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Relaxing At Home Essay Contest

“Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

There have been three major violent attacks in the United States in the past six weeks. A shooter in Las Vegas killed 58 people and injured 546 others attending a music festival. In another attack, in New York City, a man murdered eight people and injured 12 using a rented truck from Home Depot to plow into them. Last Sunday, a man killed 26 and injured 20 people attending Sunday services at a church in a small town in Texas. As humans sharing the world, it is hard to believe how commonplace violence is, whether in the form of a “lone shooter” or as an “act of terrorism.” Instead of feeling the shock and horror we should, we have almost become numb in reaction to these outrageous and revolting events.

As a 17-year-old, I have never known a time in America where there wasn’t violence. I was just 1 year old when the 9/11 attacks happened. I have lived through many acts of violence, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012. That same year, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African- American from Florida, was fatally shot, ironically, by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Whether it’s a mass attack, mass shooting or the killing of one person, the action is violence and the result is the same—death. And we are left asking ourselves, “Why?” What can we do about it?

As teens, we don’t have to feel powerless. There are things we can do. One thing we can do is to raise awareness about religion and racism. Interfaith programs at our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples can help promote goodwill and understanding through diversity. By seeing that we share faith in a higher power and working together for the greater good, we promote understanding. Programs like Harvard University’s The Pluralism Project runs the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition in the St. Paul, Minn., area, where “teens work together to nurture interfaith understanding, reduce prejudice and misunderstanding, and act together on common values through service and justice to transform their worlds. In the process, these young people are empowered to be capable interfaith leaders, both within their own communities and beyond.” This program includes many community-based events like a gardening service as well as leadership workshops for the teens. Having more programs like this one, throughout the United States and the world, will help cultivate more understanding leadership and promote greater understanding among different religions.

Teens can also raise awareness of gun violence. Events such as Seattle, Washington’s “Teens Against Guns Youth Summit,” hosted by the Atlantic Street Center, are a way to bring teens together to actively support the anti-gun movement at a grassroots level. Programs like these can help empower teens to help them realize they can be proactive in ending the cycle of violence.

Another way teens can use their voice to denounce violence and terror is through social media. When she was challenged by another student to prove there were Muslims who condemned violence in the name of Islam, Heraa Hashmi, a 19-year-old college student at the University of Colorado Boulder, decided to make a list of all the Muslim groups that did. According to a November 2016 Teen Vogue article, “ The result was Worldwide Muslims Condemn List — a spreadsheet with 5,720 instances of Muslim groups and leaders denouncing various acts of terrorism.” Her Twitter account generated 12,000 re-tweets and the list has been made into an interactive website called www.muslimscondemn.com. Her idea led to a resource for anyone to access the information.

Whether coming together in an interfaith group, rallying at an anti-gun youth summit or using social media to create awareness against violence, teens have a voice. Gun violence and terror attacks need to end in my generation. Maybe Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers), said it best: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ” We, as teens, need to be those helpers.

For almost 10 years, June and John Strothenke have been living on their small farm in Interior Alaska, raising goats, rabbits, chickens and cows. But now, it's time for a change.

A few months ago, the couple came to a sudden decision that, between health and job stresses, they needed to move on.

"Maybe it's time for us to spend a little more time with the family … and a little less on the farm," John Strothenke said.

So they're putting their home on the market, but with a twist. There will be no Realtor. Only an essay and a $1,000 entry fee. Write the winning essay, and the farm is yours.

It was June's idea, her husband said. Look around online, and you'll find stories of other properties put on the market via essay contest, she said. She didn't want to go the traditional route, with all the red tape of a typical sale. This seemed like a good option.

Now, anybody interested in the farm has a shot, if they can pay the fee and answer a simple prompt: "Why I would like to own a hobby farm in Fairbanks, Alaska."

The couple says they've put a lot of work into the 5-acre property off Chena Hot Springs Road, northwest of the center of Fairbanks. They just put in new windows. John Strothenke said he'll continue renovating the house as though they weren't leaving.

Wanting a healthier, sustainable lifestyle, they moved into the property in 2008. They started the farm with chickens, and it expanded from there. Eventually, most of their food came from the land.

"We were doing eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, honey, meat of all different varieties, everything that comes from the ground and garden," John Strothenke listed off.

They loved the work, but the days began at 4:30 a.m. and lasted until 10 p.m., John Strothenke said.

In the property description, they describe a four-bedroom home, a two-story barn, and large woodshed and carport, as well as other sheds used for livestock.

There's no mortgage on the property, and annual property taxes are around $5,000, they write.

The couple figures they need about 370 essays to make the contest financially viable. They will allow only 420 entries total — so the odds of winning are relatively good, they said.

For entry advice, June Strothenke said people should "thoughtfully (put) their heart in their essay. Because I think that's what's going to stand out to us as the initial judges."

The pair will choose the top 20 essays. As for the winner, that will be decided by three judges who have not yet been chosen.

"I would love for, you know, somebody, maybe a younger person who's got a small family," to own the farm, John Strothenke said.

First National Bank Alaska is handling the entries and money. The bank will send the essays to the couple, with all names removed, so that each one is anonymous. On Thursday, the couple wasn't sure if any entries were submitted yet.

If it goes well, they'll make back the cost of the house and some profit, John Strothenke said. If the essay contest doesn't pan out, they'll sell conventionally and all entry fees will be returned, they said.

The couple hopes to retire to upstate New York, where they are both originally from, and where family now lives. Both said they never thought they'd leave Alaska.

They have no regrets coming here, John Strothenke said. But he said he might regret leaving.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the First National Bank of Alaska. The bank's name is First National Bank Alaska.

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