Bonfire on the Bay: Shining light on stress, anxiety and depression

If I asked you what you think our biggest problem in Homer is, what would you say? When this question was posed to six Homer youth at a statewide leadership conference called LeadOn! in November 2013, our first thoughts were around substance abuse, which we all think is a real issue for teens and adults in our community. 

We were challenged to choose an issue facing our community that we as teens could help make a difference in. Sadly, the issue of drugs and alcohol abuse can’t easily be addressed. One member of our group brought up the question, “What is the root cause of substance abuse?” and that’s when we had our epiphany. 

Not only is stress, anxiety and depression a leading cause for substance abuse, it also had personally affected each of us. Like wildfire, our ideas grew and grew. At first we were going to host an art event but realized not everyone has artistic inclinations. We then found inspiration in TED talks, which aim to harness the power of ideas to change the world,  and decided to create an event offering different perspectives around this one theme, hoping to attract a broader audience and to inspire. 

“It is a huge community event with talks, food and love,” exclaimed a PHAT (Promoting Health Among Teens) peer educator and member of the LeadOn! Team at the Homer R.E.C. Room. After meeting weekly for the past three months, Bonfire on the Bay is finally here. 

Who wouldn’t want to join us at this event on May 25 at the Pier One Theatre to positively impact the way our community responds to anxiety, stress and depression? Created by teens, for all ages, Bonfire on the Bay is a community event featuring a series of presentations from multiple local speakers and Keggulluk the Great, a Yupik storyteller. 

The local speakers range from an improv master to a yoga instructor, an expert gardener to an expert procrastinator and more. We chose speakers who might not get recognized in the community but have strong voices and interesting perspectives. 

We gave the speakers the theme of stress, anxiety and depression, and asked them to give their personal outlook on this subject in any way they saw fit. The goal was to have a wide range of presentations to address the topic creatively and compassionately.

Ultimately, we want to help build tolerance, understanding, and a community that supports people of all ages who face these challenges. Jonas Noomah, PHAT peer educator and LeadOn! participant explained, “We want to open the doors to something that doesn’t get talked about that our town really needs.”

Flying in from Bethel, Earl Polk, whose Yupik name is Keggulluk, is our featured speaker. Using traditional storytelling techniques, Keggulluk takes the audience on a journey they will never forget. Weaving in personal experiences, he creates powerful connections with everyone in the room as he shares his knowledge in unique and thought-provoking ways. He has spoken at other events across the state, and Homer is lucky to host him. 

His participation is supported by Bunnell Street Arts Center, Kachemak Bay Family Planning Center and Haven House. KBFPC’s R.E.C. Room and Haven House have provided adult mentors to work with us and have been supportive in many other ways. 

We are hoping this event not only teaches how to use coping skills but also to show us that when you are struggling you are not alone. As the audience, you will leave feeling strong with skills you can use in the future. Bonfire on the Bay will be an empowering experience for Homer and hopefully will inspire other supportive events to take place.

Bonfire on the Bay starts at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 25, at Pier One Theatre. The cost is $5 for adults, and just $3 for anyone under the age of 18. The talks will vary from short to long, lasting until 7 p.m., when the festivities will move across the street to a bonfire with open discussion, spoken word poetry, food and lots of love.

So join us to shine light on stress, anxiety and depression and help make our community more aware of these common challenges. 

Lauren Cardwell is a soon-to-be freshman who enjoys candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach. When she is not on the ice playing hockey, she is rocking out to her favorites tunes and teaching herself how to play them on the piano, guitar and ukuele. She’s proudly the youngest member of the LeadOn! Team and is soon traveling to Juneau to help plan this year’s LeadOn! conference.