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Boys and Girls Club director finds adventure and rewards in Alaska

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Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012 12:08 am

FAIRBANKS — Sarah Nichols is a sixth-generation Texan spending her first winter in Alaska. But ice fog and subzero weather shouldn’t be particularly daunting for the new director of the Fairbanks Boys and Girls Club.

Nichols once spent two years on a Peace Corps assignment in Samoa, where she lived with a family of 15 who spoke no English. One of her first jobs was teaching performance arts to at-risk middle school kids. Her introduction to Alaska included six weeks in a motorhome with her husband,

13-year-old foster daughter and three dogs.

So while she plows through vast quantities of lotion and vitamin D this winter, the outgoing 30-year-old is enjoying the challenge.

“I was ready for an adventure, and this is my adventure,” she said with a smile, sitting in an office decorated with the artwork of former students.

Her arrival in Fairbanks in July is the latest in a series of travels for Nichols, who grew up in the small town of Greenville, Texas, before embarking on a journey that included stops in Samoa, Florida and, eventually, Alaska.

She attended Texas A&M with plans to become a wildlife biologist, but after flunking her early classes, Nichols realized it was a bad match. She switched to theater and dance, activities she’d participated in since she was 3 years old.

Not only did she blossom in the program, but it taught her that interest is a crucial ingredient in education. That carried over to her days as a teacher at a performing arts school, where she infused English and math lessons into her productions.

“I think you need to do something you’re passionate about, and that’s something I’m passionate about,” she said.

Her gregarious personality — honed through years of being on stage — has been a benefit.

During her time in the Peace Corps, Nichols learned the native Samoan language, blending into a village without a single English speaker.

After moving to Florida, after seeing a handsome man across the room, she announced to her mother, “You see that guy? That’s the guy I’m going to marry.”

They soon met again, during an awkward job interview at the school she would soon teach at. The man across the room, Gaspar Nichols, was the principal conducting the interview. They were engaged four months later.

Gaspar, whose large family is in Fairbanks, later suggested that they start a new life in Alaska. After four years in Florida, they were both ready for something new.

They loaded a 40-foot motorhome and headed north, arranging to bring their 13-year-old foster daughter, Annie Perkins, one of Nichols’ former students. Just two days after their crew arrived in town, she started her new job at the Boys and Girls Club.

Nichols said she gets a special thrill out of working with kids, which makes her work at the Boys and Girls Club especially rewarding. The 60 or so kids who participate in after school programs at the downtown club do everything from play basketball to take leadership classes.

In a nod to her own background, Nichols has launched theater and dance clubs for the kids.

“That makes me feel a lot like I’m still getting a chance to teach and impart some wisdom,” she said.

Club president John Brown has spent the past few months doing community presentations with Nichols, and said she has a special knack for connecting with people.

“I have not seen her fail to get people to laugh yet,” Brown said. “That’s a gift that not a lot of people have, and she’s got it.”

Although she admits to a mid-winter longing for green grass, Nichols said she’s enjoyed her introduction to Fairbanks.

“I am very impressed with the sense of community,” she said. “Everyone seems to help each other out — it’s a great support system.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at

459-7518.

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