In addition to annual funding, this year Eyak and the Worl family established a scholarship for NYO athletes
Plant a seed today; reap the rewards of harvest in the future. That’s the idea of investment in its simplest terms. And, according to CEO Rod Worl, it’s the reason behind The Eyak Corporation’s investment in southcentral Alaska’s economic development.
“We feel that by investing in local companies, we can have a bigger say in our own communities,” Rod explained.
As a longtime sponsor of Native Youth Olympic (NYO) Games, this year The Eyak Corporation increased its support of the Games in the form of a new scholarship. Combined with a donation from the Worl family, Eyak made two $1,000 academic scholarships available to NYO athletes who participated in the first-ever Virtual NYO Games.
The scholarships, which required athletes to provide a description about how NYO has impacted their lives, were awarded to Bridget Savage of Unalaska and Ajey Moses of Chevak.
“With NYO being canceled because of the pandemic, my son, Kyle, felt it was a good idea to do a scholarship,” said Rod. “We had Eyak funds for NYO, and I thought, what’s the best way to do something good with it? It was an idea derived from the pandemic, but I think we’ll keep the scholarship going. It’s another kind of investment in the future of Alaska’s young people.”
“In nature, there’s always competition between species,” Rod remarked. “It’s up to us as humans to get beyond that.”
During European contact in Alaska, the clashing of cultures contributed to the decimation of the Eyak Native people for whom The Eyak Corporation would be named when it was formed in 1973. At NYO, though, competition is the least important part of each event; instead, athletes from opposing teams support and encourage each other in an atmosphere that focuses more on collaboration than competition.
Rod sees the kind of cultural exchange facilitated by NYO — which is open to Native and non-Native athletes alike — as fundamental to the health of Alaska.
“It’s not just Alaska Native culture,” he said. “It’s about learning everyone’s culture. There’s a tendency to fear what’s different, and NYO is a great way to show young kids that we can have a greater understanding of cultural differences. I feel honored to see young, non-Native kids participating in our culture and learning about it and honoring our culture. That’s why I, personally, and Eyak, as a corporation, support NYO.”
What Goes Around
A former Native games athlete himself, Rod still officially holds the world record for the knuckle hop, which he set at the Arctic Winter Games in 1988, with a distance of 191 feet and ten inches. Today, Rod’s son, Kyle Worl, has been central to revitalizing NYO Games in Juneau, which in 2018 sent a team to Senior NYO Games for the first time since 1991.
With another son participating in NYO and a brother who previously coached for the Games, NYO has been a longtime family affair for the Worls. Rod’s enthusiasm for the traditional games has been the engine behind Eyak’s annual support of NYO.
“Each year, when I send out funding requests, Rod is always the first one to respond, and he usually does so within minutes,” commented CITC Senior Director of Development Kelly Hurd. “It was so inspiring to see the Worls come together as a family to increase their investment in young people – what a fantastic approach to philanthropy! We’re so grateful for Eyak’s generous support of NYO Games through the years.”
In addition to an annual monetary donation, last year The Eyak Corporation also made an in-kind donation of bottled water from Alaska Glacier Products and healthy snacks from Heather’s Choice, two small Alaska companies in which Eyak has invested.
“By exposing kids to our products, we think it’s a positive thing for the community, all around — the kids are the future for these young companies,” Rod said. “We have a strong belief that if we make giving a priority, that comes back around. When you build good, positive relationships with the community, people want to do business with you because they know you’re going to give back.”