing to donate their time and expertise. Lastly, if you are a business specializing in any of these crafts, there is plenty of opportunity to donate materials.
If you have read this entire piece, we thank you for your time and your heart. In the end, even our smallest effort will reap innumerable dividends. I believe with all my heart, that the YAK should remain a cornerstone of our community. Join us in helping the teens of the valley keep another place to call home.