EXPECT DELAYS – Lines of traffic move slowly down Sawmill Creek Road today as a repaving project progresses near the Indian River bridge. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

AmeriCorps Sends 29 to Sitka

Sentinel Staff Writer

A former TSA worker, a theater administrator, and Peace Corps English teachers are among the 29 AmeriCorps volunteers headed to Sitka to serve in the 2020-21 year.

Some are just out of college, others are Peace Corps volunteers evacuated from abroad during the COVID emergency, and others were at a point in life where providing services to under-served populations was their next step, said Sitka AmeriCorps Program Coordinator Sarah Lawrie.

“It’s going to be an unusual year,” she predicts. “It’s a very, very diverse group of individuals. ... Many of them have teaching experience, public health experience and life experience.”

This year’s volunteers have signed up for service opportunities around town at nonprofit entities, with 17 headed to the Sitka School District. They start arriving August 1, although many will have quarantine requirements when they arrive.

“Usually we have one in every school; this year because of CARES Act funding from the city we’ll have three or four in each building,” Lawrie said.

Sarah Lawrie sits next to bags of welcome gifts for the incoming 29 AmeriCorp volunteers this morning in her office. (Sentinel Photo)

The Assembly has passed on first reading an ordinance to dedicate $430,000 from the city’s $14 million in CARES Act funds to the schools. The district says it plans to use the funds to purchase laptop computers for high school students and use $180,000 to fund 12 new AmeriCorps volunteer positions.

Among the school district group, seven are dedicated to in-school tutoring, four would provide mental health support and one would be a “lead volunteer” to manage the AmeriCorps school volunteers.

Other service sites in Sitka are Youth Advocates of Sitka (four volunteers); Sitka Tribe of Alaska (one); SEARHC’s Raven’s Way (one); Mt. Edgecumbe High School (two); Sitkans Against Family Violence (one); Woo.cheen Preschool (one); Sitka Tribe of Alaska (one) and University of Alaska Southeast (one). 

AmeriCorps volunteers are paid a small living stipend, and a number of housing options are available to them in town, with the help of the program.

New this year, and a direct result of the COVID emergency, is the availability of returning Peace Corps volunteers.

“They want to continue serving,” Lawrie said. “People who were evacuated looked at where they could serve. As a result we have a much wider age range than we would otherwise.”

Although AmeriCorps can be any age, generally they are young adults. This year Sitkans will see a broader range of volunteers, up to age 65.

“It’s been an interesting year, that way, and we have some overqualified candidates – and they’re going to help us out in the schools,” Lawrie said. “They’re amazing people who have already done a lot and made the decision to come to Sitka.”

Lawrie said talking to the AmeriCorps candidates leads her to believe the current climate with the pandemic is causing many Americans to take stock.

“People are undergoing a great period of reflection,” she said.

Some of the volunteers are college students who attended remotely for their spring term.

“They had a lot of time to think and started turning their minds toward helping people,” Lawrie said. “I’ve heard that a lot. They’re thinking and reflecting and want to do something that feels real and impactful.”

KJ Hunt has been a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, Armenia and Ethiopia, and is a disaster services volunteer for the American Red Cross. Her degrees are in library studies, creative writing and public history; and she served in the U.S. Air Force, from 1975 to 1980.

Originally from Detroit, she had been to Wasilla before (on a research project involving Mahala Ashley Dickerson’s personal papers), and knew she wanted to return to Alaska. When she was evacuated from Ethiopia in March during the COVID emergency, she applied for Peace Corps Response Jamaica and AmeriCorps in Sitka at the same time.

With her experience teaching students of all ages, Hunt has been assigned to the REACH home school program, and said she’s looking forward to getting to know the students and the community.

She plans to travel up to Sitka from Seattle with fellow Ethiopia Peace Corps returnee Aubrey Miller, who is also in AmeriCorps and has been assigned to Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary.

Other returned Peace Corps volunteers have served in such places as Africa; Tonga (in the south Pacific); and the Ukraine. Most have been assigned to positions in the schools.

“I wasn’t expecting to do AmeriCorps in Alaska this year - it’ll be an interesting transition,” said one of the former Peace Corps volunteers who had been tutoring middle schoolers in Africa when she had to return early. She preferred not to give out her name. “It’s an opportunity to learn about the culture, along with doing service in a beautiful environment. ... It should be a great experience.”

Anna Kottakis, an outdoor enthusiast, just finished her sophomore year at Swarthmore College, double majoring in neuroscience and English. She had planned to take a gap year at some point during college. Finishing her semester online at home due to COVID eased the decision to make next year the year off, and she looked into AmeriCorps.

“I always wanted to go to Alaska - It’s a dream trip for me,” she said. “When I started looking at AmeriCorps, I started looking for jobs in Alaska.”

A college-level competitive swimmer, Kottakis will be working in the recreation department at Mt. Edgecumbe High School.

Long-haul truck driver and former TSA worker, Jarvis White will be serving in a mentor role at Baranof Elementary School. Originally from Bradenton, Florida, White says he was interested in coming back to Alaska after spending two months in Homer on a visit.

“I was fascinated by Alaska – all of Alaska,” he said. “A friend and I were looking at the AmeriCorps site, and trying to find where I could be of great help. When we saw Sitka, we knew: That’s the place.”

School District Superintendent John Holst says he’s happy to see an increase in AmeriCorps volunteers next year, and gave credit to Lawrie for getting the help the district needs.

“We’re absolutely pleased to have not just the number but the quality of the people,” he said. “Sarah has done such an incredible job and gone way beyond what she needed to do. She deserves credit - a lot of it.”


Note: The original headline was corrected online July 29, 2020.


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August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:


On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

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– The Sitka Sentinel Staff


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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-7-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:20 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 53

Total statewide – 3,536

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 20 (14 resident; 6 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 141.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 




August 2000

High prices for chum salmon, low pink returns, and record numbers of fish in Deep Inlet have turned the Sitka fishing grounds into Route 66 this summer. “Overall it’s been a fantastic season so far,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, operations manager for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

August 1970

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Ireney, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, will head a gathering of Orthodox prelates from North American and abroad in ceremonies canonizing the first American Orthodox saints, Father Herman of Alaska. A group of Sitkans will fly to Kodiak for the event.