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Volunteers who went to Sitka, Alaska, from Brookings Presbyterian Church gather in front of the church's bulletin board following a reception where they shared details about their trip. (THE PILOT/MARGE WOODFIN).
Volunteers who went to Sitka, Alaska, from Brookings Presbyterian Church gather in front of the church's bulletin board following a reception where they shared details about their trip. (THE PILOT/MARGE WOODFIN).


Pilot Staff Writer

Ten volunteers from the Brookings Presbyterian Church, accompanied by a couple from Portland, landed in Sitka, Alaska, July 6, with a mission to reconstruct the flooring system in the principle classroom on the campus of Sheldon Jackson College.

Sheldon Jackson College was established by Presbyterian missionaries in 1878, 11 years after the territory was transferred from Russian to American ownership.

Under the original name, Sitka Mission School, it was opened to provide education for native children. Sheldon Jackson was influential in supporting the school and in obtaining federal funding for students to attend the schools.

Jackson, a graduate of Union College and Princeton Theological Seminary was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1869. He was appointed Superintendent of Missions for states from western Iowa through Colorado and New Mexico and spent the next 10 years establishing churches and founding schools, before beginning his work in Alaska.

In addition to his work establishing and promoting schools in Alaska, Jackson began the collection of representative items of native culture and art that became the Sheldon Jackson Museum, located on the campus.

The volunteers from Brookings, Lee, Kelly and Teri Garvin, Terry, Debbie and Darren Caster, Tim Speir, Alex Deneau and Adam and Marilyn Wosick, plus the Portland couple, John and Emily Jensen, were thrilled when they heard the dollar figure placed on their work at the college.

At a potluck dinner at the Brookings church Aug. 10, Debbie Castor shared the figures supplied by personnel at the college:

Total of 659 hours for the Brookings work group at $17.50 per hour equals $11,532.50. With a federal grant providing a 10 times match, their work providing an additional $115,325 in grant funds.

The communication from the college includes, "In addition to the grant match, the work your group did far surpassed the estimated accomplishments of our volunteers, saving the institution $80,000 to $100,000 in construction costs."

The Brookings group was excited to hear that their two-week's work added up to more than $200,000 in benefit to the college, which relies heavily on its volunteer labor to help maintain the campus buildings.

Working closely with the architect and the building inspector, the group was able to repair the unsafe understructure of the building and replace sub-flooring, as well as much of the understructure.

The group thanked the assembled members and friends attending the Aug. 10 potluck for their support and prayers that made the mission trip possible.

"We completed other small projects during the two weeks, but we took ownership of the repairs to Yaw (the name of the classroom) which was our primary objective," Castor said.

Although the group worked extremely hard, they admit they also played hard, taking advantage of the daylight until 11 p.m, enjoying the sights of Sitka, walking, biking and hiking.

They enjoyed performances of the Native Tlingit Dancers and the New Archangel Russian Dancers, as well as visits to the Sheldon Jackson Museum and Wet Lab and Aquarium.

Fishing trips provided bounty they shared with others staying at the college. There were daily devotions, led by members of the Brookings group on three of the mornings, and they attended the Russian Orthodox Vespers Service on Saturday and met with the campus chaplin on Wednesday.

According to the adult members of the group, some of the young people were not excited about the prospect of all the hard work, but after returning home all said they would like to go again.

Some said the best part was the fishing, but liked having the opportunity to meet native young people from many different cultures attending a summer camp at the college.

"I think they all felt a sense of accomplishment, and were excited to see that a few hours of volunteer work can really make a difference," Castor said.

Lee Garvin said that after complaining about being asked to go on the garbage run, the young people ended up fighting over the assignment. They enjoyed riding around the campus on the back of a truck, picking up the trash.

One of Garvin's daughters said, "It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be," adding that she would definitely go again.

This was the second group of volunteers from the Brookings church to work at the college. The first work group went there in 2001. From the excitement generated among the volunteers and church members and friends who supported them, it sounds as though it won't be the last mission to Sitka for the Brookings Presbyterian Church.


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