As summer hits Nome, there is typically an increase in reports of vandalism around town. Misdemeanors such as spray painting and destruction of property, typically get a lot of publicity, especially on social media. One thing that has repeatedly concerned Nome property owners is preventative measures for vandalism, which appears to be mostly from youth.
Despite vandalism being highly publicized online, the actual statistics are low. The Nome Police Department only saw five recorded acts of vandalism from December 2021 to May 2022, according to Nome Police Chief Mike Heintzelman. Even the uptick in the summer is usually not drastic: last summer, NPD recorded eleven total acts of vandalism. Nevertheless, vandalism continues to worry property owners.
One Nome resident wants to address this problem in a positive way. Since this issue has focused so much attention on the young people who may be vandalizing, Michelle Ahnangnatoguk thinks the City of Nome should provide an outlet for Nome’s youth. Ahnangnatoguk suggests that the city construct some public basketball courts and has been working to get her message out to the City of Nome and to the Nome public.
“I was born and raised in Nome, and I have noticed an increase in vandalism, depression, suicide and anxiety within our younger people. … We need to refocus our attention, really. And provide more outdoor recreation for the older kids, you know? Try to steer them in a better direction,” Ahnangnatoguk said.
She is concerned about the stigma that public commentary against vandalism may place on young people in Nome who engage in acts of vandalism, as well as the fact that children committing acts of vandalism may turn to more serious crimes.
Ahnangnatoguk believes that children who commit these acts are an important part of Nome’s community and their struggles are worth addressing.
“These kids and young teens are Nome’s future success as a community. They will someday help to build Nome into a safe community,” she said in a letter addressed to the city.
Ahnangnatoguk has been on a one-woman mission, spending multiple hours on the phone with Nome officials, penning the letter and campaigning to get the basketball courts built. She hopes to get one court up in Nome this summer then another in Icy View. (Additionally, the Nome Community Center is working to construct a public basketball court by the Boys and Girls Club this summer.) Right now, the most challenging part of her plan is to raise funding, Ahnangnatoguk said. She has received letters of support from organizations such as Kawerak as well as thanks from private citizens.
In focusing specifically on campaigning for the construction of basketball courts, Ahnangnatoguk takes inspiration from her own childhood in Nome. She cited memories of playing on Nome basketball courts, which have since been torn down. She believes that they provided a wonderful outlet for youthful energies. Besides, Ahnangnatoguk noted, basketball is a source of community pride in Nome, especially with events like the Nome-Beltz boy’s recent state win.
Nome City Council member Meghan Sigvanna Tapquaq, expressed support for Ahnangnatoguk’s idea.
“I’m a big proponent of preventative action, and sometimes preventative action is just having healthy activities for youth to do. Basketball is a huge part of this community and who we are as Nomeites! I definitely support it, not just necessarily as a solution to dealing with vandalism, but just as a healthy activity for youth to be able to do,” Tapquaq said.
Tapquaq is also a volunteer co-director for the Nome Youth Court. Youth Court, where a young offender’s peers hear the defendant’s case and decide the sentence, also tries to address the actions of young offenders while alleviating the stigma that they might face. Youth Court, Tapquaq says, tries to address the “root cause” of why a young offender may be acting out. Tapquaq described Youth Court as an opportunity for young offenders to both feel empowered within the court system and to take action to set right what they did wrong.
City Manager Glenn Steckman also agreed with Ahnangnatoguk on the importance of physical activities for Nome youth. He mentioned several projects the city is undertaking separate from the basketball courts.
“Well, I think the city, and the recreation and parks, want to have more opportunities for young people. That’s why we are working on getting the softball fields and baseball fields replaced this year. That’s why we are doing improvements for heating and ventilation to make it a more enjoyable experience in the gym,” Steckman said.
However, Steckman doesn’t believe that building a basketball court is currently feasible. He cited the lack of road construction in Nome this year, saying there won’t be any asphalt to lay courts down.
Ahnangnatoguk believes that the City of Nome could do more for its young people.
“I think if we can get a few more people to come forward and express the concerns with me, I think it would get the city’s, more of the city’s attention. I don’t want to request too much, I don’t want to ask for too much, but I think we can just all really focus and try to give our younger people a chance to live a successful childhood,” Ahnangnatoguk said
Image at top: A basketball. Photo by Mitch Borden.