Forest Anderson, a Behavioral Health Aid (BHA II), with SEARHC has a unique way of engaging her audiences. Using analogy and props she creates the opportunity for her audience to engage her. Today she visited Thorne Bay high school to present her Resilience Workshop with a group of middle and high school students.
She begins by bouncing a basketball, a popular sport on Prince of Wales Island as the students settle into their seats. Then she asks what the basketball does, to empty silence as the students aren’t sure of how to respond. “They bounce back,” Forest answers for them, “They bounce back, because they are resilient.” A few heads nod as they make the connection, but it’s apparent in their faces that they’re still not sure what Ms. Anderson means.
Forest continues by presenting a prop that many in this community of around 560 residents find quite familiar, a Lund skiff (complete with an Evinrude motor cut out). She explains that the boat represents our bodies and our mental health. She asks the crowd of students what happens when that boat isn’t balanced properly, a young voice responds “It’ll tip over.”
Congratulating the participant she continues to discuss what makes a person resilient, what helps us, as humans, carry on even through adversity and hardship. The students begin to respond, they begin to engage as Forest ask for participants from the crowd to help pack the boat. Students select items including boxes, a fishing pole, and even a small gas jug, each with a trait or an idea that that builds resilience, and as each item enters the boat there’s discussion about what these mean to the students. Some students are quieter than others, but as their peers pose their opinions and thoughts more join in.
Finally she engages the students (and the staff) in a physical exercise, forming large circles and tossing inflated beach balls into the air, demonstrating once more in a hands on way, all the many responsibilities, and pressures that students and adults are juggling. Amid the laughter and the wildly flying beach balls you hear students and staff calling out things like: Relationships, chores, schoolwork, family, bills, and so many others. As the exercise winds down and the beach balls are once more collected Ms. Anderson gives the students a chance to seat themselves then wraps up her presentation stating “We all juggle so many things in our lives, it can be confusing, it can be challenging, but if we use the things we’ve packed into our boats, into ourselves, we will be resilient, we can grow stronger and more capable.” The students nod, you can see that these analogies, these physical representations of ideas and concepts have sunk in, each member of the audience thinks about the things they juggle in their lives and the resources they have to be resilient.
The next speaker for the day is Harley Bell-Holter, a 22 year old carver from Kasaan. Harley introduces himself, explaining that he is Haida and Tlingit, and that he was raised in Hydaburg, a nearby community with a predominantly Haida population. He explains that when he was still in high school his parents separated, and he moved to Klawock, another nearby community, but with a predominantly Tlingit population.
Harley shares his own struggles as a teenager and the struggles he still has as a young man. And as he shares he advocates for self-pride, to be proud in who and what you are. He expounds that there are three stages in life, the past, the future, and the present.
He tells the audience, “The past… You can’t do anything about, that’s what’s already been done. The future… We can’t truly know what’s in the future, and that’s why we live in the present. The present shapes the future. Any decision you make today will affect tomorrow.”
He advocates to the audience to be individuals, to build their strengths and grow their resilience. Harley encourages the audience “Don’t seek recognition for what you do, seek a better future by what you do.” The audience hangs on his words, this young man, who is only a few years older than many in the audience speaks to them as an older peer.
Harley shares with his audience a vision of a brighter, more positive future. One built on the strengths of the individuals seated in the bleachers. His words resonate with the youth seated before him as he finishes his presentation.
The students and staff file out, many thanking Forest and Harley for coming out today and for sharing. It’s a very positive sight as the students return to their classes. Forest, Harley, and I stick around for a few moments and chat afterwards.
Harley seems pleased, “I was very happy with how today turned out,” he explains, “A lot of the time we do a presentation and we might have one or two kids that share, but today they all seemed really engaged with us.”
Forest agrees “Yeah, this was a good group. Very well behaved and positive.”
Harley and Forest both have different approaches to how they engage their young audiences, but between the two they are a formidable force of positivity and hope. You can see that many of the struggles of Alaskan youth weighs heavily at times on them both, but they’ve both found a place to channel their energies.
Forest Anderson is a local woman from Craig Alaska. She has had an interesting life working in fields as diverse as commercial fishing and therapeutic foster care. She is well known throughout Alaska as a tough, tenacious, and vibrant woman who cares deeply for her family. She is also closely involved with many of the issues and challenges that face Alaskan youth, especially those from rural communities.
Harley Bell-Holter is a local carver from Kasaan, raised between Hydaburg and Klawock he is deeply attached to his cultural roots and believes that everyone has a culture to be proud of. He advocates deeply and passionately for forward progress, of remembering the past but striving to create a brighter future. Harley’s message is one of inner strength and hope, and to remain a positive strong individual.