Winter Service Fellows

The Winter Service Fellows program began in September of 2014 with 12 recent college graduates living in community in 105-year-old North Pacific Hall, cooking in a communal kitchen, working for local organizations, and becoming immersed in the community of Sitka, Alaska. While Sitka Winter Fellowships are funded fellowships, the 9-month fellowships are ultimately about a rich, meaningful experience, not money.

The Winter Fellowship includes: a $600/month stipend for food and incidentals; a one-time $500 stipend to defray the cost of travel to and from Sitka; your own room in North Pacific Hall and the use of communal facilities (living room, kitchen, bathrooms, etc.) shared with other fellows; the opportunity to live with eleven other young people, become part of a unique Alaska community, and explore the mountains and ocean and wilderness of Southeast Alaska.

The 2014-’15 Sitka Winter Fellowships were hosted by:

  • Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation
  • Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association
  • The Island Institute (two fellowships)
  • Hames Wellness Center (two fellowships)
  • Sitka Conservation Society/Haa Aani
  • Sitka Fine Arts camp (four fellowships)
  • Sitka Community Hospital
  • Sitka Tribe of Alaska

The 2015-’16 Sitka Winter Fellowships are hosted by:

  • Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association
  • Braveheart Volunteers
  • Hames Center (two fellowships)
  • Island Institute (two fellowships)
  • Sitkans Against Family Violence
  • Sitka Community Hospital
  • Sitka Fine Arts Camp (four fellowships)
  • Sitka Tribe of Alaska
  • University of Alaska Southeast

Testimonials from 2014-’15 Winter Fellows:

I don’t think I’ve ever used the phrase “life-affirming” before, but it seems applicable here. Moving to Sitka for the Winter Fellows program has been a totally life-affirming decision. I feel seen, valued, and supported in every aspect of my life.
At work, I’m an important member of a small team. I’m expected to direct my own projects and think analytically about problems when they arise. My big-picture and small-picture ideas are taken equally seriously, and if they’re good, I get the chance to put them into practice.
At home, my housemates/fellowfellows teach me things like how to drive stick shift, bake bread, use bear spray, be a better person, think more critically about politics, make potato soup, and run far without hurting my knees.
In Sitka at large, I’m always bumping into colossal generosity. A bunch of strangers band together to help find a stolen bike, and it’s returned within the week. A family opens their home to twelve twenty-somethings on Thanksgiving. A fisherman drops off fifty pounds of free Alaskan salmon (this really happened!!) and then says we should just let her know when we run out, and she’ll bring more. It’s crazy that I lucked into this life. You should definitely apply for this fellowship.

I took multiple college classes that sough to answer the question: what is the good life? If only the philosophers and psychologists I studied could have visited Sitka, AK. It would have saved me and them a good amount of time.  

We were welcomed to Sitka with boat rides to Forest Service Cabins tucked away in wooded inlets, with potlucks, 70lbs of donated salmon, invitations to family dinners, and offers to provide us with “whatever we needed.”  The community has a persistent generosity: in the months since we arrived, the invitations have kept coming, and our fish stock has been restocked.
I can see the ocean from my bedroom–a view that regularly features magnificent sunsets.  I live minutes away from trails that lead to alpine ridges and spectacular views.  And I share this experience with eleven other fellows that I treasure. We hike together, go out together, have family dinner every week, followed by games. Communal living situations don’t always work– but here in Sitka they seem to do well. And when they do well, there is nothing better.
During the week I serve at a wellness center, working for the most positive and energetic people I have ever met.  The nonprofit provides for the health of more than 700 members.  I do everything from building maintenance, to managing the rock climbing wall,  customerservice, and accounting.  In short, I feel like I make a difference.  I am given real responsibilities. I am challenged, I sometimes fail, but learn an incredible amount, and am given the agency to define my own work. 
On sunny days, I kayak during my lunch breaks. Since late October I have shared the Sitka Sound with pods of humpback whales. I have seen more rainbows in three months here than during the rest of my life.  I watch sea otters from the parking lot of the grocery store. I play on the mountains or in the ocean every weekend. I run on trails to waterfalls or up mountains, watch hundreds of salmon fight their way upstream, and some nights get to witness natures greatest light show.
If this all sounds too good to be true, I understand. I have been here for over three months, and I still feel that way. I am still in awe of the 360 degrees of beauty, and I am perpetually grateful for the community. I can imagine nothing better to do right after college because no matter what career I eventually find myself in, I will be able to look back on this experience and remind my self that life can be like this. Life should be like this.