Honoring Young Heroes at the State Fair

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heroes 2013 final

Eric and Tyrel Gusty were honored by the Summer of Heroes program for saving their school from closure.
Eric and Tyrel Gusty were honored by the Summer of Heroes program for saving their school from closure.

On a recent beautiful day at the fair, Alaska Communications and the Boys and Girls Club honored the winners of this year’s Summer of Heroes program – which acknowledges youth that have gone above and beyond to help their communities.

As the event Emcee put it, “These young people have performed these acts selflessly and without seeking recognition. Because of their service, they’ve been nominated by others in their community who have recognized these contributions.”

Each “Hero,” as they are referred to, is given a $1500 scholarship. Two of the award recipients this year are brothers. Eric and Tyrel Gusty, 12 and 13 years old respectively, live in Stony River, a small community in the Bethel district. The Gusty brothers recently found out that their school was going to close because of low enrollment.

“We have six kids. We’re supposed to have 10 or over kids,” Eric said. With any less than ten kids, the school would lose it’s state funding. And, without that funding, there would be no one to maintain the classrooms, or to pay the buildings utilities. It seemed inevitable that Stony River’s school was going to have to close its doors.

“They were about to shut it down. Then we asked to pay the electric bill of $1,000 a month,” Eric said.

Honorees pose with their awesome jumbo checks.
Honorees pose with their awesome jumbo checks.

Yes, that’s a $1,000 electric bill per month. The Gusty brothers decided to use money they had been saving for an educational trip to Washington, DC. And they didn’t just pay the bill for a month; they pledged to pay it for the entire year, roughly $10,000.

The boys save the money mostly by running the Stony River grocery store. And after finding out what they sell there, I wasn’t surprised they’ve been such excellent fundraisers.

“We stock pop and candy. Barbecue ribs, angus beef, ice cream and Philly cheese steaks,” Eric said. And, the Gusty brothers have done more with the shop than keep their school open, they also decided to help their village elders after finding out some of them were going hungry.

“They barely have food, so we started to bring lunches to our elders every day when we go to school. And, we bring chicken for the elders. They don’t like the microwave stuff,” Eric and Tyrel said.

The boys find a lot of their motivation from their teacher Debi Rubera. She is the lone teacher in Stony River, and they say she can do anything. When the school’s funding got pulled, that meant dropping the janitor and cook positions. “She has to do all the cooking and reading and teaching. And clean up after we are done eating,” Eric said.

Tyrel says their teacher wasn’t defeated when the news about the closure came. In fact, she was inspiring. “She said never give up,” Tyrel recalled.

And they haven’t. The Gusty brothers say they’ll continue to do everything they can to keep the building running. Eric says they’re optimistic they won’t have to pay the school’s bills too much longer though.

“We have some little kids that might become preschoolers. Then we might just get 10 kids in the next couple years or so,” Eric said.

But today, they don’t have to worry about that. They can just be two regular kids, enjoying a day at the fair.