Employee Spotlight: Gwen Sargent

When did you join the KANA team?
I worked for KANA for ten years from 1990–2000 before relocating to Old Harbor. After eight years in Old Harbor, I returned to Kodiak in February 2010 to be closer to family and start work at KANA as the Development Coordinator. Several years later, I became the Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation Administrator.KANA has been my employer for most of my adult life, for almost eighteen years. I have been given the latitude to be creative in developing programs and services that enhance the lives of KANA’s Beneficiaries. Throughout the years, I have had training opportunities and am grateful for the continued development of my skills while maintaining employment.

What are some of the duties of your position?
My primary responsibility is the development and management of our Vocational Rehabilitation Program, including staff supervision, budgeting, data collecting, grant reporting, and expansion of services.

What do you like most about working at KANA?
KANA provides a professional atmosphere while maintaining a healthy, positive work environment. I like the camaraderie amongst my peers and my peaceful office space with amazing views on Near Island. I was born and raised in Kodiak so I know many of the employees—it is like an extended family.

I like the diversity my job offers me from working directly with clients, traveling to the villages, and working with our regional partners. I get the most satisfaction through planning events that influence the younger generation to get excited about potential careers, internships, or postsecondary education. It is rewarding to cross paths with them years later when I find out that an activity or event inspired them and made a positive difference in their lives.

Tell us about a memorable KANA moment.
There are so many! I have fond memories of putting together the Elders conferences and gatherings. Elders and village residents would spend a week in Kodiak, learn about wellness, and participate in cultural activities. At one event, we even had an Alutiiq clothing fashion show!

Another memory I will never forget was right after the oil spill when we hosted the first Spirit Camp on Afognak Island at Dig Afognak, supported with funds KANA received from the Exxon Valdez Trustee Council. As I stood on the beach, I looked to my right and watched a group of youth walk with archaeologists to dig on an actual site. To my left, I watched another group begin to examine a tide pool and learn about the sea life. It was rewarding to see an idea on paper actually come to life. After the end of the two-year grant, Dig Afognak developed further and transformed their program, and they have continued to operate successful summer camps every summer.

You helped created the “TAY Event”. Tell us about that.
Four years ago, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority provided KANA with funding for a pilot project focusing on the successful transition from school to adult life. One goal was to prepare students for employment and provide accesses to available resources. This was in line with both my passion for working with youth and my interest in developing partnerships with the various agencies that serve our Koniag region.

The first step was to create the grassroots Transition Age Youth (TAY) Coalition, which represents local businesses, Native organizations, secondary and postsecondary institutions, government bodies, and individuals. An identified gap was the lack of funding to support the career and college fairs. The TAY Coalition took up this challenge and had the first event planned in just four months.

Incorporating Alutiiq language and culture was important, so we named the event Sun’arausqat Katurwiat (The Young People’s Gathering Place). During the event, rural and local students engaged in interactive activities that encouraged the creation of post-high school plans and challenged students to practice critical thinking to gain positive employability skills needed to succeed in the workforce. It has been rewarding to see so many students attend and benefit from the event.

How do you spend your time outside of work?
I love to cook feasts for family and friends. Cooking is a stress reliever for me, as is acrylic painting and other arts and crafts.

I also thoroughly enjoy spending time with my five-year-old granddaughter Kaleeah and my son Josh. Kaleeah has been cooking with me from before she was a year old. I got a kick out of her messaging me recently on her mom’s phone for my alodgic recipe. I remember hearing from my mom how the love of a grandchild is something special, and I have come to realize that is so true. 

Gwen Sargent

Gwen (second from left) at the Women’s Wellness Retreat on Woody Island.

Students in Akhiok participate in a “human knot” team activity.