Ikkaaŋŋuraq – that’s Lorena Nay’s Iñupiaq name, which translates to ‘follow across.’ Lorena is a NANA shareholder whose journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Growing up in Kotzebue, Lorena was the youngest in a family of six. She started working at Nullaġvik Hotel by the time she was in 6th grade. She’d help with the breakfast service every morning before heading off to school. She was so well-versed in her restaurant job that she became responsible for helping train new staff when she was only 11 years old!
Lorena’s upbringing in Kotzebue was infused with the spirit of tradition and a thirst for knowledge. Her mother, a museum coordinator, instilled in her a love for Iñupiat culture. At the museum, Lorena enthralled audiences with her dancing and storytelling and reveled in the ancient art of blanket toss.
Being from a small town, Lorena participated in every single activity possible. She played basketball, volleyball, and cheerleading, was the wrestling manager, and was a member of the National Honors Society for all four years of high school.
For two years in high school, Lorena participated in UAA research funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Summer Enrichment Program. In her first year, she researched seasonal changes in the reproductive organs of Northern Red-backed Voles. Her research was published in a peer-reviewed journal. This internship led her to Washington, D.C.
Lorena also served as a behavioral health youth board member at the Maniilaq Association. They worked to improve behavioral health programs within the NANA region for those in need. Lorena’s advocacy for mental health continued as she performed in the suicide prevention play group Reach Out. They aimed to raise awareness about the suicide epidemic, creating a platform for open discussions through talking circles following each play performance. By actively engaging communities, the initiative aimed to foster a safe environment and encourage individuals at risk of suicide to reach out for support.
Lorena dedicated her time to volunteering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She embarked on a journey alongside her peers, flying from Kotzebue to Las Vegas and then driving to New Orleans. This experience served as a powerful reminder of the sheer strength of Mother Nature, leaving a lasting impression on Lorena and underscoring the humbling impact of natural disasters.
Lorena’s travels continued when she served as a youth commissioner for the Iñupiaq Language Commission. That organization brought Lorena to New Zealand to study the Māori people, the region’s Indigenous people who are known for preserving their language.
Lorena’s trip to New Zealand was just the starting point for her international travels. She soon traveled to Canada for the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). ICC is the body that represents all Inuit from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia). It was an incredible trip. Lorena recalls a reception at the conference where elders from across the Arctic came together. While there was variation in their language, they could still understand one another. They celebrated and bonded over the lifestyles they shared.
Upon graduating high school, Lorena received the Gates Millennium Scholars award. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awards scholarships to students who demonstrate academic excellence, community service, and strong leadership skills. Lorena first elected to stay in Alaska, majoring in Biological Sciences, but ultimately, she studied abroad in Madrid, Spain.
Lorena spent a decade overseas. Her time in Spain led her to speak fluent Spanish and Arabic. She met her former husband in Spain and went on to have two children while living there. They opened a restaurant where Lorena’s mission was to create a mini vacation for her patrons.
Lorena bravely returned to Alaska after escaping an abusive relationship. She took custody of her children, moved to Anchorage, and became the sole provider for her family. It was then that she first joined the NMS team.
Lorena started at NMS as a food service manager at ANMC’s patient housing. She then served as NMS’ assistant general manager for the NWABSD in Kotzebue. Now she’s back in Anchorage serving as a food service manager overseeing all production reports and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) training for the Lower Kuskokwim, Juneau, Sitka, and Nome School Districts.
In this role, Lorena has migrated all LKSD sites from paper production reports to digital and automated reporting. With her team’s great support, NMS now has four school districts and 49 sites completing production reports digitally. This transformation has made the process faster and more accurate.
Lorena has settled in Anchorage with her three children Seefben, Kristen, and Sabrina. Amidst the whirlwind of family and work, Lorena finds solace in the simple pleasure of a great restaurant. It’s her moment of respite, a time to reflect on a life etched with adventures and travel. In her every step, every digital report streamlined, and every story shared, Lorena Nay embodies the spirit of Ikkaaŋŋuraq – the unwavering determination to follow her path, leaving an indelible mark on the world around her.