Feb. 5, 2022
Our fearless leader has been at Covenant House Alaska for 25 years! To celebrate, we sat down with Alison to talk about her incredible career, and what the future holds for CHA. We invite you to keep reading for a deeper dive into her accomplishments and stories on how the community has rallied around CHA over the years. Congratulations, Alison!
Q: Alison, first we’d like to say, cheers to 25 years! Has the time gone fast?
A: Well, you know what they say, “the days are long but the years are short.” That accurately depicts my time here for a myriad of reasons. There have been days where the excitement of construction and progress have made time fly! And other days, unthinkable tragedies, one after another – yeah, those days are long. But then I turned around and it’s been 25 years! I could have never imagined that my life would be filled with so much purpose. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Q: How did you become interested in Covenant House Alaska?
A: I was up here on a three-year contract with a hospital. It wasn’t my intention to stay in Alaska or to even work at a nonprofit. But during this time I was doing some serious soul searching, and my good friend Deirdre (Phayer) Cronin convinced me to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska. The rest is history.
Q: What have been the biggest changes that you have seen?
A: Hands down, the biggest change I have seen is the transformation from an organization that primarily offers emergency shelter services to an organization that takes a holistic approach that sets our youth up for long-term success. We went from being a shelter to weather a storm, to an organization that partners with other organizations in order to provide comprehensive mental health services, education and career support to transitional living accommodations — soon to include long-term living arrangements with Bridge to Success!
Q: How have you seen the community change?
A: I have definitely seen a shift in the community as far as how we view our young people. I’m proud to say that the stigma of a “runaway” youth has shifted towards understanding that the young people seeking our help are escaping truly horrific circumstances at no fault of their own. We are viewing our young people as resilient, smart, and capable youth who just need a little help.
When I first started, 90% of our funding came from out of state – mostly from our parent organization Covenant House International and other states looking to help. It brings me to tears to say that today, 90% of our funding comes from the beautiful people of Alaska. The community has stepped up and taken control of the situation at hand. Together, we are actively working to end the experience of youth homelessness in Alaska.
Q: Are the youth that we serve different than they were 25 years ago?
A: Our youth have always been capable. They have always been worth it. They have been and always will be our future leaders. That consistency has kept me going for 25 years. I will say that the age we are serving has changed. Back then we were seeing a lot of really young kids walk through our doors. Today, the majority of our youth span 18-24 years old.
And what we know now through science and research, is that the brain is still developing through the early 20s. Young adults still need our safety net of support. I honestly hate that our young people have to be so resilient – that they have to run through thorns. That being said, I’ve never met so many resilient people in my life. It’s our honor to be in this space.
Q: How has your understanding of youth homelessness changed over time?
A: My biggest growth is simply that we aren’t the experts on what young people need, they are the experts. If we just listen, the young people in our lives will tell us everything we need to know! We just need to be willing to hear them and understand that it may look different from our own experiences. As soon as we made this change, that’s when we as a team really started moving the needle and seeing young people flourish.
Q: Do you have a transformation story that sticks out over the years?
A: Brian. Hands down, a young person named Brian. He was here when I first started, and his experiences have spanned my whole career. He had severe challenges but continued to hit milestones despite them. Not that it was all roses, because success isn’t linear. I was there when he graduated high school, I was the emergency contact when he was in the hospital, and I was there when he opened his college acceptance letter (still hanging in my office!). Everyone needs a safe place to be themselves, in their highs and their lows. And Brian taught me that even in those lows, it’s our job to love unconditionally. He’s a grown man now, and we haven’t had contact in a few years, but I hope he is well.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?
A: The realization that we can’t do this alone and the implementation of the youth engagement model. This included finding community partners that aligned with our mission and infusing them into our space in order to provide well-rounded services. It takes a village to raise a child, and what an incredible support system we have within our community partners.
Q: What does the next 25 years look like?
Wow, I would just say that if God gives me 25 more years then it will be in the service of young people. For you board members reading, you will have to retire me. I want to look at systems, I want to bulldoze a path for young people toward success. A path that is so strong, that it escapes no one.
That being said, I have always said that I want us to become an education and employment center that offers housing, and we have made movements in that direction. I am more than hopeful for the future of Alaska’s young people. Stay tuned!
Q: You certainly haven’t done this alone. Anyone you would like to thank?
There is so much to say. But to everyone – from our longtime investors, donors and volunteers to the incredible team here at CHA – thank you. You have my heart and my most sincere gratitude. And I would be remiss if I didn’t take the chance to publicly thank Cathy Rasmuson, Rasmuson Foundation, and Carol Gore, Cook Inlet Housing Authority. These two powerhouse women have had a large impact on my career and have been there every step of the way.
Q: It was announced that Covenant House International President Kevin Ryan is set to retire in 2023. How has he impacted your career?
A: Kevin Ryan has been my boss for 13 years now. Prior, it was Sister Mary Rose. What a privilege to span those two careers. Sister Mary Rose stepped in when we needed her and preserved the structure of the organization with dignity; then, Kevin Ryan took over and brought soul to our mission.
He pulled the young people out of the shadows and lifted them into the light, allowing us to celebrate them for who they are, just as they are. He walks a path of acceptance, vulnerability and respect. I have taken many cues from his revolutionary leadership, and the young people of Alaska are better for it. He will absolutely be missed, but I am confident that we will continue to take steps toward a better future with our next era of leadership.
Thank you, Alison!
Help us celebrate and thank Alison! $25 for 25 years. Write it in the notes on coveycares.org !