Kristi West's wild world of sports

Zach Gordon Youth Center manager looks out for Juneau teens

Posted: Friday, March 08, 2002

From indoor soccer in Greenland to preparations for this year's Easter egg hunt in Juneau, Kristi West's interests will take her to opposite sides of the globe this month. But she won't leave behind her focus on kids.

West, manager of the Zach Gordon Youth Center, is headed to Greenland in one week as a volunteer staff member with the Arctic Winter Games Team Alaska. Both jobs capitalize on a passion for sports and concern for young people.

"I'm a sports nut and for me to go and watch these games and watch these kids participate is really exciting," she said. "Meeting people from other countries and seeing them every two years, I have built relationships I wouldn't have otherwise."

The 2002 Arctic Winter Games will mostly feature athletes age 14 to 19 from Alaska, Canada, Greenland and the Russian provinces of Chukotka and Magadan. West will answer questions from parents, monitor indoor soccer and volleyball games, and help the athletes as needed.

"My involvement has been since 1996 in Eagle River, last minute," she said. "I went up there and it was just a blast."

The games' focus on athletic competition, cultural exhibition, social interaction and sportsmanship drew her to the 1998 games in Yellowknife and 2000 games in Whitehorse. She is part of a committee that will research the possibility of Juneau hosting the games in 2006.

"That sort of gives it a whole other twist as far as going," she said. "I'll be paying close attention to the details."

About 350 people from Alaska, including 37 from Juneau, are scheduled to attend the games this year in Greenland and Iqualuit, Nunavut, Canada.

That one of West's charges is indoor soccer is no surprise. Her love for the game is shared by her husband and three children.

"We have a women's league playing now at Mount Jumbo Gym, and Community Schools has a drop-in. We've done soccer as a family," she said. "I do play volleyball and ski, but indoor and outdoor soccer are definitely my passions."

Her love for sports has found a place in her career. West began working with the city Parks and Recreation Department in 1989. Most of that time she was in charge of youth sports, adults sports and facilities as the department's recreation manager. She still oversees the Pipeline Skate Park in her position as manager of the Zach Gordon Youth Center.

The center is something of an institution in Juneau. Billed as a "home away from home" for young people, its pool tables, weight room, climbing wall and snacks attract kids and provide a safe place to hang out.

West, 43, was drawn to the center as a high school student in Juneau and remembers Zach Gordon, for whom the club was named. Gordon, who died in 1977, was known for his work with the community's teen-agers.

"Zach was always here with a smile and said hello," she said. "He definitely opened the doors for anybody."

It is a similar attitude that guides West's work as manager today. An average of 30 kids visit the center a day and it serves 50 to 75 regulars. West is constantly learning new names and has tried to open staff positions to young people. The center also plans a number of events, such as the annual community Easter egg hunt.

"It serves a small population, but it serves a small population well," she said. "What Juneau needs is a lot of youth centers like Zach Gordon. ... These small youth centers are a really healthy thing because they can create a family environment for kids."

West is an advocate for young people and a positive role model, said Wendie Marriott, the former manager of the Zach Gordon center who now directs the parks, culture and recreation department in Unalaska.

"I don't know anyone who doesn't like her. She's just one of those people who people just want to be around more," she said. "Teens love her."

Crandall Mark, a recreation activity leader at Zach Gordon, knew West when he worked at city hall and was pleased when she joined the center. "Having a familiar face helped a lot," he said. "She has lots of first-hand experience in dealing with teen-agers. She has two of her own and a pre-teen. She's good with teen-age parents who bring their babies in."

West wasn't sure she wanted to change jobs when she was asked to give the position at Zach Gordon a try about a year ago. She's glad she did.

"I really knew that I needed the stretch and the challenge of coming over here, and it's such a rewarding position to be in," she said. "You really feel like you make a difference on a daily basis."

Juneau Color is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in town. To nominate someone for a profile, contact City Editor Ed Schoenfeld at eschoenfeld@juneauempire.com.



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