Small towns like Unalaska can be pretty close-knit. Grown-ups take care of kids who aren’t their own, and teenagers have adults to turn to when they need them.
One local high schooler wanted to make those relationships stronger. So she planned something special: She put students and adults into teams, and sent them on a town-wide scavenger hunt.
This is the sound of a community coming together:
Team: “Go. Ahh, earthquake!!”
That’s a scavenger hunt team completing a challenge: stage a dramatic earthquake scene in a public place. Groups of adults and high schoolers have been running all around town for a week, doing activities like that and getting a little closer in the process.
And that was 18-year-old Christian Escalante’s idea when she put this event together. Last fall, the high school senior went to a youth leadership conference in Anchorage. It focused on combating violence and promoting respect and equality in communities around the state.
Escalante: “We talked about what changes we can make in our community, and one of the things I noticed is there wasn’t enough youth and adult participation in the community. So that’s how I started my project.”
Escalante got an $1,800 grant from the conference to make it happen. She set up the teams, trying to mix up people who were new in town with long-time residents, and pairing up kids and adults who didn’t know each other. They had a week to get through more than 60 tasks — taking pictures or video of themselves doing different things.
Escalante: “They’re definitely at least getting a sense of the kids, and the kids are getting a sense of the adults that they’ve never met before. They’re also doing new stuff in places they didn’t know they would do, like building sand castles at Summer’s Bay, or doing silly things at the store.”
Each task had a point value. At stake were cash prizes, funded by the grant.
And “doing silly things” seemed to be a priority. One of Escalante’s favorite challenges: creep from the front to the back of the local Safeway like a ninja or a spy.
Emily Bruck: Okay, don’t go too fast, ‘cause I’ve gotta follow you. …You guys are being bad ninjas.
Alysha Richardson: Yeah, you guys suck.
That’s Emily Bruck and Alysha Richardson, filming their teammates trying to be sneaky by ducking into racks of sweatshirts or hiding along shelves of detergent.
(sound of silence in a grocery store)
Don’t hear anything?
(continued silence in a grocery store)
So, being kind of goofy in public is one way to get to know each other. Other tasks ask teams to just hang out together, or get to know their town — finding local landmarks, going on adventures and volunteering at different nonprofits.
On the very last day of scavenger hunting, another team is driving around, trying to squeeze in some last-minute points.
Ross Enlow is one of the teenagers on that team. Already, they’ve hiked Mount Ballyhoo in Dutch Harbor, cooked together and had a dance party.
Enlow: “Today we’re gonna plan on going to Summer’s Bay and either find the horses or write in the sand — have to have a meal together, and create something. Then after that, we’ll be done.”
Those are worth 60 points altogether.
Summer’s Bay is just outside town. On the way, the team spots a pile of melting snow and decides their creation will be a tiny snowman.
Enlow: Oh, there you go.
Teammates: We need sticks! — Oh yeah, I have them.
Enlow: We should — I just want to make this look really big, so we should take it from a downward angle. (laughter) Just like, make it look way bigger.
Teammates: Oh my god!
They snap their picture — that’s 20 points down — and leave their masterpiece in the road. The wild horses that roam the valley are nowhere in sight, so instead, they draw a heart in the sand.
Amber Le, another teenager on the team, is their struggling artist.
(sound of rebar drawing in sand)
Le: How do I do the other half?! The other half always sucks!
Johanna Tellman: So much pressure.
That’s adult teammate Johanna Tellman. She runs a local consignment shop. She says it’s been fun to spend this week making some new connections.
Tellman: “I knew who these people were, but I never really got to know them. So it’s nice to get to know them a little more personally. It’s been fun.”
The team has to submit all their photos and videos by the end of the day, and after Summer’s Bay, they’ve checked off all but a few activities. When the results are announced the next day, though, they find out they didn’t win. Still, Tellman’s glad they all participated.
As for Christian Escalante, the organizer? She had one final test for the three top teams as a tie-breaker: a quiz to see how much the kids had learned about their adult teammates, and vice versa.
Escalante: Okay, where did your person go to school?
Escalante (laughing): What college in Oregon?!
Teen: Oh. (laughing) Somewhere in Oregon?
Escalante: That’s half a point.
Overall, Escalante says she was impressed with what she heard.
Escalante: “They knew a lot about each other. A lot more than I thought they would.”
And she hopes they can do it all again next year — with new teams and new challenges.