Local youth helps students have voice in community
When Homer High School sophomore, Marina Greear sees a challenge, she faces it head on.
After watching her brother Falcom get bullied for years for being gay, Marina was inspired to create the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) group at the high school this fall.
"I wanted to stop the homophobic slurs that are commonly used around the high school and to try to make the school a more accepting and safe place for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans (LGBT) students," she said.
Emotionally connected to the issue, Greear is committed to helping LGBT students have a voice in the community.
"My mom has always stressed the importance of acceptance. With my brother being gay and open, I naturally became a defendant of people without a voice," she said. "I have a hard time with bullies and people who put other people down in general."
Marina runs the weekly meeting with a group of between six and 10 of her fellow high school students. They gather to talk, laugh and do arts and crafts.
"While everyone is having a good time, I bring up a topic relating to LGBT rights in our country and we have an open discussion about that topic and are able to share our feelings freely in a safe environment," she said. "The group tends to be people who identify with the issues or who are allies and want to hang out."
Greear is eager to build a passionate group of students who will work closely together and go out into the community to educate the public about LGBT issues in the high school.
"High school is a very important time in your life and that is when people need to be sure of themselves and have a safe place to figure out who they are and what they want to do in life," she said.
Greear describes herself as having an authoritative manner, which she believes commands attention and helps her get her point across. She shared that she is strong and opinionated, as well as sensitive and sympathetic.
"I like to stand up to people who I feel are in the wrong, but I also know when I'm being unreasonable and when to back off," she said.
She said that her parents are her greatest role models.
"They both really inspire me," she said. "My mom is open and confident in herself and what she believes in and my dad is really logical and motivated to get things done."
Motivated to make a difference in the world around her, Greear applied for and was accepted as a foreign exchange student position with Rotary.
"I hope to be able to educate people about Alaska, to help break preconceived stereotypes, and to teach people that Alaskans are a unique thread of Americans," she said.
Chosen as one of Rotary's outbound foreign exchange students, in August, she will spend 11 months serving as a Rotary Student Diplomat in a foreign country.
"I will represent Homer, educating people about Alaska and the United States, and at the same time, learning about their country and culture."
Greear will live with different host families over the course of the 11-month program, attend a local school and immerse herself in the language and culture of the host country.
She was drawn to the Rotary organization specifically for their youth exchange program because of her love of travel, nurtured by her family's numerous travels to Asia? Since the age of three, her family has traveled to Bali, Singapore, Malaysia, Kuala Lampur, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and Chaing Mai.
Greear said one of her favorite parts of their travels is when her mother, a teacher, distributes school supplies she brought with her to children in need.
"In Sri Lanka, I saw how little they. Though they would be living on a dirt floor with a small sack of rice in the corner and one mango as all the food they have, whenever she (mom) gave anything to the kids, the family would try and give us all they had," she said.
In January, she will find out what country she will be living in. She is excited to spend time in another part of the world.
"When we go on vacation, we're never there long enough to really get to know the culture and be a part of how they live," she said. "I'm eager to learn about different religions, languages and cultures and to become one of the community."
Greear describes herself as being both nerdy and confident.
"I am nerdy because I really like math and science. I'm confident because I believe in myself and I don't care what people think of me," she said.
In addition to her community work around LGBT issues, she has spent time in her mom's classroom, teaching robotics and encouraging young girls to explore science.
"They are the future and we need more women in science and math careers," she said. "I want them to know that they can do whatever they set their minds to; that they can do anything."
With interests in animals, biology and medicine, Greear may pursue veterinary medicine after high school. For now, though, she is committed to creating a safe space for all students to coexist at the high school and preparing to spend the next year as a foreign exchange student abroad.
"I'm just an Alaska kid, born and raised in Homer, hunting and fishing just like anyone else," she said. "I want to do as much as I can to better this wonderful town. No matter the challenges."