FAIRBANKS — An enthusiastic group of kindergarteners from Denali Elementary School kicked off the annual Champions for Children recognition dinner with lots of excitement and enthusiasm. This traditional opening performance is a reminder of what the evening is really all about — children.
Three Champions for Children were honored for their dedication and commitment to children in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, or as emcee Michael Angaiak described them, “three unbelievable people in our community.”
The evening was hosted by the North Star Imagination Library and serves as a fundraiser to help get books into the hands of local children from birth to age five. This year, more than 37,000 books were delivered to children locally. In the 10 years the program has been in existence here, 415,346 books have been delivered.
“It’s making a difference for them and for their families,” said Emily Vockerath, president of the board.
“It’s really hard to change peoples’ minds, but you can change their hearts,” said the emcee, who introduced each champion. “We can change their hearts by stories. The stories shared with me over the past few days about their lives, their work with kids have certainly changed my life.”
Anne Weaver started hanging out at the Fairbanks Food Bank 28 years ago, when she was just 8 years old. Her mother spearheaded the program in those days. Weaver took over in 2015.
“Three hundred thirty-two thousand meals went out of the Fairbanks Food Bank last year,” Angaiak said. “Forty percent of those went to children.”
Weaver told the crowd that she considers her work representative of everyone in the room, at that event.
“All I do is represent the work that you do,” she said, and listed all the good services volunteers offer to children in Fairbanks.
“This night isn’t about me, it really is about you,” she said, pointing out that every volunteer helps her reach children she could never reach on her own.
The Door, a sanctuary for young people who need housing, food and support for education, was a dream that Marylee Bates was able to make come true.
“I realize none of this would be possible without support of the community,” she said. “It’s very humbling.”
She encouraged everyone to join her in an activity she used to teach elementary students — “Take your right hand, hold it up like this, and give yourself a pat on the back. Good job.”
“What I see children losing and missing, is hope,” she said. “That’s one thing we need to work together to restore. We can do that together.”
She shared a poem called “On The Other Side of the Door” with a significant line, “I can be a different me.”
Whether she’s helping young hockey players and their families or mentoring little ones in her home day care for the past 24 years, Anna Culley is dedicated to helping young people.
Angaiak said Culley provided day care for his own children.
“I will tell you this,” he said. “We like our kids, they’re interesting people. And I know at least 50 percent of that comes from this woman, right over there. How important this woman has been in our lives.”
Like most parents, Culley was pulled into hockey because her son wanted to play. She’s been helping with hockey ever since.
“I have a birthday calendar with all my kids,” she said of her day care charges over the years. “There are 130 names on there. All but maybe 10, I can tell you where they are today.”
“I am completely humbled to be here and to be recognized,” she said. “It is completely overwhelming.”
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office at 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.