Over the weekend, students in a career and technical program at Juneau Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé held a “turkey shoot” fundraiser.
The set featured a hay bale and a lush scenic backdrop with foliage that looked more like Costa Rica than Southeast Alaska. And waiting for someone to sidle up next to her and smile was a beautiful flightless bird named Penny.
Penny is white with flecks of black at the tip of each feather.
“Like a snowy owl,” said my four-year-old son, who was seeing a turkey for the first time.
Penny is a royal palm turkey, an ornamental breed, but he’s exactly right that her plumage looks like a snowy owl.
Donations for the privilege of posing with Penny go to a program called IGNITE, which introduces students to career and technical programs at the high school.
“We’re kind of a weird club. I won’t say we’re underfunded,” said club member Gabe Hansen, who’s a junior at the high school. “We just spend a lot on feeding birds and rabbits.”
Hence the fundraiser.
Juneau is not known as an agricultural hotbed, but in addition to raising animals, students work on construction projects. They made a goat barn and a swinging door for the school’s library. They also learn how to manage money and people.
“You got to get all the people down here to feed the animals when it’s their time, otherwise animals don’t get fed, which isn’t really good for them,” Hansen said.
“We also emphasize getting girls — women — into this … without the toxic environment of our trade classes,” said Eva Sturm, a senior.
“I have this issue with southeast Alaska because there’s not enough agriculture and kids are freaked out by things they eat every day,” said Caplan Anderson, the students’ advisor. “So, it’s exciting to see some kids who are ready to snuggle a turkey.”
A family of four set up on the hay bale. Penny nestled right in with them, looking like part of the family. Anderson told them it was okay to take off their masks, so you could really see their smiles.
“A lot of what we do is show people animals they might not see on a regular basis,” said Ashlynn King. She’s Penny’s handler and is actually raising the turkey at home.
All eyes were on the exotic bird, but right then a great blue heron flew right over.
“More people have seen herons than turkeys,” said Hansen. “It’s wild.”
That is certainly the case with my son, who had seen hundreds of bald eagles at once but had never seen a turkey before.
“I thought the turkey was going to be a turkey you eat,” he said on the walk home. “I thought it would be like meat that had eyes and a mouth.”
So now, in addition to venison and salmon, at least he knows where turkey meat comes from, thanks to Penny and the IGNITE students.