LaShell Traylor has been volunteering at Covenant House Alaska for two years. She is currently the lead underwriter at Umialik Insurance Company of Anchorage, but 28 years ago, she was a youth at Covenant House Alaska. She shared her compelling transformation story with us and now we want to share it with you. Her story is one example of the struggles that youth in Alaska continue to face and it reinforces the reasons why we do what we do.
15 was my first trip to Covenant House. Yeah at 15, my mom kicked me out…it was just really weird. I think it’s probably because she was using drugs and alcohol at the time. It was seriously just the weirdest thing…
I didn’t grow up with my mom. When I was living with my mom as a child, I experienced abuse—sexual abuse, abandonment —just a very toxic family life. So my mom sent me away to live with my aunt in the village of Aniak, Alaska. I lived there for 10 years. I came back here to Anchorage when I was 12, thinking I was coming to Anchorage for a visit. But I ended up staying here. Nobody told me I was staying until I was packing to go back home. My mom’s boyfriend at the time, said “you’re not going anywhere, you’re staying here,” so until that moment, no one had told me I was staying in Anchorage. My other mom (my aunt) and my cousins who were like my sisters — that’s all I knew. I didn’t get a chance to take my memorabilia, I didn’t get to say goodbye to my family or friends or anything.
Three years later, when I was 15, my mom kicked me out at night in the dead of winter while I was asleep on the couch. She was packing my stuff in big black garbage bags and throwing them down the apartment stairs. I was so confused, as this was just out of the blue. My mom’s new boyfriend, whom I couldn’t stand, convinced my mom to call the cops and tell them I was a runaway. I’m not sure how they found me… I had gone to a friend’s house with two other people I knew who also got kicked out. I swear it was like they both got kicked out on the same exact day—crazy! But anyway, the cops showed up. And I remember, the cop said to me that I could either go back home with my mom or he could take me to Covenant House. So I waved to my mom, got in the cop car, and made it clear I wasn’t ever coming back. I’ve been on my own ever since.
I stayed at Covenant House for the full three-week stint and then I stayed wherever I could — and then I came back to Covenant House shortly after I turned 19, right before I was about to have my son. That was in 1994. In those days, the only way you could be considered for housing was to actually be considered homeless, which meant you had to be staying at a shelter or have the person you were staying with write a letter saying you were staying on their couch or something. I got my housing appointment two and a half weeks into my stay at Covenant House. And since then, I just made my own way because I had to.
When I had my son at 19, I knew I needed to make a change. I was unemployed so I got assistance, I got housing with the help of Covenant House. I did everything I needed to do to get a roof over our heads. You just can’t keep staying with people. My son, O’shea, was two years old when Covenant House’s “Passage House” program (for pregnant teens) started. If it were in existence when I had him, I think I would have taken full advantage of those services. I’m so envious of kids nowadays—they’re very fortunate to have the services CHA offers now.
I started in the insurance industry in 1998 as an $8/hour file clerk at Alaska National Insurance. This was my first real job. I knew it would be my opportunity to plant my feet and grow. I’m not a college person — I don’t think it’s for everyone. And being a single mom with a four-year-old, I needed to get to work, get the bills paid. I’ve done a lot of things, from McDonalds to working at the DMV, and a handful of temp jobs. Eventually, at Alaska National Insurance, I worked my way up to a Worker’s Compensation Expert. And then, after learning about Umialik and the changes the company was going through, I applied for the position of Assigned Risk Compensation Underwriter. Being half Yup’ik, it’s especially nice to work for this company. I’m coming up on my 14th year this year. And I love what I do.
My son is 25 now and lives on his own with a roommate here in Anchorage. At 19, he got his private pilot’s license and now he is working to become a pilot for a commercial airline. Who knew? You know, he was fascinated with planes ever since he was little; I never would have thought that he would want to fly them. When he told me at 17 that’s what he wanted to do, I didn’t want to crush his dreams. You know, it was my own selfish insecurities and fears, but I just bit the bullet and said, “OK let’s look into it” and he was all over it. I taught him at a very young age that it’s all about your choices and the people you surround yourself with. The minute you sense trouble, find the nearest person, phone, or business and just get out of there. He stays out of trouble. Although his father and I are not together, we still have a very good relationship.
Now, I’ve been volunteering at CHA for two years. I started out with the peer group at Covenant House and I am now a mentor for the Passage House. It’s been so awesome and look forward to a lasting relationship after my two-year commitment.
Also, Umialik Insurance Company (my employer) does a Christmas drive every year for CHA, along with a money donation. We partner up with another company, Alaska Tire & Rubber.
Gena Graves and Kathy Mund are the managers at Passage House. When asked about LaShell, Gena only had good things to say, and Kathy agrees: “LaShell’s presence at Passage House is empowering to the young women and children in their care. She is extremely patient and positive, flexible and understanding. Because of her life experience, she approaches our youth with empathy. She has been paired with some of our more difficult young women, but she is always able to meet them where they are and have a successful relationship with them. In addition to being a great mentor, LaShell is a friend of CHA and is very engaged in the agency’s efforts. She does whatever she can do to help and always signs up to volunteer at events.”
Interested in becoming a mentor to a young person in one of our programs or know someone who would be? Complete our mentor application here: https://covenanthouseak.org/mentor-volunteer-form/