The Early Childhood Center and Tyotkas Elder Center are using food to help connect the wisest members of the tribe with some of the youngest.
For the past few months, Early Childhood Center students have been visiting Tyotkas to eat lunch with Elders, sharing tables, food and conversation.
“It’s important to us to bridge that gap between the younger kids and the Elders,” said Diane Bernard, education and disability coordinator at the Early Childhood Center.
Bernard said the programs had a similar arrangement in the past, but it wasn’t until last summer when the idea was reborn and planning began.
Now the partnership is established and visits have been occurring once every couple weeks, with about five ECC students participating each time.
During a visit in November, Nikiski resident Sam Hodena sat at a table with Diego, a student from ECC. Hodena began attending Tytokas events in summer 2015 after seeing a flyer at the Dena’ina Wellness Center and said she appreciates the transportation services offered by the tribe and enjoys going to the beach with Elders.
As Hodena ate baked ham, corn on the cob and macaroni and cheese, Diego played with small toys across the table between bites of food.
“Everything is wonderful,” Hodena said, smiling at her younger counterpart.
Also in attendance was Barbara Kinzy, who recently moved to the central Kenai Peninsula from Crooked Creek, Alaska, to help care for her mother.
Kinzy shared a table with 4-year-old Kaydence. Together, they cut corn from the cob, played with plastic sea creatures and practiced writing letters of the alphabet.
“I can do letters!” Kaydence exclaimed, holding up a piece of paper mid-meal.
The move drew a chuckle from Kinzy.
“She’s very intelligent,” Kinzy said.
For their part, Tyotkas staff has embraced the partnership as well.
Employee Deb Coveyou, taking a quick break from serving food, said the children bring energy to the building and that it’s fun watching them interact with the Elders.
“They’ve been so awesome,” Coveyou said. “They’ve been good little kids.”