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Tri-Valley students’ ‘cool’ creations reach Afghanistan

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Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 11:41 pm | Updated: 12:07 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

DENALI — Tri-Valley students who created “cool ties” for the military several years ago learned this week that their hard work made it all the way to Afghanistan.

The “cool ties” were part of a special classroom project called an intensive. An intensive is when students spend many days on one topic. This intensive focused on learning sewing skills and making “cool ties.”

The “cool ties” are made of fabric and filled with polymer crystals. Like bandanas, they are worn around the neck or the head.

When soaked in water, the crystals absorb about 200 times their weight in water, then release that water through evaporation. For the wearer, that means constant cooling.

Although years have passed, a thank you note arrived in Healy last week, from Lt. Col. Michael Nester, commander at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state.

“Thank you for the ‘Cool Ties’ and well wishes sent to my Airmen during our recently completed Afghanistan deployment. Your ties made it all the way to Bagram Airfield and Camp Marmal, Afghanistan. “

He also included a unit coin to recognize the school.

“We appreciate your support,” he added.

How nice for those students to learn their good intentions were truly appreciated.

Rescue mission

A group of teens from Healy drove to Fairbanks last week and helped kitchen staff at the Fairbanks Rescue Mission prepare for Thanksgiving dinner.

The fact that they volunteered their time is wonderful. What is even better is that their leader, Rob Graham, encouraged reflection about the experience.

Graham shared those written reflections with me.

Luckily most of these teens don’t have experience with homelessness. So their expectations were not realistic.

They held stereotyped visions of mean and dirty people. Of course, the reality was totally different.

“They were very inviting,” wrote one student.

“All the people were really nice and respectful and very thankful,” wrote another.

One student said it made her realize what she takes for granted. It put things in perspective for her, she said.

Of course, the value of reflection is in adding meaning to the volunteer service.

“It’s good to always be reminded things could be worse, than what we complain about,” wrote another.

One student liked the hands-on volunteering.

“It felt good that we could go and spend our time helping the less fortunate instead of just donating money or canned foods,” she said.

I think it’s safe to say the evening opened their eyes and their hearts. That is exactly what Rob Graham hoped to accomplish.

Bionic fish

When Kami Graham drove home to Healy, from Fairbanks, for the Thanksgiving holiday, she brought her Beta fish named Jonah with her.

Before she could drive, she had to attend an hour-long class at UAF.

It was only an hour.

When she returned from class, poor Jonah was frozen, “floating at the top of his little tank,” she said.

Sadly, she put the tank on the floor of her car and drove home, figuring his burial would be a flush down the toilet.

Six hours later, when she got home, she broke the news to her little brother and they went out to the car to prepare to “flush” Jonah.

To everyone’s surprise, Jonah was not only alive, he was happily swimming in his little fishbowl.

It was “only” 20 degrees below zero.

Variety show

Nine years ago, music teacher Candace Mudge was new to the Denali Borough School District and she created a student variety show. Everyone was a tad skeptical about the concept and participation was low.

Fast forward to 2012.

So many students sign up to perform in the variety show that it is divided into elementary ages and middle and high school ages.

An occasional community member also gets on stage.

Along the way, these student musicians feel like rock stars, microphone in hand, appreciative audience applauding their efforts.

The middle and high school variety show this week once again put the spotlight on talented teens.

My favorite moment may have been when Tri-Valley middle school teacher Tim Coray took the stage with his fiddle and his guitar-playing friend, Josh Rinck.

“Are you chewing gum, Mr. Coray?” Mudge demanded.

Apparently, Coray didn’t get the memo about the ban against gum-chewing during performing.

It was nice to see Mudge holds everyone to the same rules. The young musicians especially liked that a teacher got “caught.”

Sugar Plum Gala

Denali Ballet Academy presents scenes from The Nutcracker in its Sugar Plum Gala on Friday and Saturday. The performance takes place in Tri-Valley School’s multipurpose room.

“For the first time in our history, we will be using a homegrown Sugar Plum Fairy,” said director Susannah Whittaker. “It has taken four and a half years of hard work, but we finally have not one, but two dancers who can handle the demanding choreography of that iconic role, en pointe. “

Keziah Anderson and Hannah Graham will share the title role.

“They are beautiful dancers who bring their own unique strengths to their parts,” she said.

Nutcracker has been a longtime favorite of Whittaker’s because of its versatility.

“You’ll see elements of classical ballet, modern, Flamenco and Middle Eastern dance in the same performance,” she said.

Local artist Amy Reisland-Speer created the original set pieces for the snow scene and Kingdom of the Sweet.

Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students.

Untimely death

The Denali community remains shocked and saddened at the untimely death of Rob Hamel, longtime Denali resident.

Hamel was hit by a car and killed as he set out traffic cones after an earlier accident, on the Seward Highway, south of Girdwood.

He worked at Denali National Park for many years, particularly at Wonder Lake. His family owns a home in the McKinley Village area.

A memorial service will be held Saturday in Girdwood. 

A church service at

6 p.m. will be followed by a celebration of his life at 7 p.m. in the Challenge Alaska Center, at the bottom of the ski slope.

Cards may be sent to: Rorie, Raina and Ryan Hammel, PO Box 202, Girdwood, AK 99587.

Kris Capps is a freelance writer. Her column reporting Denali happenings appears weekly in the News-Miner. She can be reached at kcapps@mtaonline.net.

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