Calista Donates to Alaska EXCEL Career Training

Increased Funding Supports More Students from YK Region

Storyknife, May/June 2022 edition

Photo of Thea Williams

Thea Williams of Akiak helped build a tiny house in South Anchorage.

Thanks to a significant donation from Calista Corporation, over 350 juniors and seniors from school districts in our region are attending Alaska EXCEL’s successful “school to life” training programs this year.

Local teachers created Alaska EXCEL nearly a decade ago as a way to address worsening trends for high school graduation, teen suicide, and poverty in the Yukon Kuskokwim Region.

Since then, Alaska EXCEL has brought middle, junior-high and high school students to Anchorage for short, intensive programs that expose the students to a wide variety of career options and training in leadership, personal finance, communication and life skills.

On average, students who attend two or more Alaska EXCEL sessions have a 90 percent or higher graduation rate, with many continuing their education after high school. Grants and donations from Calista and other organizations cover the cost of room and board, tuition, supplies, certificates/credits, and activities. Participating school districts—including the Kashunamiut, Kuspuk, Lower Kuskokwim and Yupiit school districts—cover student travel.

“I love the fact that we get to learn new things every day,” says Thea Williams, a senior from Akiak who attended two Alaska EXCEL sessions during the 2021-2022 school year. During those sessions, she and other students learning construction and other job-related skills by building a tiny house on an empty lot in South Anchorage.

A Foot in the Door

Alaska EXCEL’s mix of programs is popular with rural students. They can earn a driver’s license, gain high school credits and work-ready certificates, plus get their foot in the door for other career paths including emergency medical care, aviation, education, nursing, construction, hospitality and tourism.

“I’m excited to be able to see students going on and getting jobs and having a career that they are pleased with,” says Ray Tubbs, who teaches Alaska EXCEL’s construction specialty session.

“The kids I start with as freshmen are sometimes hesitant. Then after a couple years they are starting to teach other kids. To me, that’s where the success is, when they start taking ownership and having confidence,” Tubbs says.

A Valued Partnership

These training programs that directly benefit Shareholders and Descendants align well with Calista Corporation’s strategic goals for 2020-2024, which include increasing Shareholder employment and education opportunities.

Photo of Thom Leonard

“We are committed to providing job and training opportunities that are necessary for our younger generation to be successful in their daily lives and provide hope for their future.”

Thom Leonard, Calista Corp. Vice President, Corporate Affairs

Until four years ago, Calista mainly supported Alaska EXCEL by making staff available for mock interviews and job shadowing. Financial support began four years ago, and in 2021, Calista committed $50,000, the largest amount so far.

“We were just thrilled. We have more students applying than ever before,” says Carol Wilson, Alaska EXCEL’s executive director.

One way Calista’s support is making a difference this year is allowing Alaska EXCEL to expand its summer internship program “to a whole new level,” says Wilson. Twenty paid internships will be available this summer, funded by Bilista Holding LLC, Donlin Gold, ASRC Energy Services and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, she says.

“We are supporting Alaska EXCEL because we see the difference it is making for our Shareholders,” says Thom Leonard, Calista’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs, who also participates in Calista’s donation committee.

Leonard says, “We are committed to providing job and training opportunities that are necessary for our younger generation to be successful in their daily lives and provide hope for their future.”