Volunteers came together to cook and serve a Thanksgiving meal for Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School students at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

Volunteers came together to cook and serve a Thanksgiving meal for Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School students at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

After loss, YDHS gathers for a meal to help move forward together

Volunteers cooked and served for the students and parents

Large communal meals serve a traditional purpose in many cultures. Sometimes for giving thanks, sometimes for fellowship, sometimes in mourning, and sometimes all of these.

“When you cook a meal for someone, it’s better medicine,” said John Smith, cultural specialist for Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School.

The students of YDHS need medicine more than most, with the deaths of two students in a vehicle wreck a week before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“This is a Thanksgiving celebration,” Kaitlyn Conway, a YDHS student support specialist who helped to organize the meal, said Wednesday. “We’ll eat and be merry.”

Kaitlyn Conway, a student support specialist at Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, helped organize a Thanksgiving meal for students and parents at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

Kaitlyn Conway, a student support specialist at Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, helped organize a Thanksgiving meal for students and parents at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

Volunteers cooked food and served more than 200 students, parents, elders and guests at the Zach Gordon Youth Center, as community elders and a guest speaker came to turn the event into one of healing and fellowship from the crash that tore through the community.

[Police say alcohol and speed appear to be factors in fatal wreck]

“The process of healing doesn’t happen in two or three days,” Smith said. “It takes years. We’re going to talk today. We’re celebrating food and love and togetherness.”

Sol Neely spoke to students and parents during a Thanksgiving meal for Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School students at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

Sol Neely spoke to students and parents during a Thanksgiving meal for Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School students at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

Students enjoyed traditional Thanksgiving food like cornbread, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, and various kinds of bird and meat, all cooked by Conway or donated by faculty from the school. Students sat with elders and talked as they ate.

“I really like our school because we’re restorative,” Smith said. “We’re using the traditional healing process in our school district. We’re learning from our kids.”

John Smith, a cultural specialist for Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, spoke to students and parents during a Thanksgiving meal at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

John Smith, a cultural specialist for Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, spoke to students and parents during a Thanksgiving meal at the Zach Gordon Youth Center on Nov. 27, 2019 following a crash that killed two YDHS students last week. (Michael S. Lockett)

Without the community coming together to support the lunch, Conway said, it couldn’t have worked.

“All the teachers here have been so wonderful for helping out,” Conway said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without help.”

Smith went on to speak about grieving to the students and parents, many of who knew those killed or injured in the Nov. 21 crash. Smith said that it’s natural to grieve, but that it’s also OK to move forward from one’s grief. Students had written songs and made blankets with the help of elders after the accident as a part of the cultural grieving process.

“We’re just all trying to process and trying to move forward with as much grace as can. The holidays can be rough,” Conway said. “This is hard. We’re all doing it together.”


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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