With a heart for advocacy, Sierra Moskios found solace through the REC Room’s youth development programs as a teenager. Now in her mid-20s, Moskios’s love for helping others has brought her back home to serve the youth of Homer as the new REC Room coordinator, where she has quickly proven herself to be an “Alaska Afterschool Superhero” — an honor awarded her on April 22 by the Alaska Afterschool Network.
“I am passionate about helping people and making change,” Moskios said. “I benefited so much from the programming from the REC Room as a teenager, so it just feels really beautiful and full circle to be able to do that now for the youth. We need a safe space with safe, trusted adults. We need those protected factors. We need to think and believe that people in our community care about us, and that there are things for us to do and get involved in.”
In recognition of her dedication to teenagers, Moskios received the Alaska Afterschool Superhero award from the Alaska Afterschool Network, which awards five afterschool professions each year for meeting the needs of local teens. The Alaska Afterschool Network is a statewide collaboration created by the Alaska Children’s Trust to support and advocate for afterschool programs in the state. Moskios was nominated for the award by Liz Pileckas, REC Room youth program manager, and Tyler Schlieman, peer education coordinator.
“(This award) means that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Moskios said. “That felt really good. … I am so blessed with the people I am able to work with, Liz Pileckas and Tyler Schlieman, and the whole Kachemak Bay Family Planning staff. I work directly with Liz and Tyler, and we’re a small team in youth programming over here. (The award) meant that they appreciated me, and that they loved me and saw me for what I was doing in this position.”
The REC Room, or Resource and Enrichment Co-op, was established in 2010 by the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic to offer a safe and empowering space for youth ages 12-18 to gather after school. Before the pandemic, teenagers were able to hang out at the REC Room once the school day dismissed and enjoy a variety of programming, such as music sessions, arts and crafts, gaming, as well as tutoring, counseling, substance abuse and sexual health awareness and understanding.
“The purpose of the REC Room is to provide a safe and healthy space for teens to feel like they belong; feel like they can be involved in their community; feel like they have somewhere to go after school,” Moskios said. “The REC Room has been around for a long time. We have rapport in the community; people know who we are, and they know that we’re going to be there for them. We are blessed to be so deeply rooted in Homer and for parents to know that we’re a safe and trusted environment for kids to come to after school.”
Moskios originally joined the REC Room staff as a teenager in 2012 as a peer educator to teach sex education and wellness in schools. She says her love for social justice and advocacy was instilled in her at a young age by her mother who fought for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Social work can be hard sometimes, especially when you’re working with survivors of assault. It all goes back to my momma,” Moskios said. “She really instilled in me as a child to always treat folks with respect. You never know where they’re coming from, and you never know someone’s story. I just also genuinely love the human experience and human connection and listening to folks stories and being there for them. My heart just pulled me to it.”
While the pandemic halted in-person activities, Moskios was able to help establish an active online presence to continue engaging students through virtual hangouts, art programs and group counseling. Since rejoining the REC Room in August, Moskios has worked with youth virtually to create a community of positivity, understanding and acceptance.
“The main part of my job is to engage specifically middle school-aged youth in Homer and provide positive afterschool programming,” Moskios said. “We have been closed for over a year, so I’ve been in this position fully virtually. I’ve been doing a lot of figuring out how to engage teens on Zoom and how to get them to show up every Thursday online. What I mostly do is provide a safe space for teens to come hang out and explore themselves, learn new skills, make connections with their peers. It’s been extremely important, especially now during the pandemic. Isolation has been real for the youth.”
In addition to the Thursday virtual hangouts, Moskios created a weekly LGBTQ+ group for LGBTQ+ teens to seek counseling and support from a licensed therapist, Frankie Opatz. Moskios says she considers this group the most special part of her job as she is able to help queer youth understand who they are.
“We at the REC Room strongly believe in accepting people for who they are, where they are, and planting seeds of empathy and compassion and taking care of yourself. I believe in that so wholeheartedly. Being able to pass that on and talk about how to make safe and healthy decisions in your relationships and how to communicate effectively; all of those are such major life skills, and what drives me is that I had that, and they need that. It is so important, and I feel so honored and blessed to be able to do that. What you put into your community is what you’re going to get back, and I love it here.”
Both Pileckas and Schlieman said they nominated Moskios for the Afterschool Superhero award because she deserved it.
“She is a consummate advocate for youth, and I think that’s one of the most important things,” said Pileckas. “She is able to connect kids to resources and opportunities in a way that is special and unique. … She deserves (this award) 100%. She is fantastic for this job.”
“She has a passion for social justice,” said Schlieman. “She is so in love with the REC Room and what it represents.”
While the award helped Moskios realize the direct impact she’s had on the REC Room, she says it’s the responses of the teens she works with on a daily basis that continue to push her to serve the community to the best of her ability.
“Yesterday, I had a teen come in who just wanted to tell me literally everything and anything, and they said, ‘You know, I feel like I can tell you this stuff, and you’re not going to judge me for it,’” Moskios recounted. “That was a huge moment for me to know that I have instilled so much trust and rapport with them that they feel like they can come to me, and they know that I am not going to judge them. I am going to listen, and hopefully, I will have some good resources to refer them to if they need them.”
The REC Room has reopened from 3-6 p.m., Monday through Friday and is hosting in-person activities following CDC COVID-19 safety guidelines. Moskios, as well as Pileckas and Schlieman, are excited to see teens back in the REC Room, enjoying the programs they’ve worked hard to provide.
“I do this work with my heart,” Moskios said. “I believe fully in the youth of Alaska and our world.”