A group of young and adult men outfitted in life vests, huddled together by Iliuliuk Lake on a sunny and windy Saturday afternoon. Off to the side was an inflated rubber raft piled with oars. They appeared ready to go out on the lake, but there was an underlying idea bigger than just the activity of paddling.
“So, what we’re here for, myself, Dimitri, Jeremiah, and there’s a couple of others who you might see in the next trip if you come on the next trip, we’re kind of part of a group called Compass,” said Carlos Tayag.
He’s a recreation coordinator at the Unalaska community center. But at that moment, he was a volunteer.
“Raise your hands if you’ve heard of the Alaska Men Choose Respect campaign,” Tayag said.
Hands go up.
“We’ve taken a pledge to do that, to be mentors and guides for other young men.”
As they inflated a second raft, Tayag explained that last year, a group of men from Unalaska attended a workshop on mentoring, specifically using Compass. Compass is an Alaskan program created in response to requests from various entities for a resource that can be used to guide men in their conversations with youth. The goal was to help Alaska’s young men learn to respect themselves and others. A strategy for this is to engage them in conversation while doing simple and fun activities.
Tayag motioned to the lake to illustrate how the community is surrounded by water, the inspiration for the rafting activity.
“We have a couple of good lakes, so we decided that rafting was a good activity and a bonfire just to hang out and chill,” Tayag said.
“I’m here because it seems like a fun thing to do,” 15-year-old Amiel Fernandez agreed. “I haven’t been on a boat in the middle of the water a lot.”
The conversations went beyond water safety. The young men were getting guidance from male role models on redefining masculinity and are encouraged to explore healthier, nonviolent models of manhood.
“The message is really simple. I think the whole thing about Compass is just getting guys comfortable with, one, being themselves, and two, talking about who they are and where they come from.” Tayag explained. He added that men typically have a harder time expressing their feelings. The objective was to provide youth a chance to be able to open up without judgement, which Tayag believed was part of coming of age for young men and their quest for identity. “I think that’s the most important for me, is just kind of having those open honest conversations and letting people be who they are.”
This program is a collaborative effort of Unalaskans against Sexual Assault and Family Violence, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, City of Unalaska Department of Public Safety and the Department of Parks, Culture, and Recreation.