• Willie Hensley to act as keynote speaker at April 12 celebration
By Hannah Heimbuch
Despite being the 2014 Lifelong Learner award recipient, the spotlight isn’t where Kyra Wagner gets most of her work done.
An avid volunteer, Wagner would rather throw a potluck and get people talking about community issues, she said, or put her energy behind a program supporting local food growers or teens.
“I’m flattered,” Wagner said of receiving the Lifelong Learner award. “I’m kind of speechless.”
But it’s just that kind of grassroots community leadership that inspired the Friends of the Homer Public Library board to recognize Wagner’s dedication to learning, as well as its practical application in the community.
Wagner has been involved in a variety of community projects in Homer, including serving as coordinator of Sustainable Homer, working with the MAPP project for community health on the Kenai Peninsula, supporting local food production through the Homer Farmer’s Market and acting as assistant coach for the Homer High School Drama, Debate and Forensics Team.
While the organizations and projects she involves herself in are varied, there is a common thread running between them.
“I work toward community resilience,” Wagner said. “My husband says I never got out of the Peace Corps.”
The same skills applied to creating stable communities in struggling countries abroad can and should be integrated at home, she said, especially as Americans work to meet basic community needs on a more local level.
“I don’t see that our present way of life is sustainable long-term,” Wagner said. “I think everybody across the country is kind of coming to terms with that on their own speed, and I think Homer is just a pretty adept little town.”
Community sustainability and strength has to come from all angles, Wagner said. She puts her volunteer efforts behind several of those major elements — youth vitality, public health, food systems — and hopes they add up to a stronger big picture.
“I’m just part of the wave,” she said. “I like to think of new ways to live; new ways to set up those systems, so that we can be more regional.”
Wagner and her husband Neil grow much of their own food, Wagner said, but the local food movement isn’t just for the people who have time and space for a high tunnel or garden.
That’s why it’s her favorite cause, because it’s something that everyone needs, and that everyone can participate in on some level — whether as a grower or consumer.
Wagner’s interests extend to ingenuity in building and design — which led her to serve on the new library building committee — and the endless opportunities for fun in Kachemak Bay’s outdoors life.
The best advice she can give others about including community, learning and growth in their lives, Wagner said, is to first try simply to create a space for it.
“If you want to be connected, you need to slow down,” she said. “People are exhausting themselves. They take on a lot of work. They do a lot of activities. But for some reason, we are told that we need to be going 24-7.”
Wagner said scheduling free time and open space gives her mind room to consider those important causes; time to dedicate to curiosity and new ideas.
This year’s youth recipient is Homer High School senior Hannah Baird. The National Honor Society student has been actively involved in choir and hockey for many years, as well as Homer Alaska Youth for Environmental Action. Her commitment to a diverse array of activities — from academics to the arts to athletics — made her an ideal candidate, according to the board.
“We love recognizing the potential for lifelong learning at both the younger and older levels,” said Andy Haas, the Friends’ board president. “We are looking beyond mere book-smarts and for someone who is self-driven and who applies their joy of learning to our town. This reflects how we envision the role of our library.”
The library represents not just access to information, Haas said, but dynamic discussion and the application of learning.
For their youth recipient, the Friends board looks for a frequent library user that demonstrates an enthusiasm and willingness when it comes to learning. This includes a “willingness to step outside the typical high school boundaries in pursuit of learning,” Haas said, as well as an ability to bring that enthusiasm to both their peers and the community at large through their pursuits.
“Hannah Baird is smart, enthusiastic and successful in both hockey and choir,” Haas said. “She struck us as an athletic scholar who writes well and enjoys poetry.”
For adult lifelong learners, the board looks for someone who actively brings their longtime skill-building and knowledge-seeking to others, applying it to help the community at large. This is a person who demonstrates curiosity and inspires others, Haas said.
Past recipients of the Lifelong Learner Award include Daisy Lee Bitter in 2009, Dr. Walter Johnson in 2010, Dick Griffin in 2011, Carmen Field in 2012 and Ken Castner in 2013.
“Applying these criteria can be really a hard choice,” Haas said. “But we felt that Kyra is continually initiating new interests with enthusiasm and complete success.”
The 2014 Celebration of Lifelong Learning at the Homer Public Library on April 12 will honor both Wagner and Baird, and feature a keynote address by Willie Iggiagruk Hensely — author, activist and former state senator.
The speaker is chosen by the same criteria as the lifelong learners,” Haas said. “[Hensely] has intelligently developed both Alaska business and Native rights in a successful and thoughtful way.”
Hensely received the 2014 Governor’s Award for the humanities.
Tickets for the celebration — featuring catered cuisine, music and a silent auction — are $30 and available at the library and through board members. Funds go to support the Homer Public Library through the Friends’ programs. Contact Erin Hollowell at 435-3195 for more information.
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