Ninilchik youth believes in the importance of giving back
Over the past 11 years, Ninilchik School senior Robert McGinnis has logged more than 3,000 hours of community service volunteer work.
When he was six, his mom, Lara, managed the Kenai Peninsula Fair and was looking for a celebrity waiter for a fundraising event at the fair that would help local children. While she made phone calls trying to find someone, Robert offered to help. Lara agreed to let him be a celebrity waiter and a volunteer was born. He sold 25 dinner tickets and brought in more than $500 selling hugs for $5 each at the event. He has continued to help out at the fair every year.
"At first, I'd just do little things that she needed done, and then as I got older, I'd help her out with anything I could do while I was at the fair," he said. "I set up and took down sound equipment, tables and chairs and did cleaning."
For the last three years, McGinnis has volunteered with the Soldotna Rotary, helping out with their annual events like Beerfest. A member of Future Farmers of America, 4-H and his student council, McGinnis helps with the groups' various fundraisers. As a 4-H Trailblazer, he participates in a highway clean-up every August after Salmonfest, and volunteers at the Kenai Peninsula Fair and the Fourth of July Rodeo by helping to set up and organize events.
"I believe that people should give their time back into the community and not just take everything for granted, like the facilities they have access to, so they know what's going on when an event goes on," McGinnis said. "For me, it's more of a way of thinking that I should give my time to this, because I also take part in it - giving back to the things that I like because I want to see more of them in the community or see them continue."
A member of the student council for the past three years, McGinnis has helped at dances, raised money for local families in need and is currently fundraising with a sponsorship program to help a Kenya student attend school in Kenya.
For the past five years, McGinnis has also helped with the local youth elder leadership program, assisting elders in the community by cleaning out their garages for garage sales, helping with the subsistence net to insure they have food for the winter, planting and harvesting a community garden and helping with catered events.
McGinnis participates in his school's Caring for the Kenai program. For the past two years, he was a finalist for his idea of creating a mobile recycling unit that he could take to events around the area.
"Most events don't recycle because it's too hard to get it to the landfill," he said. "My idea was to give people a way to recycle their materials."
He originally presented his idea when he was a freshman. When he was a sophomore, he put his idea to work, having his mom drive a donated trailer to events such as the fair, Beerfest and Salmonfest, until he got his license and could drive it himself.
"This was just a service I wanted to provide," he said. "People at the events thought it was a cool idea, but getting people to use my recycling service was a challenge. They seemed too busy or unwilling to make the time to make it happen. I wanted to be at an event every weekend, but the only events that supported my idea were the fair, the Beer Fest and Salmon Fest. That wasn't enough to give up my summer to make it happen."
Born in Alabama, Robert and Lara moved to Ninilchik in 2002 to be closer to his grandmother. When he's not doing community service work, in school or spending time with friends or family, McGinnis likes to play basketball. His team, the Ninilchik Wolverines, have taken state championships twice, and he is the only student in the school who has been on the team for all four years.
Diagnosed with dyslexia and processing delays while in the second grade, McGinnis said he has challenges with spelling and some language concepts, but that he does not let this hold him back.
"It's just a part of who I am and I've adjusted around it," he said.
McGinnis shared that he has had two role models in his life: his former basketball coach Nick Finley and his mom.
"Coach Finley was there to push me and encourage me and pretty much told me that I could do anything," he said. "And my mom's always been there for me. I look up to her and she has inspired my community service."
McGinnis will graduate high school in 2018 and is planning to attend the Kenai Peninsula College campus' two-year process technician and instrumentation program, preparing to work in the oilfield.
Currently, he is busy with school, basketball and scholarship applications, but still, he continues to volunteer, helping at the American Legion's community events.
"I like to help my community and I like to help make things happen," he said. "When I'm involved in an event and I see everyone having a great time, it makes me happy to know I helped make it happen."