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Unalaska memorial scholarship helps students attend trade school

Kiara Renteria-Haist and Karly McDonald's memorial on Ballyhoo.
Alyssa McDonald
The memorial site for Kiara Renteria-Haist and Karly McDonald on Unalaska's Mount Ballyhoo.

It’s been nearly four years since Alyssa McDonald lost her daughter Karly in a tragic car crash on Unalaska’s Mount Ballyhoo — a fatal incident that also took the life of teenager Kiara Renteria-Haist.

In honor of the two girls and in an effort to create something productive from the tragedy, McDonald organized the scholarship fund Angels Over Ballyhoo.

The fund is designed to help young students achieve their goals of attending trade school by providing financial scholarships. It’s organized under the Alaska Community Foundation, a statewide philanthropic nonprofit.

KUCB’s Sofia Stuart-Rasi sat down with McDonald to hear more about the Unalaska scholarship fund and her latest efforts in getting donations.


KUCB: What is Angel's over ballyhoo? And how did it come about?

ALYSSA MCDONALD: Well, it's our best effort to make something good out of something horrifically tragic and it's a memorial fund scholarship for trade school. It was inspired by the death of our daughter Karly McDonald and Kiara Renteria-Haist, on May 9 2019, they were killed. After that, we were devastated and not knowing really, how to spin anything good out of it. So, it [Angles Over Ballyhoo] came out of this amazing community that basically picked us up and gave us help – financially and emotionally and spiritually. And after the memorial down south and here, and after all the expenses were taken care of, there was a few $1,000 left. So Jimmer and I talked about it and we decided to go to the Alaska Community Foundation and open up the beginning of an endowment. They informed me that an endowment is self perpetuating, but it has to be over $50,000. So we're like, “Okay, we got some work to do.” That's kind of how it started. We're inspired to just try and make sure that nobody forgets their names and what happened.

KUCB: Can you talk about the importance of trade school?

MCDONALD: Oh, yeah, I think personally, it's my opinion, but I think the trades are what's going to really save America. I think we need people to pick up hammers and welding machines and learn how to do HVAC and repair cars. This is a small business and this is where, you know, America's wealth really is. It's [trade school] a place where anyone, you don't have to have a four year degree or be rich to go – you can afford to go and trade schools are very important to us. Jim and I had a commercial diving and welding company here for 40 years. And this is how he did it. And I have a degree but honestly, I'm not using it. So yeah, so the trades are it, man.

KUCB: Can you tell us what is in the works now with angels over ballyhoo? And I hear there's yoga involved …

MCDONALD: Yeah, there is, isn't that a funny connection, but I was thinking about what I could do when I came back – I took some time off to just grieve and travel a bit and do some searching for myself. And when I got back, I knew I wanted to do something that we used to have here, which was yoga. It was such a wonderful thing, because it is not just good for your body, but your mind and your spirit. I thought, I've always wanted to be a yoga instructor, I'm going to go to India, I'm going to be there for five or six weeks, and I'm going to come back with this knowledge; so that I can share it and it will be my gift. And then I thought, well, what if we did it for free, and just offered it as a service and just ask for a donation when people are able to do so. So, that's where that came from. That way there's something happening every other day – right now, because I'm teaching Monday, Wednesday, Friday – and once a month, you know, we have some money to set aside. Then Jim and I fill in the rest of the next 100 and we send the money in. And so if we just keep doing this for a few years, I think the foundation should be solid and self perpetuating for however long … forever, hopefully. We've got one more thing I’d like to mention, we're looking out to August, or maybe even September to do an auction. And I can't disclose where but it's going to be – it’s a silent and live auction. And so we'll be coming around – we’ll probably, hopefully, get some donations from our local community and there'll be a nice big event fundraiser this fall. So even if you can't do yoga, or you feel like you can't or you don't have time or you have too many kids or too much responsibility, I understand that. You can certainly come to the auction and support us there; so that would be much appreciated.

Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
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