It's been a good but tantalizing February for members of the Western Arctic Youth Collective — the team knew they were selected for an Arctic Inspiration Prize for a whole month, but had to keep quiet about it until the main announcement.
"It was the hardest thing ever," said project coordinator Jacey Firth-Hagen. "Especially being there remotely and having to just write emails like 'OMC! (Oh my Creator) Can you believe we just won?"
Now that the cat is out of the bag, the nonprofit community enriching team is wasting no time getting back to work, with a series of activities running March 2 to 4 co-hosted by Gwich'in Council International.
Called the Local2Global Youth and Community Exchange, its the latest push by the WAYC to help promote mental wellness and community empowerment. It will feature three separate strains of activities — virtual presentations on suicide prevention and bringing hope to communities and in-person activities such as painting, beading and a bonfire, and a film festival screening youth stories.
"It's a project for youth across the circumpolar Arctic where we created short-films surrounding mental health, tough topics such as addictions, some themes like suicide, self-harm and others," said Firth-Hagen. "We're going to be showcasing some of these beautiful films from youth across the Arctic while having other virtual conversations surrounding mental health.
"It's really beautiful to give community members a safe space to have these conversations and gather."
Winning the prize helps WAYC continue an effort two years in the making. Firth-Hagen said the organization first started when she was approached by Alyssa Carpenter and Peter Greenland about applying for a '4RS Youth Movement' initiative — a nationwide program to support generational change.
Their pitch to have a gathering near Midway Lake close to Fort McPherson was approved and the WAYC was born.
Research and capacity coordinator Holly Jones said the decision to put in a bid for the AIP came after a steering committee meeting where project lead Alyssa Carpenter proposed the idea.
"Our work is very collaborative," said Jones. "(Alyssa) likes to run through everything and make sure everybody is either on board or contributing ideas.
"She asked who was keen and everyone raised their hands and submitted bios and testimonials. That I think really got us to where we are now."
Steering committee co-chair Corrine Bullock said winning the prize not only helps the organization continue its work, it also serves as a great acknowledgement of what they've already been able to accomplish.
"Hearing that we were going to become laureates really validated the vision we're starting to create," she said. "We're in our infancy and trying to make a name for ourselves, so just having AIP behind us, backing us — I think I'm still speechless.
Jones said the group was planning to finish out their fiscal year before they sit down to determine how to best utilize the funding.
But for the time being, they're still enjoying the euphoria.
"I feel we haven't been able to wipe smiles off our faces," said Jones.