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With a goal in mind, 16-year-old Iglulik youth is determined to graduate

Thanks to the Ayalik Fund, Kirk-Paul Kunnuk travelled from Iglulik to Kingston, Ont., for a second time June 20 for another stint on the St. Lawrence II, a 72-foot sail training vessel. This time, he went as a paid crew member.

Kirk-Paul Kunnuk, a Grade 10 student from Iglulik, arrives on the deck of the tall ship St. Lawrence II the morning of June 21, thanks to the Ayalik Fund. Kunnuk will work as a paid crew member on the ship for six weeks.
photo courtesy David Pelly

Kunnuk's adventure began last summer, also thanks to the fund, when he attended a summer camp on the sailing vessel. Over the winter, on weekends, he completed a course by video link that qualifies him for this summer's six-week voyage.

"I love it," said Kunnuk, adding he's excited and really happy to be returning.

The Grade 10 student is determined to graduate, with an eye on attending the Nunavut Fisheries and Marine Training Consortium's school in Iqaluit. From there, Kunnuk hopes to join the Canadian Coast Guard.

He said these plans motivate him to complete high school. His training on the ship has also stretched his skills on the water, which are very useful at home.

The Ayalik Fund, a program for Inuit youth begun by two mourning parents in honour of their son Eric Ayalik Okalitana Pelly, is thriving.

"In the first year, 2015, we sent two youths on an Outward Bound trek in the Rocky Mountains.  We were so excited by that, so soon after establishing the foundation. Now, four years later, we’ll be closing in on a total of 100 youths by the end of this year. It is remarkable," said David Pelly.

Pelly, with his wife Laurie, wanted to offer empowering opportunities for Inuit youth who might not otherwise have access. Their adopted son, who died in his sleep at 19, gained in confidence and self-esteem with similar experiences.

"For Laurie and me, it (the fund) is now our raison d'etre, it makes us feel like our dear son's life has more meaning. We miss him terribly, of course – there are tears every day.  But we know that all these young people from across Nunavut are benefitting and growing in ways that had such tremendous positive impact for him, by experiencing challenging outdoor adventures," said Pelly.

"It's his legacy."

Eric's own savings of roughly $5,000 were used to start the fund.

View:  A video produced by Nick Castel, with the help of anonymous donors, highlighting the positive impact challenging experiences can have on Nunavut youth. 

The fund is entirely dependent on private donations and receives no government money. The Pellys devote a lot of time to ensuring there is an incoming flow of donations.

"But I must say, we have a core of regular, reliable and generous donors who give us the confidence to keep planning for the future. There are wonderful people out there who want to make a difference to the future, one youth at a time," said Pelly.

"Our annual budget – just the travel and program costs for the kids – is something just under $100,000.  That's a lot of money to raise, one small donation at a time. We're grateful beyond expression to all the donors, who are listed on the Ayalik Fund website."

Pelly also says he and Laurie couldn't run the fund without the many volunteers in communities across Nunavut who help to identify the youth who will benefit.

When Nunavut News spoke with Kunnuk and Pelly, the two were driving to Kingston together, on their way to the tall ship. While that hands-on approach is not possible in all instances, the Pellys do make all the travel and participation arrangements.

Pelly says it's very gratifying for him and Laurie that the Ayalik Fund is lending Kunnuk a hand as he develops his goals.

"It's not necessary that every kid finds their life's work as a result of going on an Ayalik Fund trip. But he's obviously found a passion here. That's a wonderful thing. It gives him the drive to carry on with school," said Pelly.

Kunnuk — who will meet the captain of a Coast Guard icebreaker, have breakfast with the crew, and get a private tour of the ship this weekend in Toronto — agrees.


Seventeen Inuit youth head out on empowering adventures this summer thanks to the Ayalik Fund

Kirk-Paul Kunnuk, 16, after completing an online course over the winter at home in Iglulik, is set to join the tall ship St. Lawrence II as a crew-member for six weeks this year.

Alice Kilaodluk, 12, from Cambridge Bay, is attending a 10-day Northern Youth camp for younger girls in the NWT, in early summer.

Jushua Omik, 16, from Pond Inlet, will join a gathering of 100 youth from across the country at Encounters with Canada in Ottawa for a week leading up to the July 1 holiday.

Janae Angootealuk, 18, and Sebastien Angootealuk, 16, cousins from Coral Harbour, will be sailing on the St. Lawrence II from Buffalo, NY, to Bay City, MI, for two weeks in July.

Brandon Anaviapik, 18, and Allan Peterloosie, 18, from Pond Inlet, will be sailing on St. Lawrence II with the two above, in July.

Michael Haniliak, 16, and Andrew Anavilok, 16, from Cambridge Bay, are going on a two-week canoe trip in the Temagami region of Ontario.

Thanks to the Ayalik Fund, Ernestine Lyall, 16, of Cambridge Bay, is attending a six-week youth employment training and certification camp operated by Outland north of Thunder Bay, Ont..
photo courtesy David Pelly

Ernestine Lyall, 16, and Jayden Kignektak, 17, from Cambridge Bay, are attending a six-week youth employment training and certification camp operated by Outland, north of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Jovon-Jake Sanertanut, 14, from Kugaaruk and Chloe Kilaodluk, 14, from Cambridge Bay are going to YMCA Camp Elphinstone on the BC coast, north of Vancouver, for two weeks in July.

Debbie Mannilaq, 16, from Taloyoak, is joining a two-week Northern Youth advanced canoe trip on Great Slave Lake, NWT, in July.

Josie Singoorie, 16, and Lane Onalik, 16, from Pond Inlet, are sailing on the St. Lawrence II from Bay City, MI, to Parry Sound, Ont., for two weeks in July/August.

Darren Inutuinak, 12, from Kugaaruk, is attending a one-week Northern Youth canoe-camp off the Ingraham Trail outside Yellowknife, NWT.