All posts by Claudia Brock

Claudia Brock

About Claudia Brock

My Name is Claudia Brock. I am a junior journalism student and Omaha native with a passion for social justice, exploring, and making lists.

Disciples of the holy grove

Today, on our last day, our class ended early. Some of decided to go out to lunch together as a way to celebrate and say good bye to one another. It just so happened that 13 of us gathered around a table and our resident Jesuit, Tony, took the opportunity to recreate the last supper. He took the dinner roll from the salad of my friend Kari, broke it, and passed one piece around to us. As he held onto our piece of bread, some of us couldn’t help laughing at this goofy Jesuit acting out such a sacred, historical scene in the middle of a restaurant.

But as Tony (who will soon be leaving the Midwest to return to his home land of Syria to aid refugees) instructed us to lift the bread for a blessing the mood turned serious when he said, “thank you God for giving us this scene and these people. May you keep them close. May we create your kingdom. And may you allow us to one day meet again.” As we ate our piece of bread my eyes filled with tears.

Tony the christ with his 12 disciples.
Tony the christ with his 12 disciples.

Today in our final reflection our fearless leader, John O’Keefe, mentioned how even though this program is self-selecting , in that we decide we want  to go on it and sign up, it seems as though this particular group of people was drawn together for a higher purpose. Even as I think about our trip and how integral interviews we had not planned fell into place and how welcoming the people of Bethel were, it is obvious that the Holy Spirit has been working as the 21st member of the CUbackpack team.

When I think back to only 4 weeks ago when we were about to leave for Alaska, I was so uneasy. In fact, the whole week of boot camp I could barely eat I was so nervous about being good enough at video or not being able to respond well to surprises or hiccups in the plan, can you tell I am type-A? However, a month later I can say that the highlights of the trip WERE the hiccups. Crawling over a beaver dam with some of my new best friends because not all of us could fit in the boat to go film a village, hacking down a tree after a miscommunication about “free labor,” and even eating at a horrible, abandoned Italian restaurant in Anchorage on our last night (Guido’s, you are as terrible as your portions are large), are some of my fondest memories of the trip!

While I for sure learned a lot about story telling, videography, and editing, what I appreciated most about the trip is that it taught me to let go.

So what is one thing I can do differently based on what I learned? Be a better Disciple of the Holy Grove. 

My mom has a T-shirt with this phrase on it because I think that describes what the Holy Spirit is to me. It’s a realization that life is better lived when you trust that everything will work out, recognize the different “Christs” (Tony is obviously one for me) in your life, and give yourself over to the “groove of life.”

From the team, to the faculty leaders, to the adventures, to the people we interacted with, to the stories they told- this trip had a definite grove to it and I could not be more happy that I got to be a part of it.

Thank you for reading and for joining me on this journey of the person and the  heart.

The hardship of impermanence

The reality of global warming hit me as I stood close to a melting glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park and watched a small stream trickle off the edge of this massive, frozen form. Living in the Midwest my entire life I grew up concerned about global warming, but far removed from the issue. I have always believed in the reality of global warming but the changing weathers direct connection to me was minimal.

But as I hiked up the trail that lead to the glacier back in Seward, Alaska, I passed signs that had dates on them which marked what year the glacier had been in that spot. As I continued on, I noticed the rapid regression of the glacier. Even since 1994, the year I was born, the glacier has melted almost a mile.

Seeing this drastic environmental change made me think of a quote said by Nelson when we interviewed him back in Bethel:

For the people that don’t believe in climate change.. you know, I don’t blame you for being a skeptic, but there are no climate deniers here in Bethel or in the rural parts of Alaska because we are living climate change, this is ground zero for us…I think we just need to find a way to say sorry to the land, and sorry that we are doing something wrong, and if it is then just you know…please forgive us…we need you here …

I think one of the greatest struggles of humanity is that we fall in love with things that are not meant to last forever. People die. Glaciers melt. Friendships fade. Permafrost subsides. Culture clashes with modernity.  While we try to cling onto things that are familiar, it would be remiss to think that the world keeps things stagnant. This is not to say that humans are not at fault for causing change to be made more quickly or for participating for destructive actions, but it is a struggle when things change.

As Brian McCaffery, a biologist we interviewed, pointed out- God is in control but we are His stewards. We are called to apologize for our actions, seek forgiveness, and resolve to find better ways to cope with God’s ever-changing world.

The melting glacier in national park.
The melting glacier in the  Kenai Fjords National Park.


Treasure amongst the trash

Written by Mari Heller and Claudia Brock

Watch our video project on this topic here.

While in most parts of America, trash receptacles are not anything note-worthy. However, in Bethel, Alaska the dumpsters around the area are painted in bright colors and are even considered a tourist attraction by the residents of the city.

 Reyne Athanas, the current Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center Coordinator, runs the children’s art camp in the summer and is responsible for the dumpsters being repainted annually. With her Masters degree in Fine Arts and her 25 years experience as an art teacher, Athanas uses her expertise to guide over 60 kids during summer art camp sessions through various projects, including painting the dumpsters.

 “My sister-in-law, Janet Athanas, with the Bethel Parks and Rec. Department started that [painting the dumpsters] as a contest and that was probably, I want to say 2000. So the best dumpsters in the community got prizes. When Janet started it was communities or individuals would paint them but that kind of stopped, so with the art camp we decided we’d take it over,” said Athanas.

 The art camp, which has been holding sessions since 2005 has been growing every summer and offers a week of hands-on arts and crafts projects to children ranging in age from 8-13 years old.

 Most institutions in Bethel have their own painted dumpster, like the Bethel Health Clinic and the Cultural Center. Some dumpsters around the city do not belong to an organization but are used to promote a lifestyle choice such as birth control, being active, and engaged parenting.

 Because the art camp has become responsible for the maintenance of the dumpsters, Athanas must call around the city before the art camp starts to secure the unconventional canvases for her students.

 “I call the people who are in charge of the dumpsters and ask them to drop off I try to get eight per camp but this year they didn’t give us quite that many. So they drop them off, we paint them, they pick them up and put them back,” said Athanas.

 Athanas has not heard of any other city or town in Alaska who paints their dumpsters and believes that this form of urban art sets Bethel apart from other communities.

 While the dumpsters are made for disposable items, the messages and imagery on the outside of them are forms of lasting beauty in the city.

Superlatives: Best at bonding

On our final night in Bethel, Mari and I (we are the self-elected social chairs of the group and are in charge of boosting morale and suggesting we go out for breakfast) decided it would be fun to come up with superlatives for our funny little group and read them out loud to everyone at dinner. While we didn’t have dinner that night, we managed to call everyone together by saying that Dr. Z needed them…HA! suckers. Everyone was a good sport and we had a lot of laughs as we closed out our chapter in Bethel.

Here are the superlatives we gave everyone:

Carol Zuegner: Best at forgetting to warn us of pending manual labor (she agreed to have us clear brush at the mayor’s fish camp for an hour and didn’t tell any of us)

Tim Guthrie: Best humorous editor (he added funny word bubbles to the safety pamphlet on the airplane)

John O’Keefe: Best at looking like Brian McCaffery (the biologist we interviewed. “it’s like you’re my mirror, whoa, a mirror staring back at me” *must be read in tune with the Justin Timberlake song)

Brian and John- twinsies! Photo courtesy of Tony Homsy.
Brian and John- twinsies! Photo courtesy of Tony Homsy.

Claire Storey: Best at explaining card game rules (or not…well, maybe if you have 30 minutes…)

Stephanie Tedesco: Best blogger (she made us look bad by blogging everyday. You go girl!)

Morgan Ryan: Best sunset instagrammer (every night a new 2 AM Alaskan sunset)

Social media and sunsets mix well
Social media and sunsets mix well

Tony Homsy SJ: Best at “sensing” when we want to play BS (he was right about half the time…)

Nico Sandi: Best at light packing and water conservation (he wore the same T-shirt everyday and didn’t shower until we got to Seward…almost 2 weeks into our trip)

TJ Moore: Best at mastering “the Yup’ik yes” *cue eyebrow raise* (we saw that a lot)

Scott Prewitt: Best at making everything epic (he put ranch on his pizza once and said it changed his life. Okay Scott)

Hayley Henriksen: Best “head hang” (we see it most after Mari and I embarrass her by telling her she’s the cutest human)

Classic Hayley head hang
Classic Hayley head hang

Leah Renaud: Best at never not singing show tunes (if you like hearing the Frozen soundtrack 24/7, you would have LOVED our trip)

Kari Welniak: Best at falling asleep anywhere and everywhere (airports, fish camps, etc.)

Hannah Mullally: Best at consistently dressing like she’s about to scale a mountain (it was North Face pants and Columbia zip-ups all day, everyday)

Catherine Adams: Best one liners (she’s funny and swift)

Erin Kurvers: Best at reading 17 Magazine out loud (she read our entire room our horoscope, so let’s just say a lot of us are looking forward to coming into money in July)

Madeline Zukowski: Best at apologizing after being sassy (even though the apology basically cancels out the sassiness)

Nichole Jelinek: Best at frequently playing Bananagrams (solo, in a group, it doesn’t matter… Nichole is playing)

Last but definitely not least, the group gave Mari and I the superlative “best at avoiding bear attacks” because they said we are so loud the bear would hear us coming. We can feel the love! This group went from  acquaintances to a family in a matter of days. Each student and teacher brought their own personality to the mix, making this trip an even more amazing experience than any of us imagined. There is no place we would rather be than with all of them.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” -Henry Ford

The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O'Keefe.
The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O’Keefe.

TJ: The Jovial

TJ, or Taylor Jeffery if you are feeling formal, Moore reclines in a chair and flashes his characteristic, joking smirk as he recounts growing up as an only child.

“I chose to see it as a positive. Like I didn’t have to share anything. Plus I found out that you can play with just about anything, I got really creative,” said Moore.

Moore, a junior journalism student who grew up in Omaha, beliefs that life is a lesson waiting to be learned and he is eager to observe.

You will never find him without his two necklaces on. The shell necklace was bought for him by his uncle and reminds him of California, where he lived for the first two years of his life. The pendant with overlapping metallic circles he bought for himself. The symbol is called “the flower of life” and represents a sacred understanding of nature.

“I was raised Catholic and still go to mass and stuff, but I see God most through nature. Just all around me, and especially here in Alaska because I get to go outside and on walks so much,” said Moore.

After graduating high school from Roncalli Catholic, an achievement Moore would describe as his greatest accomplishment, he came to Creighton and his love of writing led him to the journalism department. Moore decided to go on the Backpack Journalism Program as a way to gain more experience in a field he is interested in pursuing.

“I think it would be great to do investigative journalism. Things like this actually! To tell a story no one is going to hear and find a way to make people care,” said Moore.

The past-faced nature of investigative journalism seems like a contrast to Moore’s laid-back personality. He enjoys going on walks alone so that we can have a quiet time to reflect. He identifies Key West, Florida as the best place he has ever traveled to because it is so relaxing. But it is the idea of sharing and listening to stories that compels Moore to pursue his degree in journalism.

“I feel lucky to have been able to hear the stories of the people here and I feel like I learned so much. There is a lot of power in words and being written,” Moore says with a raised eyebrow that expresses his spirit of constant curiosity.

Always the wanderer, TJ hikes up to get a closer look at a glacier in Seward, AK.
Always the wanderer, TJ hikes up to get a closer look at a glacier in Seward, AK. Photo curtesy of Stephanie Tedesco. 


ily Bethel

It’s hard to believe that it is time for our little (or not so little compared to the size of this small town) group to leave Bethel and head to Seward, Alaska for a few days of tourist-y fun before leaving for the lower 48.

Some members of our team have taken to saying “ily” (you can find a definition for this term here) to one another, and so with this last blog coming from Bethel I want to share just what I love about B-town.

    • The kindness of its residents; not only have the people we have interviewed welcomed us into their personal narratives, but others have taken us boating, hosted us at their fish camp, or cooked for us. Even little gestures, like shouting hello at us from a nearby house or asking if we have enough room in our car while we are piling in and offering to give rides, are the norm here and for sure one of the things I’ll miss most.
    • Being able to experience another culture so intimately and witnessing their struggles and values system in action.
    • Going on walks at 10:30 pm because the sun doesn’t set until 2 am.
On a walk by the river at 11 pm.
On a walk by the river at 11 pm.
  • Getting to wear my rain boots all the time because there are few paved roads in Bethel and the constant rain means walking everywhere through the mud.
  • Having the opportunity to try different foods like freshly caught salmon, Eskimo ice cream, moose, seal, and fried bread.
  • Going on boat rides in the Kuskokwim river.

    Erin, myself, and Madeline on Tad's boat on an early morning in the Kuskokwim.
    Erin, myself, and Madeline on Tad’s boat on an early morning in the Kuskokwim.
  • Being a member of the peanut gallery (aka one of the resident comedians) with my good friend, Mari. Also just being able to spend so much time with Mari in general-she’s the best!
  • Having a nightly slumber party and sleeping on a shared bed with Catherine and Erin- so cozy in the cold Sunday school room!

    From right: myself, Erin, Catherine, and Mari on our mega bed.
    From left: myself, Erin, Catherine, and Mari on our mega bed.
  • Sharing a knowing look with Dr. Z when we are both taking notes during an interview and hear a good quote.
  • Being just a short car ride away from the beautiful, vast tundra. As my friend Kari described, “it’s like walking on a squishy mattress!”

    In an interview we asked a man what he saw when he looked at the tundra. His response was, "On a clear day when I look out on the tundra I can see forever. The universe is in every direction."
    In an interview we asked a man what he saw when he looked at the tundra. His response was, “On a clear day when I look out on the tundra, I can see forever. The universe is in every direction.”
  • Getting theology lessons from our Jesuit tag-along Tony. Today he told me that the lesson of the book of Job is really that it is sometimes the youngest who can teach the most, and then gave me a high-five because I’m the only teenager and youngest member of the group.
  • Spending so much time with my team who has become like my family! From Catherine’s humor, Hayley’s sweetness, Madeline’s sass, and Hannah’s tenacity, our group has a great dynamic and I could not imagine a more wonderful bunch to make this journey with.

Looking forward to fun adventures in Seward and our editing room! Thanks to Bethel I will be heading home with muddier boots and a happier heart.

Do two rights make a wrong?

This morning I saw subsistence living in action. Because my little group (affectionately called the “C Team”) was not able to go on the trip to the village a few days ago, Dr. O’Keefe arranged for us to go along with Tad to check his family’s fishing nets. Tad is a high school science teacher and a Pentecostal minister and was able to explain to us how the nets worked, identified the fish he was pulling out of the water, and demonstrated how he broke the gills of the fish to bleed them out.

Tad described how his wife’s family has been fishing in that particular channel for several generations and how the smaller net size, which complied with the salmon fishing restrictions, meant that he would catch mostly red salmon and not king salmon.

Tad pulling the fish from his nets onto the boat.
Tad pulling the fish from his nets onto the boat.

Other types of fish will run up the river in the coming months but for the people in Bethel and surrounding villages who rely on fish as their only source of food, depending on only the possibility of food means the possibility of food insecurity.

Later today the writing team had the opportunity to sit in on a hearing about the subsistence restrictions at the Office of Fish and Game. The meeting included representatives from the government, several conservation groups, and local village elders. It was interesting to see the conflict between the governmental conservation groups and the native people.

Local citizens are devastated by the fishing restrictions (which include only fishing with nets with smaller sized mesh to prevent catching king salmon) because they believe it threatens not only their cultural way of life, but also their access to the one of the only foods they eat. I heard local people say things like “we are scared,” “why should a sacred way of life conform to a permit system?” and even a warning by a tribal council leader who said that local people will start defending their rights to fish with guns and violence.

The government is trying to conserve the king salmon for future generations because of the monitoring of low populations of the fish for the past several years. They are trying to impose conservation restrictions that are similar to those in the lower 48. However, the other states in the union do not have a majority who keeps a sacred way of life through hunting and gathering. This intimate connection with food is not practiced in other parts of the country.

This situation is difficult because both the natives and the government have noble goals that conflict one another. It is hard to pick sides because both sides have valid points, and it is arguable whether conservation or tradition should be held in higher value. Both parties are trying to respect the land but are doing it through the lens of two different cultures. Ideally the run of later fish up the river quells the fears of subsistence fishers and the government works to respect the common way of life in the region, but time will tell.

Keep Up

Over the weekend I felt incredibly homesick. A break in our schedule allowed for down time, and I used mine to think about home. I thought about the new off-campus house I just moved into, and found myself missing my pink duvet covered bed (not that I don’t LOVE sharing a queen size mattress with my friends, Catherine and Erin, here). I thought about my family and friends and starting having 6th grade crush thought like: “are they thinking about me?” “are they thinking about me thinking about them?” “are they thinking about me thinking about them thinking about me?”

Needless to say I felt ridiculous as sad as I coped with this homesick feeling that had been a stranger to me since the summer after my 7th grade year when I went to sleep-away math camp for a week- because what 12-year-old doesn’t want to create their own Caesar cipher? I used some of our precious internet bandwidth the text two of my favorite friends, Anna and Claire, and they helped me to feel connected to home but also re-excite me about the project I am doing here.

I wrestled with why I was missing home so much and decided that it was because home is easy for me. At home I know what I will be doing and when I will be doing it. I love that this trips unfolds itself before me but it is sometimes difficult being surrounded by so much newness. I feel like I am racing behind this culture, trying to keep up as I learn but not being able to see far ahead of me.

On Saturday we had a fairly open day and were able to go to a fish camp for a cook-out. It was so pleasant to be able to spend time with the team and eat some salmon caught minutes before we ate it, and of course s’mores! However, before we even got to the fish camp, the person driving our boat made a detour at his fish camp where we had to hop out and help clear brush with him, a detail our lovely Dr. Z forgot to share with us.

Our group eating at the fish camp around the fire pit. Photo by Tony Homsy
Our group eating at the fish camp around the fire pit. Photo by Tony Homsy

20 minutes later we were deep into the Alaskan woods, stepping through boot-deep mud, and being attacked by huge mosquitos due to the stagnant water near us. I could no longer see our guide ahead of me but could here the far off whir of his chain saw. As I was hacking at the dense brush with my scythe-like tool I had one of the biggest, “what am I doing here?” moments of the trip. I could not keep up.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to attend the Russian Orthodox Devine Liturgy. I donned a head scarf and knee length skirt and went to the church with 4 others. The service took two and a half hours and we stood the entire time. The whole, beatiful service is sung in English, Russian, and Yup’ik and the welcoming deacon gave us a song book so we could participate. However I found myself always pages behind where I was supposed to be in the song book and felt increasingly overwhelmed at this religion I had never participated in before. Once again I could not keep up.

The Russian Orthodox Church that sits at the edge of the tundra
The Russian Orthodox Church that sits at the edge of the tundra

Today Dr. O’Keefe’s daughter and son-in-law spoke to us briefly about their time spent here in Bethel, and Chris seemed to be speaking directly to my anxiety. He said that he really felt a part of the culture here when he became intentional about his living and tried to learn as much from everyone he encountered, but did not dwell on lessons that did not resonate. We only have a few days left here I hope that I am able to see every experience as a learning one, and remind myself that it is easier to keep up when I am unburdened of homesickness and longing. While my feet are in Bethel I’m trying to keep my mind and heart here too!

Paddling Upstream

The past few days have been a total blur. I have been taking notes at interviews, learning about the painted dumpsters of Bethel, and practicing shooting with the camera.

My pal Madeline and I were paired up to shoot B roll, (the footage of landscapes or action that will play over the interview in the film) and let’s just say we will be a bigger asset to the writing team as opposed to the filming one. Alongside our friends, Catherine and Erin, we tried to navigate the cameras enough to shoot a gas tank. Despite gaining confidence and experience the gas tank ended up being out of focus, so when a film team was assembled to go to a remote fishing village none of us were shocked when we weren’t chosen to go along.

Catherine, Erin, myself, and Madeline shooting B roll on the tundra.
Catherine, Erin, myself, and Madeline shooting B roll on the tundra.

Before you start feeling sorry for me, the 6 of us not able to go to the village had the opportunity to kayak through an Alaskan creek to the mouth of the Kuskokwim River. The way downstream was beautiful with the rare sun shining, a light breeze blowing, and picturesque marsh-land around us.

However, the way back was a little less than pleasant. The route downstream that was supposed to take us 40 minutes actually took us 90, and after a miscommunication with our chaperone we had to carry our kayaks up a beach only to have to put them back in the water to paddle back after being told we would be driven back to our base camp. The way back was hard. We were tried, against the current, against the wind, and paddling upstream. But, after 35 breathless minutes and a climb over a beaver dam later- we were welcomed back to shore by Dr. Zuegner and taken out for ice cream.

While I was blistering my thumbs due to paddling frantically back and trying not to think about the storm clouds that were rolling in, I started comparing the hardships of the Yup’ik (native Alaskan) people to paddling up stream. A few days ago we experienced a workshop on cultural trauma given by a woman named Rose, who shared her own families experience with historical trauma that included marriages being separated by outside forces, being forced into Catholic boarding school where they experienced corporal punishment for speaking their native language, and alcoholism.  We also interviewed a Yup’ik woman named Cecelia who taught Yup’ik spirituality at the local college. She spoke about how the native culture is disappearing because the Yup’ik language and culture was not accepted for such a long time. Now people are struggling to bridge the gap between pop culture and  the past due to their lost culture and history.

Paddling upstream is difficult. However, even though the current and the wind is working against you, your destination is no less noble. Every stroke because increasingly deliberate and time is not wasted when paddling upstream. My hope is that even though the struggle to reclaim the Yup’ik culture seems like an uphill (or upstream) battle, the people of Bethel see that there is hope. Even though there is work to be done, there are great leaders like Rose and Cecilia who are not only able to acknowledge the pain of their people but are also able to look towards the future. I think that an Alaska that incorporates both the Yup’ik and modern culture is not too far off even though it will require work and dialogue. In this incredibly muddy town there are evident signs of a stressed community, including poverty, alcoholism, and domestic abuse. But even in the hardships there are also signs of a welcoming community and proof that life is good.

Me in front of one of the many painter dumpsters in Bethel
Me in front of one of the many painter dumpsters in Bethel


To be understood as to understand

Hello from the great state of Alaska! After 3 flights, 1 Cinnabon, and 2 hours of sleep later I stepped off the plane, onto the tarmac and faced the cold, Alaskan rain.

Today we woke up refreshed and were ready to tackle the 3 interviews ahead of us. I was lucky enough to give the first interview of the project. I spoke to Michelle DeWitt who is active in the Bethel community after running the Tundra Women’s Coalition. We were able to speak about some of the problems the region, like restrictions on salmon fishing, domestic violence, and institutional racism, as well as the possibility for solutions to these community stressors. While this was not the first interview I’ve ever given (Shoutout to the Creightonian for giving me some experience!) it was for sure my most intense. While interviewing I was reminded of some universal life lessons that can be learned from interviewing another person. Here are some of them:

Practicing my interview with my colleague, Tony.
Practicing my interview with my colleague, Tony.
  1. Listen- So often in our everyday, rushed conversation, speaking has the illusion of being transactional. While two people are often listening to bits of what the other person is saying, usually one is already thinking about what to say before the other is done speaking. In an interview, your next question hinges on the answer the person is giving. It becomes essential for you to quiet yourself and focus totally on the other person and what they are saying, they might bring up an aspect of the story you have not even considred. Sure I am tired and I am missing my friends (HI!), but it is so important to be present to the interview and the other person.
  2. Be vulnerable- Do you know how hard it is to hold eye contact with one person for an entire hour? Well for me, very. Eye contact is one of the most intimate things you can do with a person because it establishes a bond of emotional connectivity. In an interview, eye contact is important because you need to be connected to the person you are talking to and the subject you are talking about. However awkward it is, both parties must become vulnerable so that the person being interviewed feels comfortable and respected enough to delve into something serious.
  3. Be patient- Sometimes the world does not care that you are giving an interview. Dogs bark. Floors creak. Trucks beep. Refrigerators hum. It is up to you to take a deep breath and wait for the noise to stop or think of a way to get rid of the noise. It’s so easy to get frustrated  but instead you must solider  through for the greater goal of the story.

After finishing my hour-long interview I thought of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis in which we are reminded:

I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive

In interviewing you are placing yourself in a place of humility as you acknowledge that you want to learn from this other person. I hope that I maintain this sense of humility during my time in Bethel and that I am able to be receptive to the messages this community has for me.