Old Harbor tribal administrator Bobbi Anne Barnowsky recently won state recognition and a place on the 2017 First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Awards.
The awards began with Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond in 1975 and continue today under First Lady Donna Walker. Out of 70 nominations, four individuals were selected for their commitment and dedication as volunteers.
Barnowsky is originally from Las Vegas, and moved to the village of Old Harbor in 2009 as a math and science teacher. Since then, she’s become a leader, neighbor, and mother.
She says as a teacher she volunteered to become a foster parent, and through that, found her daughter, Joan.
“Joan was placed with me on a temporary basis, and we just kind of fell in love as a family, and I spoke to her mom, and her mom came to me and asked me if I would adopt her, and I said yes. And so I’ve been pretty fortunate to have Joan in my family and to create our own little family together.”
Joan joined Barnowsky when she was 9, and she’s now 11 years ago.
Barnowsky says many of Joan’s relatives live in the village, and Barnowsky helps keep the communication line open between Joan and her birth mother.
“We work really hard to make sure that they get time together, when we go to events that the two of them are often together. We take family pictures of the three of us or the four of us when my mother lived here, so we just try to make it that it’s not about her family or my family. It’s just we’re one big family.”
Barnowsky has been involved on both the environmental and social front in her community. She works closely with individuals on their everyday concerns, whether that means a bad day or a domestic issue.
She says she taught at an inner-city school before coming to Kodiak, and sees many of the same types of problems.
“The difference is because we’re so small we see ‘em more. Everybody knows everybody, so it’s not hidden as much, and one of the things I’m very proud of Old Harbor for is they’re starting to talk about them to move past them. It’s not about we’re hush hushing everything. We’re trying to move forward.”
She facilitates that discussion through a woman’s wellness program, among her other commitments, and she says the closeness of the community enables dialogue.
“It does give us that opportunity to work together and to say, hey. You don’t necessarily have to throw somebody in jail to stop something. You can have family go and talk to somebody or you can turn to the neighbor to step in, so you have different opportunities here, and people aren’t necessarily afraid to do that.”
In May, Barnowsky will travel to Juneau for a ceremony at the Governor’s House recognizing her and the other recipients’ contributions.