Capital City Weekly
Will you be my friend? Lena Gilbertson 112112 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly Capital City Weekly

Photo By Alida Bus

Lena Gilbertson smiles for a photo while out for a walk.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Story last updated at 11/21/2012 - 3:14 pm

Will you be my friend? Lena Gilbertson

Capital City Weekly

Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.

Lena Gilbertson is soft-spoken. She often deflects direct questions with a slight turn of her head, responding, "I don't know."

But she does know; she knows a lot. She's just humble and doesn't catalogue her triumphs. She's the kind of woman about which you find interesting talents and details through spending time around her.

Gilbertson is 26, a blond head, fish-fed, born and bred Juneau blood. She's kind and gentle but won't blow over when the wind gusts strong; that is, she's loyal. Perhaps her solid, whole-milk kind of qualities come from her upbringing.

"We were very much the kind of family that had sit-down dinners every night," Gilbertson said. "We had our own places at the table and a home cooked dinner."

Her dad hunted and fished, and Gilbertson grew up eating venison and salmon.

"I was spoiled in that sense," she said.

Gilbertson has an older brother, who also lives in Juneau. When they were growing up he would head out with her dad on hunting and fishing trips, but Gilbertson never quite caught the bug.

"My dad always wanted me to go, but I never really got into it," she said. "I went hunting once, and called it at that."

That's not to say she isn't adventurous. Upon graduating from the University of Oregon with a double major in anthropology and Spanish, Gilbertson joined the Peace Corps. She was assigned to work in Costa Rica.

"I was happy I got Latin America but I wasn't super happy about Costa Rica as it was the one place I'd been," Gilbertson said. "I was like 'This is a vacation destination, I don't know if this is where I want my Peace Corps experience to be.' It ended up being great, but I was definitely hesitant."

She was assigned to focus on a position, ambiguously titled, as "rural community development," and was the only Peace Corps volunteer in the area she was placed.

"You kind of have an assignment but you have to figure out how to do it," Gilbertson said. "A big part of it was figuring out what the people in the town wanted. My town wanted a lot of English classes. A big struggle for me was defining my role."

Gilbertson served for a two-year period.

"I would say it was very challenging, emotionally," she said. "I became stronger. I feel like I have thicker skin and learned to roll with the punches."

Gilbertson describes herself as social, but not in an in-your-face way.

"I was definitely quiet and shy when I was little," she said. "Probably not in my house, where I was a huge brat, but definitely at school. I think I'm just a listener. I enjoy hearing people's stories."

Gilbertson's move after the Peace Corps wasn't planned.

"While I was in Costa Rica, I never planned to return to Juneau," she said. "I wanted to go to Portland and Seattle."

But in June of 2011, she came back to her home turf. She moved in with a childhood friend and found a job with Big Brothers Big Sisters within a month.

"My other Peace Corps friends - a year later - were still looking for work. That was an advantage of coming to Alaska," she said.

That's not to say she isn't passionate about her work.

"I wanted to work for a nonprofit," she said. "I worked a lot with kids: English classes, youth classes, a self-esteem class for girls. Big Brothers Big Sisters stuck out. It was perfect."

Gilbertson works as the recruitment and partnership manager, basically, she said, looking for volunteers. She sees herself there for a while.

"I really enjoy it," she said. "I work with great people. I like what the organization does."

Trying to dig into her a bit, Gilbertson offered this: "If you were to ask me what my thing is, it's that I don't have one thing. I'm all over the place. I like all sorts of music, I like to keep my options open and explore new possibilities. I'm very exploratory, that's my thing. I'm very easy going."

Loyal, a good listener, generous, exploratory and laid back. Is there a better recipe for the perfect friend?