Art, Empathy, and Advocacy: Keelan’s Volunteer Journey at Covenant House Alaska

Kerry Reifel Volunteer Stories

By Madison Sauder

Keelan Kenny recently moved permanently to Anchorage and began volunteering at Covenant House Alaska in July of this year. After growing up in Salt Lake City and living in Colorado, it was her new roots in Alaska that made her want to get involved in her community here.

When she saw the art room volunteer position on our volunteer portal, it all fell into place. Keelan, a passionate crafter, felt like the art room was an approachable place where she could make an impact. She now comes every Wednesday and spends a few hours with the youth, helping with art projects and giving them a place to spend time.

While she of course loves providing a place for self-expression, she says some of the most impactful moments have been helping young people overcome frustration.  “People want it [art] to be perfect,” working with youth to push past this desire for perfection and troubleshoot their projects has been a highlight of her time in the art room.

She has also seen how the art room is not just about painting or doing crafts but provides youth a place to feel comfortable. In this context of comfortability, Keelan says, is where many of the young people at Covenant House Alaska have felt safe to share their stories with her. “It happens ad hoc, randomly” she says, “and we are chatting about it”.

The impact, Keelan insists, is not just on the youth. Her volunteering at CHA has been a source of personal growth. With mentorship from staff, she feels prepared for handling challenging situations with youth and has learned best ways to interact with them. On a larger scale, Keelan says she now feels better informed about resources in our community for those experiencing homelessness or housing instability. She also has become an advocate for the unhoused community in Anchorage even outside of the age range Covenant House Alaska serves.

Covenant House Alaska is “a breath of hope” she says. In regard to a problem that can feel insurmountable, seeing the day-to-day positive impact and efficacy of the transitional housing model has made her hopeful.

She encourages others to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska. She highlights that there are opportunities to engage, regardless of what your skill set, or availability is. There is also the possibility to change up the way you volunteer. Keelan, for example, plans to start helping with opening the gym for the youth. Providing a place for physical activity as the weather has gotten cold. Don’t be intimidated, Keelan urges. When she started volunteering, she felt anxious about what being one on one with the youth would be like. She found it was not a problem. The staff provided plenty of support to ensure she has had a successful volunteer experience.

Keelan and volunteers like her are an important part of Covenant House Alaska. If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering, you can visit our volunteer webpage or contact our Volunteer Manager Holly Payne at