Addi at college

Transformation Tuesday: Addi

Jessica Bowers Our Youth Leave a Comment

Our Covenant House Alaska family celebrates as we send one of our incredible youth off to college for the Fall semester! Contributed by Program Coordinator, Nicole Stuemke

Addi’s Story

Addi grew up in the Las Vegas area in a home where she endured years of neglect and abuse. When she was old enough, she moved to Alaska where she had extended family, hoping for things to be different. She wasn’t here long when she discovered that the dysfunction she had grown up with ran deep in her family. Alaska was not the home she had dreamed of.

Luckily for us, Addi found her way to Covenant House Alaska. She got a job within days of landing at our emergency shelter at the Youth Engagement Center. She was encouraged to apply for our Rights of Passage (ROP) program. A transitional living program for young adults, and was accepted quickly. Addi moved into ROP and kept working and saving. In a stable environment, surrounded by adults who were excited to support her dreams, Addi began to make big plans.

Embracing Opportunity

For Addi, Alaska never became home. She was searching for the place that was right for her to put down roots and find community. In the meantime, she embraced every opportunity to play sports and stay active, which is her passion. She loved to hike, bike and play ultimate frisbee.

Addi worked with ROP staff, and staff at our partner agencies Nine Star Education & Employment and Cook Inlet Tribal Council, her Covenant House Alaska Permanency Navigator and her employer at Seeds of Change to find a community college in Massachusetts that fit her educational goals. Wisely, she took advantage of every opportunity and resource made available to her, and managed to find a Permanency Navigator in Massachusetts who would help her find housing and access the services she would need there to keep succeeding.

Off to College!

A month before her departure to college, she reached out to ROP Program coordinator Nicole Stuemke and asked if Nicole could fly with her to Massachusetts to help her get settled. Nicole was thrilled (as any proud parent would be!) to be invited to support Addi in such a momentous step. So, together they packed up and headed East. Once they got there, they met with Addi’s new Permanency Navigator and Housing Case Manager, and began work on getting her state residency, benefits, and housing essentials. The next day and half was spent looking at the community college and touring two other colleges and transitional living programs. Nicole instantly knew Addi was in good hands.

Today, Addi is in her second week of college on the beginning of her journey to pursue sports medicine or physical therapy. She is working in a local bakery and loving her new housing situation. In the end, it was hard to say goodbye to Addi. However; we will stay in touch and continue to champion Addi like the proud family that we are.

Addi is a beautiful example of what is possible when a community comes together around a young person and lifts them up to achieve their own dreams. We are so proud of her and cannot wait to see where she goes from here.

Celebrate a young person’s potential today by visiting coveycares.org

photo of Dani

In Memory

Jessica Bowers Our Youth Leave a Comment

The below memoriam is written by our Chief Program Officer, Heidi Huppert. We love our youth, like our own.

In our little chapel with its glass walls, we have held far too many memorial services for the young people we have lost.

With the services we pull together with our Pastoral Minister and a smattering of staff that knew the young person best, we manage to hold the most beautiful and thoughtful remembrances. May 24, 2021 was no exception. We honored a beloved young woman, Dani Meadows. It’s always surprising to me whom these young people touch and for Dani, there were many in attendance, from the guy in the data department to friends from the programs she stayed at when she lived with us. Dani was so loved.

The stories shared about her had the attendants crying and laughing, sometimes at the same time. Personally, I’ve not felt such deep sorrow and jubilation simultaneously. In some ways I felt so lucky to have gotten to know Dani which makes her loss so much more profound.

In celebrating Dani were learned about a young woman with a deep love of her family, friends, pets and an ambition to make something of herself. Years ago, Dani told me, “No one expects anything of me. Back in Alabama I was just supposed to sit in a hot trailer and collect disability.” Like many of the other staff at Covenant House, I responded, “well, you proved them wrong, didn’t you?” She truly did.

Dani came to Alaska with little more than some loose internet connections. Soon she found herself in our Youth Engagement Center, experiencing homelessness for the first time in her life. Very quickly Dani was accepted into the Rights of Passage Program where she thrived. For the first time in her life, she found employment and started saving money. She wanted to get a driver’s license, so she put herself through Driver’s Education. She bought a car. She fell in love. She made friends. While Dani’s past pained her, she refused to let it hold her back. She got off of disability because she said, “I can pay my own way.” Dani got an apartment and became a regular daily call to check on the staff she referred to as her “moms.”

Dani was magical. We joked that she might have been a unicorn. Dani loved Alabama football, so we decorated in deep reds. She loved cupcakes and Dr. Pepper so we all popped our cans in honor of her. I won’t be able to forget our young lady with the strong southern accent that loved so hard it sometimes hurt. I won’t forget how brave she was in allowing herself to be vulnerable when faced with rejection. Our unicorn taught us a lot. Roll Tide, RIP Dani

Funders and CHA Executive Director Alison Kear standing with shovels at Breaking Ground ceremony

Breaking Ground and Building Bridges for Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Jessica Bowers Events, Impact Updates Leave a Comment

In June, Covenant House Alaska broke ground on its historic and innovative plan to build 22 micro-unit apartments for youth experiencing homelessness. We sat down with Executive Director, Alison Kear, to learn more. 

Q: Alison, what an incredible time to be a supporter of Covenant House Alaska. We just broke ground on 22 micro-unit apartments on this very footprint on 755 A Street. Can you expand on this for our community? 

A: When we built our Youth Engagement Center in 2013, it really transformed our space from just basic shelter services to a space where our community partners could provide all the other services youth need to become healthy and stable. This includes healthcare, counseling, a high school classroom, job internships, case management, enrichment programs – to name a few. But even then, we knew we would eventually need to evolve our model of care even further to bridge the gap between shelter and stable long-term housing. 

It’s hard for young people to rent an apartment of their own without any rental history, credit history, references, etc. But through the Bridge to Success project, Covenant House Alaska, in partnership with Cook Inlet Housing Authority, is in the process of updating our Youth Engagement Center to create 22 new on-site “micro-unit” apartments to serve young people ages 18 to 24. This allows a young person to move seamlessly from shelter, to apartment living. They supportively gain independence, and ultimately cross that bridge toward securing their own permanent housing – successfully launching them into adulthood.  

Q: What is the goal of Bridge to Success, and how does it help vulnerable young people?

A: Young people experience homelessness for a variety of reasons—they have often endured repeated trauma and have been failed by the people who were supposed to protect them. This puts them at risk for exploitation, trafficking, abuse and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Many of our youth simply never had a stable adult around who consistently did the laundry, made meals, cleaned their space, maintained a job or healthy relationships. It’s unrealistic to think that we can move a young person from the streets to an apartment and expect them to know how to manage a household. However, our youth are smart, resourceful and they want to learn. Bridge to Success provides the longer runway young people need between leaving the streets and maintaining full independence, and increases the population of youth who exit homelessness permanently.

Our goal is for Anchorage to be the first city to achieve “functional zero,” meaning we are effectively housing youth faster than others become homeless. This doesn’t mean that a young person will never experience homelessness. It means we have safety nets in place to ensure that any experience of homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring. We know this is ambitious, but we truly believe that Bridge to Success is a long-term solution to achieving functional zero and creating a positive societal impact for generations to come. 

Executive Director Alison Kear

Q: Why is Bridge to Success being nationally recognized as an innovative project?

A: Honestly, there are a few reasons. We are pioneering a new type of housing  that no one has really done before. We are building housing on the same footprint as our Youth Engagement Center, decreasing emergency shelter beds as we increase long term housing options. We have spent many years with the support of our community building a model of care that creates a long runway toward independence, and these micro-units are only extending it. Not only will we take care of the basic needs of our young people to get them through the night, but we will be the safety net through their adolescence and into young adulthood as they pursue their full potential.

Given the high number of young people in Alaska experiencing homelessness and the on-going crisis, current housing resources are insufficient to fully address the challenge. Covenant House Alaska is leading efforts to move from fragmented programs toward coordinated, system-level responses to youth homelessness. We are an organization that wants to solve problems, and the nation is watching as we break down barriers on services provided to unhoused young people.

Q: How does this help the future of Anchorage?

A: Young adults are the fastest growing population of homeless across the United States. One out of 10 young people lack stable housing. Without the right intervention, these young people are at risk of becoming part of the chronic adult homeless population. Not only is this devastating to each young person, it is very costly to society. Every day spent on the streets, in camps or in unsafe structures is another day a young person is traumatized and vulnerable to exploitation.

By providing a continuum of care that includes stable housing, we provide a critical component of successful long-term permanent housing. This is a proven upstream investment Anchorage needs in order to avoid adult homelessness and create healthier generations to come. 

Q: We keep referencing micro-units and services. Can you tell me specifically what this looks like for our young adults who will be housed there?

A: Each young adult will have their own room/key and will be just one floor away from accessing all the things needed to help them thrive. They will have on-site access to education and employment training programs, substance abuse and behavioral health services, medical services, meals, and a gym. They will have more independence, their own building entrance, and the freedom and increased responsibility that goes along with that. We meet young people where they are at, and these responsibilities will be catered to each young person and where they are  at in their journey.    

Q: We certainly couldn’t do this alone. Do you want to expand a bit on those who have funded this project?

A: We have been fortunate to have robust partnerships in this project since the get go, including Premera Blue Cross, the Municipality of Anchorage and CDBG HUD funding, Weidner Apartment Homes and the Alaska Mental Health Trust, Des Moines Federal Home Loan Bank, Rasmuson Foundation, in conjunction with Cook Inlet Housing Authority. Cook Inlet Housing Authority has been a critical partner since the moment moment they helped us secure land (and donated it to us to build our new home), and have been funders, supporters and visionaries every step of the way. We also had the opportunity to represent Anchorage in the US Mayors Conference because we were a recipient of the Wells Fargo CommunityWins grant for creating an innovative, progressive housing project. 

And of course, we couldn’t have done this without our community members. Whether you have given $5, $100, or volunteered — you are the reason we have been able to innovate. 

Innovation comes when you have the time, space and capacity to look at your organization and think “how can we be different?” Because of the support from our community, we have been able to ask that question instead of “how do we keep the lights on?” We have had the space to say, “What if?” and then we got to work.

Now, we find ourselves standing on a metaphorical bridge that we built together – ready to watch some of the most incredible transformations to ever happen. Not only to individuals, but to our Alaska community as a whole. It’s exciting and I’m humbled to share this moment in history with everyone who has believed in us.

Covenant House Alaska Youth Engagement Center

Reggie’s Story

Jessica Bowers Events Leave a Comment

Thank you to Jenifer Lachance, Covenant House Alaska YEC Associate Program Coordinator for Minor Youth, and Sara Jean Greenberg, Referral Specialist for Minor Youth, for sharing their direct experience with this young man.

Reggie arrived at Covenant House Alaska with raised fists and a short fuse. Just shy of 18, Reggie didn’t quite understand his size or strength yet. This only enabled him to use intimidation and fiery outbursts to push people away, whether their intentions were good or not. It wasn’t uncommon for him to punch bunk beds & walls, slam doors, and spit biting words at both staff and other youth.

This young man transitioned out of our services in just one month.

Community support

“The networking and team-approach that our community came together and did is something that we have not always seen, and it was beautiful. As a community, we came together and met the needs of this youth.”

Jenifer Lachance, YEC Associate Program Coordinator for Minor Youth

Reggie moved from American Samoa several years before his time at Covenant House Alaska. He struggled with language barriers as a non-native English speaker. This in tandem with his temper landed him at a school for youth who struggle with behavioral health issues. His breaking point culminated in a physical altercation with his family, that left him battered, emotionally and physically, on Covenant House Alaska’s doorstep.

“When he first arrived, he was angry, shut down; he felt like nobody cared about him and just wanted to give up. When he left, he could tell you that we cared about him, we were here as a support system for him, and that his wants mattered. And I don’t think there’s anything more any of us wanted than that.”

On the road to healing

Our staff really went to work to install a rock solid support system for this young man. They were able to connect him with a behavioral health clinician. He attended school every day. They coordinated with his school teachers and the Office of Child Services to create a system of accountability and constructive re-enforcement as a response to his anger outbursts. Some of our overnight and maintenance staff spoke his native language, so they made a point to connect with him that way.

“They went out of their way to build a relationship with this youth so that he knew that he was cared about, that he mattered, and that his wants mattered.”

After his month at Covenant House Alaska, he went to placement with a retired teacher and his wife. They took him in so that he could finish school in Anchorage and support him as he navigated next steps.

As a whole, this is truly a story of community partnership & resiliency and a prime example of trauma-informed care.

The power of trauma-informed care

“We all got really creative, really quick to figure out how we could best serve him. We don’t come to work with a cookie-cutter approach. Trauma-informed care is evaluating a youth’s situation and troubleshooting how we can best serve them.”

The staff that worked directly with this young man speak so fondly of him and his character after his time here. It’s abundantly clear that Reggie made an impact on those around him purely by turning away from dysfunction and desiring a healthy perspective on relationship and communication.

“When he first arrived, our interactions with him mostly consisted of cursing and anger. By the time he left, we’d be able to joke with him. He’d be playing old Tupac songs outside, and we’d go out there and sing the lyrics, and he’d be so surprised. ‘What? You know this?’

Those are relationship building moments that were a privilege for our staff to have with him.”

When reflecting on this success story, Jenifer Lachance perfectly summed up the intentions we’ve built our mission around here at Covenant House Alaska:

“At the end of the day, he went to a positive placement where he wanted to be, he was able to identify his support system (included the staff at CHA whether he’s a resident here or not), and when he left, he know that he was cared about, and if he needed a safe place to come ever again, he can walk back through our doors and he’s welcome. That’s what we live for. That’s what we breathe and what we work here for.”

Jenifer Lachance, YEC Associate Program Coordinator for Minor Youth

Tom Homza decked in Santa gear at ROP sledding event

Covenant House Alaska Mentor Spotlight – Tom

Jessica Bowers Mentor, Volunteer Stories Leave a Comment

Mentor Journey

This month’s Covenant House Alaska mentor spotlight is Tom Homza! Tom has served as an exceptional Rights of Passage mentor since December 2018.

Tom’s motivation to become a Covenant House Alaska mentor stems from our mission statement.

In the Covenant House mission statement is a phrase about serving youth “with absolute respect.” I feel this is a critical part of any pathway to success in helping those needing a lift: respect for those you serve.

Tom

Relentless Engagement

Tom mentored a young man from Covenant House Alaska who struggled with substance abuse and a traumatic brain injury. As soon as Tom began working with this young man, he relentlessly showed up looking for him, waiting for him, and engaging in the moment — no matter what.

By far my favorite part of spending time with him has been watching his success. His will to be better and his dedication to his recovery have been an inspiration to me. 

Tom

Once he officially entered treatment, Tom consistently visited, called, and wrote. Later, the young man accepted residence at a treatment center in California. Upon graduation, Tom was added to his aftercare plan for reentry.

Lasting Impact

Upon graduation, Tom supported him through his reintroduction to his hometown Seward. Tom visited him in Seward, taking him on hikes and bike rides. He even obtained a bike donation! 

He has remained in close contact, encouraging him to apply for jobs and has remained a reference for the young man. 

Tom is everything a mentor can and should be. He has been involved with staff, an advocate to the community, a consistent loving support for the young man and truly the biggest cheerleader. This young man would not be where he is today without Tom.

Nicole Stuemke, Program Coordinator, Rights of Passage

Tom is a very humble giver and this young man, as well as Covenant House Alaska as a whole, are very lucky to have encountered his presence.

Thank You, Tom!

The staff at Covenant House are very special, caring folks; every one of them. I’m very proud to work alongside such wonderful people of high integrity, even if it’s for short periods of time.

Tom

When asked to review the efficacy of our services to young people in Alaska, he generously responded:

Your services are a literal life-saver for many youth in Anchorage. Anchorage is an extremely challenging city to experience homelessness in. 

Tom

Volunteer Today

Thank you, Tom, for your generous services. The youth and staff at Covenant House Alaska value you so much.

If you are interested in volunteering through our mentorship program, email volunteer@covenanthouseak.org

Thank you banner at welcome desk

A Year of Virtual Volunteers

Jessica Bowers Events, Mentor, Volunteer Stories Leave a Comment

National Volunteer Week

It’s National Volunteer week! Our volunteers are amazing. And this last year hasn’t been easy.

Covenant House Alaska relies on volunteers to engage with our youth in ways no other team members can. The dedication of time and talent expresses such a profound and genuine caring for our youth. There are many ways Volunteers are involved! They are behind the scenes for our major events. Often scheduling activities or supporting us remotely in a wide variety of ways.

Volunteering in COVID Era

This past year has brought many challenges for all of us. In order to keep our youth safe, we reduced the number of people on our foot print by restricting our space to only  essential staff and the youth that we serve. Unfortunately, this meant less in person volunteer-led experiences for our youth. We could no longer have  lessons in our music room, yoga and mindfulness in our gym, and limited connections in our job lab.

Evolving Volunteer Opportunities

We best serve our youth by evolving and adapting! A pandemic wasn’t going to change that fact. So, we found creative ways for volunteers to reach out and contribute both virtually and remotely! Our volunteers’ willingness to learn new software, change the way they serve, and roll with the punches has been inspiring. Yes, our trusted base of volunteer heroes weren’t in our space, but we felt their generosity and care every day!

“A heartfelt thank you to our volunteers from everyone at Covenant House Alaska for hanging with us.”

Holly Payne, Covenant House Alaska Volunteer Coordinator
Doors Open to On-site Volunteers

After a year of virtual volunteering, it’s with great excitement that we are now opening of our doors to volunteers to come on site once a week. We are asking every person in our space to follow the same COVID safety precautions  as our staff. This includes weekly testing, self-screening, and masking. We are thrilled to get applicants welcomed into our space and settled into a routine.

Virtual and In-Person Opportunities Available!

Due to the nature of our service, volunteers who regularly interact with our youth or come onsite must be 21+, pass a series of background checks, and take additional trainings with us. Our mentors for transitional living programs must be 28+. However! Taking what we learned from the last year, we are now able to offer a hybrid of virtual and in person volunteer opportunities. All ages can now get involved and end youth homelessness in Alaska.

Interested?

We’d love for you to join our team. Volunteer today!

Young man skipping rocks

The Misconceptions of Male Trafficking Survivors

Jessica Bowers Our Youth Leave a Comment

By Trafficking Prevention and Intervention Team

It’s National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In an effort to spread more awareness, we want to talk about the often forgotten male survivors of trafficking and debunk a few misconceptions of trafficking.

Just like young females, we know that young males are exploited at high rates; however, they are recovered at a fraction of the rates of females. Criminal cases against their traffickers are prosecuted at even lower rates than females.

Why does this happen? The core of the issue is the way people subconsciously perceive a young female versus a male in a trafficking situation.

First of all, young males are more likely to be seen as more in control of their trafficking situation. For example, they are often found posting their own photos online whereas a young female is usually advertised by a pimp. Young males are also more likely to be seen as “complicit” in their trafficking. People will assume that they are “enjoying” the sexual component of their situation simply because they’re male.

Overall, males are less likely to be viewed as victims. They’re more likely to be seen as sexually deviant for the same trafficking situation in which a female is deemed a victim.

Misconceptions aside – what does a common trafficking situation look like for a young man?

Many males recovered from trafficking situations were left vulnerable after being rejected by their guardian because of their sexual orientation. The heartbreaking truth is that when these LGBTQ boys are forced out of their childhood homes and understandably walk straight into the welcoming arms of someone who “accepts” them for their sexual identity, this person holds a lot of power over the young male. In a common trafficking situation, this person inevitably confronts the young adult with a money issue and propositions him for help.

People don’t tend to think of traffickers as women; however, often times, the young male is coerced by a woman who leverages a maternal bond. In some ways, this sort of bond can be harder to break than the romantic relationship bond that traffickers tend to leverage with young females. 

We at Covenant House Alaska firmly believe that our tactics to end human trafficking must include tools and language that are oriented to empowering both our young women and men out of their trafficking situations.

Young males are harder to place into after care services because of these harmful stigmas. We must be more open to talking about the truths of males and trafficking so that they can be equally set up for success.

Interested in supporting work like this at Covenant House Alaska? Consider giving today at coveycares.org.

Information in this post is sourced from a webinar called: “Boys: The Forgotten Sex Trafficking Victims” by the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College.

Resources we recommend for educating yourself further about human trafficking:

Man running through winter snow

Transformation Tuesday: Finding Direction in Turbulence

Kendalyn Mckisick Our Youth Leave a Comment

Every Tuesday, we like to share transformation stories of the youth here at Covenant House Alaska! This way, our partners and supporters can see how we make a difference together. No matter how big or small the accomplishment, we celebrate every step forward. Today’s transformation comes out of our Rapid Rehousing Program:

During this trying time of COVID-19, Covenant House Alaska has strived to remain a safe place for youth and young adults transitioning to new seasons of their lives. The pandemic has not been easy for any of us, especially for those who are endeavoring to break the cycles of their vulnerability. However, amidst the turbulence, there are individuals with stories of hope. Connor is one of these people.

Arriving to shelter during our campus-wide lockdown, Connor was a little skeptical of what Covenant House Alaska did at first. He would often question one of our Permanency Navigators about his job duties trying to figure out their relevance and applicability both in general and to himself. Over the course of his stay at the Youth Engagement Center, Connor made the most of his time participating in physical training, Spanish courses, book studies, running workouts, martial arts sessions, and outdoor hiking events. He often commented on how he wanted to break the cycle of laziness and begin to gather direction in his life. 

It was not long before Connor was referred to the Rapid Rehousing Program (RRH) and found an apartment with his RRH Case Manager, Dyane Figueroa. At first, solo apartment life was a bit of a challenge for Connor. While he still arrived for physical training sessions and joined group runs, he felt he had so much free time he did not know what to do with it all. As his RRH Case Manager continued to encourage him to look for employment while taking more ownership of his financial obligations, Connor successfully found a stable employer and realized the need to assume responsibility for helping cover the cost of his living situation. After trying a couple different jobs, Connor settled into one that works for him which he now runs or walks 6 miles a day round trip to reach. During this time, he also completed his GED and is actively pursuing joining the armed services to gain medical training as well as travel experience. Needless to say, Connor has certainly succeeded in his goal of breaking the lazy habits he complained about.

With his time in RRH coming to a close over the coming months, Connor has demonstrated what it means to be a dedicated and persistent individual. While every step was not perfect, Connor learned from his mistakes and challenged himself to do better the next time around. Dyane’s relentless engagement with Connor and thorough explanation of the RRH parameters helped highlight how RRH can be a great tool to help young adults on their paths to independence. Way to go Connor!

Interested in learning more about how you can help youth experiencing homelessness in Alaska? Click here!

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Covenant House Alaska Volunteer Spotlight

Kendalyn Mckisick Volunteer Stories Leave a Comment

Margaret’s Story

Margaret is a long-standing supporter of Covenant House Alaska. The story behind her involvement in our mission to end youth homelessness and trafficking isn’t typical. To start, Margaret’s story is wrought with hardship and tragedy. But ultimately, is a story of love and hope.

First, we asked why she wanted to support Covenant House Alaska, Margaret replied:

“If there had been a Covenant House when I grew up, maybe my life would have turned out differently.”

Margaret

Margaret’s story begins in a small town in Illinois at a time when information wasn’t readily available to those experiencing abuse. Especially crimes committed within the family. Even today, family abuse is underreported. Unfortunately, Margaret experienced these realities first-hand as she suffered in abusive relationships for many years.

She decided to escape and made her way to Alaska in 1983 in search of family support. She received a few mailers from Covenant House Alaska and immediately became interested in our cause.

Healing Through Helping Others

“I just wanted to be loved… and the best way to help yourself is to help others. It’s part of the healing process. I lost all of my kids. But I do have ways I can give to other children that I couldn’t give to my own. And nothing compares to their joy.”

Margaret

And that’s exactly what Margaret did. Next, she helped herself, through helping others, all while creating opportunities for herself through education. In 2000, Margaret received her high school diploma with a 3.5 GPA, and would go on to earn two more certificates in medical billing and veterinarian services.

Like many of the youth we serve, Margaret’s abusive relationships don’t define her. She has a compassion for people and animals that goes unmatched and has earned her a spot in the hearts of our youth. Margaret is an incredibly talented seamstress, and she shares her gift freely. Just recently, she started making and donating intricate laundry bags to be used at Christmas and other special occasions!

“There are so many opportunities to help. These kids aren’t looking for perfection; they are looking for someone who cares. Covenant House is vital to the young people in Alaska. When I was going through abuse, I needed a place like Covenant House Alaska. And these kids need all the help they can get. They need a safe place.”

Margaret

Not only does Margaret spend her free time serving others, but she has been providing vital services to the community on the frontlines of the pandemic as a grocery.

Volunteer Today

Thank you, Margaret, for your loyalty and support. You are truly a treasure in our community.

If you would like to volunteer your sewing abilities to make laundry bags (or offer other talents!), email volunteer@covenanthouseak.org

Q&A With Alison Kear – Executive Director Covenant House Alaska

Jessica Bowers Impact Updates Leave a Comment

We sat down with Executive Director – Alison Kear for her thoughts on the pandemic’s impact on the residents and staff of Covenant House Alaska.

Q: Alison, it’s been awhile since we have been able to sit down and get a full run down of what’s happening at Covenant House Alaska. So… how have things been the last 6 months?

A: It’s a simple question with a complex answer. But when all is said and done, I’d say that we at Covenant House Alaska have learned more good during the COVID-19 pandemic than we have experienced bad. We have learned the importance of efficiency in our work, targeting processes and we welcomed opportunities to do our jobs better.

Q: How did you keep your residents and staff safe in those early days of the pandemic?

A: COVID-19 brought tremendous uncertainty in those early months when we didn’t know what was around the corner. I know for me personally, I felt the weight of responsibility in keeping 100 kids and 150 employees safe while dedicating efforts to keeping our doors open to the youth who need us.  As a result, we were one of the first emergency shelters in Anchorage to require mandatory testing of our youth and staff. We serve a population that statistically, is the demographic for asymptomatic patients. We needed to know our numbers and we needed to know where our challenges were.

To make this happen, our community partnerships were key.  We owe a huge thank you to Alaska SouthCentral Foundation, Alaska Native Medical Center, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Anchorage Municipality Health Department for facilitating our regular testing. We have been fortunate to have minimal COVID-19 cases at Covenant House Alaska, and I believe it’s because we tested early and we continue to test often.

Q: What is the biggest opportunity to come from this pandemic?

A: I think the biggest opportunity we have as a society is to realize that every person, no matter their economic status, can add value to a community. People experiencing homelessness are all too often under resourced and under prioritized. Then, unexpectedly, a pandemic hits and we rely on every citizen to do their part. COVID-19 has affected everyone – it isn’t a socioeconomic issue. And at the same time, it was some of the least of us that provided for the most of us. I watched as our marginalized youth continued to show up to their jobs at grocery stores and gas stations day after day, putting themselves at risk in order to serve the community. So yes, expanding our ability as a society to look at a person experiencing homelessness or lower economic status and to see their value could be the best thing that can come from 2020.

Q: If you could tell the community one thing, what would it be?

A: I would just want everyone to know that heroes work at Covenant House Alaska. Honestly, I am humbled when I think about our workforce coming
to work every day, without fail, even when the world around us is unstable and uncertain. Putting their personal fears aside, they held our young people in such high regard and provided comfort and stability. Amazing young people continue to walk through our doors, and the heroes that work at Covenant House Alaska know that youth experiencing homelessness are worthy of love and are our future leaders.

Q: Funding is down at Covenant House Alaska. How have you relied on CARES Act money to continue services?

A: As an organization, we have led youth services with our innovative model of care. Because 70% of our funding is privately donated, we act with agility and can quickly navigate changing circumstances. I think because we have been able to provide our young people with the care they deserve, it gives a public perception that we have all that we need – and this just isn’t the case. We are ending 2020 using $500,000 of reserve money in order to continue services. But we also understand that our community of private donors are struggling – and the CARES Act has made the difference. We aren’t using CARES money to fill our reserve, we are using it to cover salaries in order to keep our doors open 24/7 to struggling youth. I have no doubt that those that have been privately investing in Covenant House Alaska will come back when the dollars are available. Alaskans are tough, and Covenant House Alaska has survived through economic oil crashes and much more over the last few decades. Our donors believe in our mission, and we will do what we can to hold them up until they have the resources to come back. But until then, the CARES Act is giving us the ability to stay afloat until we can operate under our previous model of private investors.  

Q: In light of 2020, what does the future care of Alaska’s most vulnerable population look like?
A: Individualized micro units in addition to the shelter beds that we offer. There are a ton of things that are on this A Street footprint that a young person can benefit from. In partnership with Cook Inlet Housing, we have plans to bring individualized micro units to our space allowing youth to have access to apartment-style living. For years we have been adapting and putting a strategic plan in place for this style of care, and COVID-19 has only illuminated the need. It isn’t good enough to have hindsight on 2020 – you have to have foresight that is 20/20. And what that means for this organization and myself is not giving up on what we know is needed for the safety of the staff and the safety of our kids. I never thought 65% of my week would be navigating a pandemic, but I would never take back what I’ve learned from COVID-19.

Q: Thank you so much for your time. Do you have anything you would like to add?
A: I just want to say thank you. Thank you to our partners and supporters who immediately offered services of mentorship, guidance, and support. This year is unlike anything any of us have experienced, and at Covenant House Alaska we couldn’t have done it alone. From no-questions-asked grants to donated PPE for our staff and youth, our partners leaned in and propped us up. Myself, my team, and the more than 200 youth we protected and have served during the pandemic are so thankful.