Junior Achievement Special Section
Sugarloaf Clothing Company
Jenna Compehos
Sugarloaf Clothing Company
Giving Back to Valdez
Junior Achievement Volunteer of the Year: Jenna Compehos
By Scott Rhode

come from a family of entrepreneurs,” says Jenna Compehos, the compliance and documentation specialist at the Valdez Marine Terminal for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

Her great-grandparents came to Valdez by steamship during the gold rush and started the Gilson Mercantile bank. Her grandfather, George H. Gilson, owned a restaurant and grocery store in Valdez. “So I’ve always carried that around,” Compehos says. “Just like, ‘What could I do? I wanna do something. I want to own my own business.’”

Since being named Junior Achievement (JA) Alaska Volunteer of the Year, Compehos has done exactly that. In 2021, she opened Salty Lupine, a gift shop specializing in Alaska-made art. “It is something that Valdez needed,” she says. “I’ve also had a dream to own my own little boutique, and that’s kind of how it sparked the idea.”

At first, she managed the inventory out of her living room, selling via a website. On July 3, Salty Lupine opened a storefront stocked with locally crafted jewelry, pottery, and Valdez-branded apparel. The brand is based on a town landmark, she says: “All the locals look to Sugarloaf Mountain, and if it snows and it sticks on Sugarloaf, we know the snow is gonna stick. So I’m like, ‘Hmm.’ I got my pen and paper out and sketched out a logo of Sugarloaf Mountain and I branded Sugarloaf Clothing Company.”

Compehos acknowledges that owning a small business in addition to a full-time job and raising three daughters has been a challenge to balance. However, she was going “stir crazy” at home because of COVID-19 and felt the urge to try something new. “I feel like people are sort of going out of their element and comfort zone and doing things they normally wouldn’t have,” she explains.

Oh, and another demand on her time is volunteering as JA community chair. That experience, as much as her hereditary hustle, contributed to the birth of Sugarloaf Clothing and Salty Lupine. “I feel like Junior Achievement played a role in that by, you know, I teach about becoming an entrepreneur,” Compehos says.

Teaching Lessons
Alyeska has chaired the JA branch in Valdez for practically as long as the Trans Alaska Pipeline System operator has been in town. The company’s looming presence is something Compehos has felt since she was a child growing up across the Port of Valdez from the terminal. She recalls, “You kind of look over from the dock and see this giant city with these huge lights and you’re like, ‘It’s so cool! I wanna be over there!’”

After going to college in Massachusetts, Compehos returned to Valdez and started working as a fire and safety administrator for Chugach Alaska Services, an Alyeska contractor. Fifteen years ago, she started working for the company itself.

Coordinating maintenance and operations at the pipeline terminal is all about updating documentation in order to comply with federal and state regulations. As Compehos describes her role, “I’m a conduit between regulatory compliance and the field to help them better understand why we do what we do, administratively.” Part of her job involves training technicians, especially explaining the “why” part of a procedure. “And so I say, ‘Well, according to our air permit, we have to have this in this procedure,’ or water permit for ballast water treatment, whatever it is.”

Training adults in a conference room is a bit different than presenting the JA curriculum in schools. “I feel like it’s a lot more intimidating than teaching your own peers,” she says. “But after you get over being nervous, it’s just so much fun.”

The late Karen Stewart, a prominent Valdez community booster, recruited Compehos as a JA volunteer about ten years ago. Since then, she teaches JA lessons every year at Herman Hutchens Elementary School and at the local middle school. Now her job includes recruiting others, in turn. “It’s a blast,” she tells them. “You’re their role model, not only while you’re teaching but they see you in the community. And they’re like, ‘Hi, Mrs. Compehos!’”

One of her favorite JA lessons, next to the entrepreneurship session that made such an impression on her, is titled “Our City.” As part of that outing, “we did a field trip and went into Valdez and visited the areas and ended up at Rogue’s Garden for chocolate chip cookies. It was a fun lesson.”

She recalls parents telling her when a JA lesson sticks with the kids. “Maybe I missed my calling being a teacher,” Compehos says. “I don’t know. Might not be too late.”

Positive Attitude
Part of the drive that led to Compehos being recognized among the best of JA volunteers comes from what she calls a “cheesy” philosophy: “Start each day with a grateful heart.”

In gratitude to her JA mentor, Compehos and two others formed the Karen Davey Stewart Scholarship Committee, after Stewart died in 2015 while riding an ATV. The committee awards two scholarships of $500 each to students who exemplify Stewart’s generous and outgoing spirit. On the applications, “We ask them to describe their involvement and volunteerism within the community because that’s who Karen was, what she believed in.”

The scholarships are available to seniors graduating from Valdez High School—located right next door to George H. Gilson Middle School, named for Compehos’ grandfather. Just as her family helped shape Valdez, and as Valdez shaped her, Compehos is helping to shape Valdez for the next generation.

The last twelve months as reigning JA Volunteer of the Year have been tough, according to Compehos, but she notes that the year was also full of opportunity. “With a positive attitude, you’re always going to get a better outcome,” she says.

Positivity aside, Compehos admits to hating at least one thing: “I hate not being busy.”