PUBLISHED: 1:18 PM on Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Metlakatla youth learn new skills while helping needy

  Kandi McGilton hard at work at the Metlakatla water bottling plant.
In this day and age we tend to take a lot of things for granted, including water. The victims of the tsunami lost their supplies of fresh drinking water. Aid organizations from all over the world have made great effort to get them the water they so desperately need, and some are still trying. The Metlakatla Boys & Girls Club is one organization that is still trying to get water to the victims of the tsunami.

About 25 kids in Metlakatla, ages 10-19, and even some young adults, volunteered many hours of their time to bottling water for the tsunami victims. In cooperation with the Metlakatla Bottled Water Co., the kids bottled over 23 thousand one-liter bottles of water in 2-3 weeks time to send over and they are still trying to find a way to get it to those in need.

According to Desmond King Sr., the Youth Activities Coordinator of the Metlakata Boys & Girls Club, their original goal was to produce 15 pallets of water. They surpassed that goal and are now looking for sponsors to get 20 pallets of water to the victims of the tsunami. According to King, they can get it as far as Washington through the generous assistance offered by Northland/Boyer Barge Co. But so far, that is as far as the water can get.

Photo by Kandi McGilton
  Matthew Booth with a pallet of bottled water.
The idea of bottling the water came when King, along with Rich Hayward and Trudi Refour, volunteers of the club, were wondering what they could possibly do to help the victims.

"We kept seeing on TV that 'they need water, they need water' and we have tons of water," King said.

Refour, who has been volunteering her time at the club for over two years, is the manager of the Metlakatla Bottled Water Company. According to King, she is the one who came up with the idea of bottling the water.

"She starting punching numbers and figured out that they had enough supplies to bottle the water," King said.

Hayward has been a volunteer at the club for over four years and is a technician at the bottled water plant. He helped train the kids at the club to bottle the water at the plant.

Photo by Kandi McGilton
  Cory Atkinson and Rich Hayward.
"At first they were kind of overwhelmed, but once they learned the process it opened up their eyes," Hayward said. "It taught them about quality control because our standards are real high. It's given them a way of seeing that there's more out there in the world. They all started to look at a plastic bottle differently because they were a part of it here."

Hayward explained that the younger children weren't allowed to work near the line, but they really wanted to be a part of the process so he got them involved in packaging and stacking the bottles in the trays, while the older kids volunteered their time in rotating shifts in different areas of the plant.

"First I started out on the line filling bottles on the conveyer belt," explained club member Matthew Booth, 18. "Then I got rotated to upstairs where we blow up the bottles. We blew about 5000 one-liter bottles in 2-3 days and bagged them. Then I rotated to the back of the line where the bottles come off the conveyer belt where we shrink-wrap them and box them."

Booth said it was really a productive and exciting experience for him that he wouldn't mind doing again in the future.

"There was never a dull moment, and I got to work with a fantastic bunch of people," he said. "It was a very good experience."

Club members Ryan Nelson and Tom Hurley, both 15, agreed that the experience was indeed a good one, even though it was a lot of work, it was worth it to help those in need.

"It puts a smile on my face to help them," Hurley admitted.

Nelson said he enjoys helping out in his community with the Metlakatla Boys & Girls Club and that the kids even did a coin drive to help the victims of the tsunami.

"It felt good knowing that people have all the supplies they need," Nelson said.

Kandi McGilton, 19, also volunteered her time with the bottled water project doing everything she could from working on the line to taking photographs for the club scrapbook. She said the experience has taught her patience.

"It was so repetitive," she said, "you just got to do it and be patient about it and know that you're getting the job done ... Blowing bottles is the worst. It's really tedious and it's really hot up there, but it's worth it. It feels awesome just to know you can help people who are in a disaster, and just to know that people are trying to help-it's great."

McGilton said she's been coming to the club ever since she moved back home from Sitka two years ago.

"It's real easy to get drawn into the Boys & Girls Club here. Everyone is so energetic and so nice. It's a great place to be!"

The club members who volunteered with the bottled water project are all members of the Metlakatla Boys & Girls Club Lifesavers group, according to King. The Lifesavers Group is a group of youth peers that work together to form drug and alcohol free activities. They participate year round in activities in their community to help those in need. Now they are gearing up for their annual community-wide Easter egg hunt by getting ready to color 120 dozen hard-boiled eggs for the children to find on the Saturday, before Easter.

While the kids are preparing for their next community activity, King, Refour, and Hayward are still trying to find a way of getting almost 2000 cases of water to the tsunami victims, who could still use the clean drinking water.

King said he is happy to know the kids had a great learning experience with the project. He said one thing the kids learn at the club by doing service for their community, as well as helping the victims of the tsunami, is they don't always have to get paid in return for their services because they get paid with the good feelings they get in helping.

If you are interested in being a sponsor to get bottled water to the tsunami victims, contact Desmond King Sr. at the Metlakatla Boys & Girls Club at 907-886-5222.