Opened on October 15th, 1993, the need for Passage House program was revealed over time after several young ladies, babies in tow, arrived at Covenant House Alaska seeking shelter for themselves and their children. Because Covenant House was not a viable option for these young mothers, and there was no other shelter in Anchorage for young women and their children, there was a great need for this community service. Back then, unless they were in state custody, a mother and child had no other safe shelter options, and oftentimes, being in state custody resulted in the separation of the mother from their child. “These mothers were decent parents, they just needed shelter,” Gena Graves, current Passage House Coordinator, says.
Gena has been there from the very beginning every step of the way. She was hired three weeks prior to opening day to design the program. Gena became the program administrator, the case worker for each young woman who came into the program, and also coordinated all of the activities. As the program has grown and gained more financial support,they now have 3 full time staff and a live-in staff. They house five young women and their children (up to two children each). Their ideal client is at least 18 and a mom who is having her first child because this is the point they feel they can have a positive impact on the trajectory of their lives.
When Passage House first opened, 60 women from the community gathered and combined forces to help make Passage House a real home for the young ladies who would be living there. Using Rights of Passage (Covenant House Alaska’s other transitional living program) as a guideline, they tackled hands-on tasks, like fully stocking the kitchen with cookware, food, and pantry items. They fully furnished the home from top to bottom with basic furniture needs and decor. “The first ever Passage House Luncheon was held shortly after we opened. It provided the funding when we were just getting started,” Gena shares, “believe it or not, the luncheon actually evolved into the Fire & Ice Ball. What you know now as “mystery boxes” at Fire & Ice used to be “mystery baskets”. We didn’t have the luncheon for five years, but people really missed it so we brought it back and scheduled it to coincide with Mother’s Day.”
The program has evolved greatly since opening in 1993, and has seen several successes over the years. The evolution of the program has followed alongside the issues that young women are dealing with. “There are more substance abuse issues and mental health issues now than there were before, so the services provided have changed to meet the needs,” says Gena, “but the focus is always to get them from a state of dependence to independence. 70% and upwards go on to live alone without assistance in 2 years. They go on to be great mothers and do great things.” From day one, the program has been full and most times there is a wait list. As housing opportunities throughout the community increase, the more families Passage House is able to serve. Because there are more viable options available now, these young women move out of Passage House more quickly, which means more spots become open for those on the wait list.
The philosophy of Passage House is to let them do it for themselves. Gena says this is why the program has been as successful as it has been, “We meet them where they are at and move with them through their journey. We build upon their successes and strengths and try to help them access resources to fill in the gaps. We teach them how to do things for themselves. Once they learn how to make appointments for themselves and advocate for themselves, they are prepared to be independent and face the world with their children when they leave and going into the future. We teach them how to interview for a daycare center and help them with references. Because we don’t hand everything to them, the only thing they are changing is their address by the time they leave.” In many ways, the staff at Passage House become family for these women. They still have regular contact and connection with 25% of Passage House alumni, which amounts to about 70 families—some have moved away, some have remained in Anchorage, and some have even become CHA employees.
At Passage House, young mothers are surrounded by support and resources that will guide them to independent living situations for themselves and their children. Passage House is the stepping stone that these women need to become happy, healthy people and mothers. Not only are they given a place to sleep, they are provided the tools and skills all young adults need, like budgeting, legal rights, and nutritious food preparation. Passage House is a stable home. It’s a place where connections are made between young mothers and community members who can offer guidance and help cast the kind of safety nets that we all need in order to thrive. It’s a place to make and share a meal, rest well, forge lasting friendships, build confidence and, most of all, focus on being a loving mother.
You can support the young women and children at Passage House now by registering for the virtual Mother’s Day Tea event happening this Sunday May 10th, by clicking here. As part of the event, there is also an online silent auction that you will gain access to. The bidding opens today on some special and unique items. All of the money raised goes towards the Passage House program.