Volunteer Spotlight: Nate Ward

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By Angela Weiland

The Music Room

 For Covenant House youth, having volunteers that consistently show up is immensely important, regardless of the skill or activity at hand. As a volunteer in the music room, Nate can attest to this fact! Each week, without fail, Nate shows up to the music room in order to provide a relaxing experience for youth to talk, connect and of course create some tunes!  

Nate’s Story

Nate’s story begins in Kentucky where he was born, before spending 8 years in Oklahoma. His parents then moved to Alaska in order to become school teachers in Kasigluk. After a few more moves around the state, Nate found himself in Anchorage to attend college!  

Volunteering at Covenant House Alaska

Nate first heard about Covenant House Alaska after working with CHA residents directly through his Pre-Med work at a local ER. Even before stepping through our doors, Nate was aware of our mission and the population we serve. As a Pre-Med student, Nate said he was encouraged to find volunteer opportunities. One of his coworkers had been volunteering in the art room at Covenant House Alaska, and he decided he would check it out too. After starting his volunteer service in the kitchen, Nate zeroed in on the music room and decided it would be a good fit. In January he will complete his first full year as a Covenant House Alaska volunteer!  

Nate has had a very positive experience as a volunteer and says lots of his time in the music room has simply been spent providing a space for youth to experiment on the piano or guitar. He did note a few occasions when he was able to spark the interest of a resident saying, “I’ve had a few different experiences where I’ve been able to just show them things and watch them learn and see things click and they’re like, ‘I can create music and I can start here’ and that’s just really cool.” Even teens and young adults are often told that they are too old to learn new things or that they should be focused on more practical pursuits like education. Nate’s commitment to opening the music room for our young people shows them that no matter their current situation or struggle, they are always capable and worthy of learning and creating.  

After feeling drawn to get out and give back to the community following the COVID lockdowns, Nate’s advice to those considering volunteering is simple.

“Try it. I’m coming in a couple hours a week and doing what I can to make a space for these kids and help out and I think a lot of people could do that.”  

Nate Ward, Covenant House ALaska Volunteer

Nate says he was nervous at first, worried he would say or do the wrong thing. And that might be the case for people who are on the fence about volunteering! But Nate assures you that those worries will subside, and there is only one way to find out – come on out and try!  

Start Volunteering Today!

On that note, if you’re looking for a change of bass, we would love to see what talents you have to share with our youth, so hip hop to it and apply to volunteer! Or at least keep us in the Bach of your mind!  

To learn more about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, click here.  

Covenant House Youth Go Fishing!

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You can’t beat an Alaskan Summer. The fishing, the camping, the endless days – it’s incomparable. But for youth experiencing homelessness, this is far from their reality. Survival often overshadows the magic that comes along with the midnight sun. But thanks to our incredible community partners, our young people were offered a carefree, fun and exciting weekend on the Kenai. One of Covenant House’s amazing AmeriCorps VISTAs went along on the trip, and wrote about her experience. 

Fishing the Kenai with Covey Youth
Angela Weiland

I’m not sure where most people from the lower 48 first learn to fish but my guess is it’s not on the Kenai River in Alaska. A few weeks ago, I was able to take a trip with Covenant House Alaska and eleven of Covenant House Alaska’s residents to Soldotna, AK where I went fishing and caught my first fish ever! Our trip started with the drive to Manitoba Cabin where half of the group stayed behind to camp and relax around the campfire while the other half of us continued up to a cabin in Soldotna where we would spend the night and wake up to go fishing from very early the next morning.

Our evening in the cabin was full of excitement! Between jumping off a dock into a frigidly cold lake, playing cards and facing off in games of pool. The next morning at the early hour of 4 a.m. we were up and eating breakfast to prepare for our busy day. By 6 a.m. we were on the water, searching for the perfect spot to cast our lines and wait for our dinner to bite. Learning how to cast was enjoyable for me and I understand now why people fish as a way to relax. One of the residents caught the first fish of the day and jumped up and down excitedly, exclaiming that she caught one when it flopped into the boat. A few minutes later. I was just as thrilled when I pulled my own pink salmon up and out of the water. When we finished up on the Kenai, my group journeyed back up North to meet the rest of the residents and staff at Manitoba Cabin. After spending a cold and rainy morning on the water, sitting around the fire, eating smores and telling stories was the perfect activity to end the day.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA this was a very exciting trip for me to go on. Not only did I experience some very exciting firsts, but I got to know the residents as well as the staff outside of ‘the office’ so to speak. Seeing the residents enjoying themselves as well as the company of one another was an image that will be hard to forget. Many of them played a makeshift version of baseball, running around the rock bases they had placed on the ground, some listened to music and sang with one another, others chopped wood and kept a campfire going through the night. Not only was this trip a personally exciting one for me but I also got to experience the joy and enthusiasm of the residents as they tried new things, made new connections and rested in the company of friends.

A huge thank you to everyone that made this possible. At Covey, we provide the necessities, and we really rely on our community to provide the meaningful experiences that every young person deserves to have. A huge shoutout to:

Thank You To Our Covey Community!

Alaska Huts Association for the discount on cabins, APU for the discounts on rented backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, SUPs and inflatable kayaks, Trophy Drifters for the guided fishing and coordination of the second boat and nearby lodging, Alaska Boat Rental and  Kenai River Recon for guided fishing, Jolly Wally’s Seafoods for the fish processing,  Alaska Creel & Cartridge Lodge for dinner and lodging, and Southcentral Foundation for fishing licenses and transportation.

And of course, thank you to our mentors and staff who chaperoned and got our youth back to Covey safely! 

Volunteer Spotlight: Grace Blouin

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Aug. 12, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

Most people are excellent at a few things or can do well at a lot of things. However, Grace Blouin is not like most people, with seemingly no limit to her excellence.

For years upon years, Grace has served at Covenant House Alaska with an unmatched enthusiasm for serving her community and a get-it-done attitude that has made her a phenom across a myriad of volunteer positions. Her grit is fueled by a calling to uplift her community and hometown of Anchorage, Alaska.

Grace described her volunteer career as how she pursues this noble avidity.

“That’s just how I view volunteering — that’s how we make things better, everybody coming together and giving it the old college try,” said Grace.

We could not be more thankful for Grace and all she has given to Covenant House Alaska and our youth. 

Hometown hero

Grace was born and raised in Anchorage, and according to her, she has no plans to leave anytime soon. 

“Every time winter rolls around, I say ‘This is my last winter here!’” said Grace. “But, I’ve said that for ten years, and I’m still here!”

However, Grace felt like she couldn’t ignore the problems she saw in town during a lifetime of living in the city, including its notable unhoused population. After coming of age, she began to ask friends and surf the internet for ways to volunteer around Anchorage. 

It was Grace’s roommate who recommended volunteering at Covenant House Alaska to her. After a little bit of research, Grace said what moved her to volunteer was the organization’s focus on the city’s youth. 

“I wanted to be involved with an organization that works with young people,” said Grace, “because catching those things early is how you can prevent it from getting worse, and Anchorage is pretty rough out there.”

So, in the spring of 2019, Grace took her time and talents to Covenant House Alaska, starting what would grow into a near half-decade of service.

Jack of All Trades

Grace is a Swiss Army knife of a volunteer. She applies her diverse skill set to a wide variety of roles at Covenant House Alaska with unmatched efficiency and hustle. 

After getting her bearings through organizing donated clothes for our youth, Grace has since helped prepare meals in our kitchen, participated in our Bookhunters program to get books for our youth, and volunteered to complete a litany of odd jobs around Covey. 

“I’m happy to be helpful over there in any way that I can,” said Grace. 

While she spoke fondly of all these positions, Grace singled out her time with our culinary staff as a particular source of joy. 

“I like it because it’s fun working with food,” said Grace, “and the people in the kitchen are so fun to work with. They’re funny, and they’re helpful and supportive.”

She is also a fixture of our special events at Covenant House Alaska, routinely joining our volunteer teams for our fundraisers, donation drives and the holiday season. We’ve seen Grace wrapping holiday presents for our youth in the dead of winter and packing donated salmon into our freezers in the dog days of summer. 

Leading by Example

For Grace, her willingness to take on so many different challenges at Covenant House Alaska reflects her can-do attitude and a passion for her community that drives her to serve. 

“I am a very strong believer in community and people needing to make a community better,” said Grace. “That takes sacrifice on everyone’s part, whether it’s free time, or money or resources.”

Now, after years of service, Grace can reflect on how she’s seen Covenant House Alaska — and through which her service — lift up her hometown.

“It’s been cool to see it grow and the impact that it’s having on the community,” said Grace. “Long story short, it’s nice to be a small part of that, doing the little things on the side to help people.”

While that quote demonstrates Grace’s humility, we won’t miss an opportunity to brag about her: She is a powerhouse at Covenant House Alaska, and her endurable hard work has made an incredible difference in our work and the lives of an untold number of young Alaskans.

Volunteer today!

Our doors are always open to new volunteers looking to join us at Covenant House Alaska. No matter your talents or availability, there is always a way to contribute to our mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness. 

Grace channeled her inner Nike sloganeer when asked about deciding to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska.

“What’s that corny quote, ‘the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now?’” said Grace. “Just do it!” If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Theresa Rodgers

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By M. Main – Covenant House Volunteer Blogger

Theresa Rodgers is a long-standing volunteer who has been with Covenant House Alaska since they opened their doors. 

Originally from the Northeast United States and currently a nurse with the Alaska Native Medical Center, Theresa moved to Alaska on a two-year work contract in 1986 and never left. Upon arrival, she quickly found a volunteer opportunity with Covenant House Alaska and introduced a good-natured dog to connect with residents.

Theresa’s attitude toward her volunteer work can be explained by her philosophy of “a little extra.” 

“A little extra is whatever people have to give,” said Rodgers, “time, money, fill in the blank.”

Aiming for extra

While the dogs Theresa has introduced have come and gone, her commitment to giving a little extra remains steadfast. 

Originally, Theresa saw an opportunity to help produce a volunteer newsletter, but more recently she has been in a supportive kitchen role. She says it keeps her feeling youthful and is quite rewarding. 

From washing dishes to filling fruit cups and baking all manner of tasty treats, no task is too big, small, or surprising, and Theresa enjoys them all.

To Theresa, this is her way of giving back to a community she loves. 

“I don’t have any kids, and I don’t want to be a taker my whole life,” said Theresa. “I’ve been very fortunate, and you can’t just keep everything.”

A helping paw

A particularly memorable moment came about almost by accident. 

Her dog Shamrock – able to make friends, play keep away, and be held by kids – was sitting on the floor with a resident. Theresa went over to ensure all was well and overheard the resident talking to the dog about a difficult life. 

“This was something only an animal could provide,” said Theresa, “the bridge.”

Volunteer today!

Theresa claims one of the biggest hurdles faced at Covenant House Alaska is an acute shortage of volunteers. She encourages those considering the opportunity to look at it as just that: an opportunity. 

“It’s a chance to be fulfilled, to do something meaningful,” said Theresa. “This is not time-filling work, but something more. Covenant House Alaska needs you no matter how much time or skill you may have. There is a place for you no matter what.”

If you would like to find a way to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here or contact Volunteer Coordinator Holly Payne at volunteer@covenanthouseak.org or (907) 339-4261.

Volunteer Spotlight: Andrew Dahlin

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July 11, 2022

By Sam Buisman, Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

It’s well known that seven is a lucky number, and we at Covenant House Alaska feel both lucky and humbled to have had Andrew Dahlin as a volunteer for the past seven years!

As a volunteer for five years and a mentor for the past two, Andrew has given uplifting guidance to our youth and outstanding support to our staff. His compassion for our young people is only matched by his dedication to them and their journey towards an independent future.

From his time at Covenant House Alaska, Andrew says that he has learned how powerful being a small but steady presence in someone else’s life can be.

“I think the thing that really makes the biggest difference is just being present and showing up,” said Andrew. “People see that, and I think that makes a surprisingly big difference for a lot of people.”

All of us at Covenant House Alaska are so thankful for the amazing gifts of time and talent Andrew has given to us. The work that he and our other volunteers do sends a message of love and support to our young people, and we are forever indebted to them for it. 

From Cali to Covey

Originally from sunny, southern California, Andrew moved to Alaska a decade ago for work, eventually landing at McKinley Capital Management. A world away from home, Andrew felt called to find a way to connect with his new community through volunteering. 

After finding out about Covenant House Alaska online, Andrew said he was impressed by how the organization balances providing care for our youth without constraining their autonomy. 

“It’s a really great program to advocate for the youth and let them be their own person and become the best person they can be,” said Andrew.”

One email exchange later, Andrew launched an impressive five-year volunteer career in the kitchen and classroom at Covenant House Alaska. He spent his time washing dishes and prepping meals with our culinary crew or tutoring our youth in math. 

Additionally, Andrew even found time to do some one-off carpentry projects for Covenant House Alaska, including building the gorgeous cornhole set that gets almost daily use from our youth in the summer!

Becoming a mentor

After an already astounding five years of service at Covey, Andrew decided to get further involved with our mission by becoming a mentor. 

For the past two years, Andrew has built a supportive and trusting relationship with a young person in our Rights of Passage program to help guide them through the throes of early adulthood. 

“The opportunity to go and talk to the youth who are still getting oriented to the world and figuring out who they are — it’s kinda cool to share the hard lessons you’ve learned so they can get the benefit of that moving forward,” said Andrew.

Throughout their time together, Andrew and his mentee have had outings big and small, from ax throwing and escape rooms to meaningful chats about the future. 

“Sometimes I’d just drop by [Covey] and get to chat with people and talk about life or whatever’s going on,” said Andrew. 

Furthermore, Andrew said that his mentorship experience has encouraged some healthy reflection and personal growth. 

“It’s a good challenge for myself as well,” said Andrew. “It gives you some perspective on your own life, looking back at where you were at their age and the struggles that you had.”

Presence and community

According to Andrew, he’s been able to find the connection to Anchorage that he was looking for through mentoring and volunteering at Covenant House Alaska. 

“When you volunteer, you get involved in the community in a meaningful way that you can actually see people and just be present in their lives and vice versa,” said Andrew. “It’s very grounding.”

Andrew says that this experience has taught him how simply being present in someone’s life can make a world of difference to that person as they work towards a better future. 

“It’s more like tending a garden than building something,” said Andrew. “You provide the environment for them to do well in, and they do the stuff themselves.”

Volunteer today!

Volunteers like Andrew are the rocket fuel that propels Covenant House Alaska to new heights of care. Our arms are always open for new volunteers to join our team!

Andrew urges those thinking about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska to take the plunge and jump in.

“Just show up! The first step is always the hardest, right?” said Andrew. “I think you’ll like it, and you’ll keep coming back.”

If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here or email Volunteer Coordinator Holly Payne at volunteer@covenanthouseak.org. 

What is person-first language, and why do we use it at Covey?

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May 27, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

Eagle-eyed readers of our blog and social media pages may have noticed that we use the phrase “youth experiencing homelessness” rather than “homeless youth” — what’s up with that?

When reading or hearing “youth experiencing homelessness,” it sounds clunky and awkward compared to the sleeker “homeless youth.” It costs more space on a page and doubles the characters in a Tweet. So why do we insist on using this phrase? 

Person-first language.

At Covenant House Alaska, we make the deliberate choice to use “person-first language” when discussing the youth we serve, be it in person or our communications. This style of language avoids assigning labels to people to describe them, instead choosing to prioritize the person first and present details about them as a trait of that person. 

For example, in the phrase “youth experiencing homelessness,” the word “youth” leads, and their experience of homelessness comes across to the reader as a part of that youth’s larger identity. Other person-first phrases we often use at Covey include “youth experiencing trafficking” and “youth with disabilities.” 

Advocates have long maintained that person-first language humanizes the individual or group it describes by presenting details about them as a part of their larger identity. Labels, on the other hand, can subconsciously boil a person down to only what that label describes. 

In fact, research now shows that using person-first language can encourage more tolerant attitudes towards the people it describes compared to when simple labels are used. 

It’s a small change, but it goes a long way in emphasizing the autonomy and resilience of the young people we are privileged to serve at Covenant House Alaska. 

History of person-first language.

While it seems new-fangled, the use of person-first language has been around for nearly half a century in the US. 

The use of person-first language in the US was pioneered in the early 1970s by disability activists seeking to move away from label-centric language to prevent one’s disability from dominating their identity.

Their grassroots efforts snowballed into a 1974 conference in Salem, Oregon, that aimed to organize these activists into a cohesive movement. It was at this conference that attendees coined the phrase “people first” and launched a larger campaign to advocate for such language under this banner. 

At around the same time, Black activist groups also began introducing person-first phrases into their language. Historians point to 1977 as the earliest use of person-first phrases like “women of color.”  

While these phrases were intended to emphasize Black solidarity rather than personal autonomy at the time of their usage and were supplanted by terms like “African American” in the late 20th century, the Black community’s use of person-first phrases nonetheless helped popularize this language among activist groups. 

Around the turn of the millennium, people-first language began to spread beyond its original circles into the parlance of other activist groups that advocate for oft-stereotyped groups, including gender and ethnic minorities.

With the 21st-century surge of person-first language, such phrasing has re-entered the lexicon of Black activists via terms like “person of color” or “BIPOC.”

Academia has also embraced person-first language, with most academic journals now requiring their contributors to use this phrasing.

Now, person-first language has spread beyond its original activist spaces and into mainstream speaking and writing practices, including ours at Covenant House Alaska and across the network of organizations that provide services to the unhoused.

Why does this language matter?

Moving away from simple labels and using person-first language is a small but important way to encourage empathy between people with different backgrounds. This makes it an essential tool as we work in the field of youth homelessness. 

The human urge to label others doesn’t necessarily come from a place of malice. Psychologists see it as our brain’s attempt to simplify the complex world around us into something easier for us to understand. 

Yet, this can have the unintended consequences of defining people based on, and thus emphasizing, their differences

Categorical labels like “the homeless” or “homeless people” implies that people experiencing homelessness are fundamentally different from people who are housed — a separate class of people who will permanently be without shelter. This puts distance between these two groups and can discourage people from taking action on this issue.

While this may sound extreme, studies on person-first language demonstrate this link. 

In a 2016 study, researchers gave two groups of participants an exam measuring their tolerance of people with mental illnesses. One group received an exam written with people-first phrasing (“people with mental illnesses”) while the other received an exam with categorical phrasing (“the mentally ill”). 

The participants who received the people-first exam exhibited significantly more tolerable attitudes than those with the categorical exam towards people with mental illnesses. These findings were consistent when these exams were given to young adults, older adults and even professional disability counselors. 

Person-first language at Covenant House Alaska.

With its advocacy-steeped history and lab-proven effects, we at Covenant House Alaska strive to use this language to affirm the personhood of our youth, encourage their acceptance in our community, and inspire activism within our readers. 

Our principle of unconditional love compels us to do everything we can to serve those in our care with the dignity they deserve, even if it is something as small as being a little more careful in how we talk. 

If it uplifts our youth, we will do it  — even if it means it’s more difficult to Tweet. 

Volunteer Spotlight: Heidi and Mike Valantas

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May 20, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

One of the greatest perks of Covenant House Alaska is getting to see exceptional people rise up to do exceptional things. But when the husband-and-wife duo Heidi and Mike Valantas come in to volunteer, we get to see not just one, but two of such people!

While Heidi and Mike have a long history of volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, they currently serve as the house mentors for MACK House, our transitional living program for minors. Their teamwork, resourcefulness and boundless compassion have ingrained them in the hearts of the young people who reside there.

Heidi said that the simple act of just being there for these young Alaskans can sometimes be the most meaningful.

“For some of these young people,” said Heidi, “to have a person in their life that’s not being paid to be there and genuinely cares about them, I think that that’s a huge thing that people can do.”

It is a blessing to have Heidi and Mike as part of our Covey family. Their work at MACK House exemplifies our principle of unconditional love and brings joy to some of Alaska’s most deserving young people. 

Retired from work, but not from service.

After the two of them coincidentally moved to Alaska as teenagers, Heidi and Mike met while attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The college sweethearts tied the knot and built a life in the great state of Alaska, with Heidi working as a teacher and Mike as a physician.

According to Heidi, her favorite parts of teaching foreshadowed her involvement at Covenant House Alaska.

“There were a lot of things that I liked about being a teacher, especially working with young people and helping them find their way and being involved with their growth,” said Heidi. “It was just a natural progression to Covenant House.” 

One fateful winter, they received an invitation to Covenant House Alaska’s Fire & Ice Ball. Impelled by our mission and the community’s need, they decided to get involved at Covey. 

Heidi joined the Fire & Ice committee to organize the same event that inspired her and joined our mentor program. Mike started volunteering to do odd jobs around our various facilities. 

When the duo was able to retire in 2020, they decided to use their newfound free time to increase their involvement at Covenant House Alaska.

Mike said that while they may have retired, they still felt the same drive to serve others that motivated them in their careers. 

“I still felt the need to help people and take care of people,” said Mike. “I felt like this was the perfect way to continue to serve and give back.” 

Mainstays of MACK House.

Now, the couple serves as the official house mentors at MACK House. At least once a week, Heidi and Mike spend hours visiting with the young people staying there or working on projects to spruce up the building. 

Together, the two have organized volleyball, cornhole and other games with our youth, led cooking nights, decorated for Christmas and Easter, and worked on other various projects and forms of upkeep to make the house feel, as Mike puts it, “more homey.” 

“We just started poking around and finding different ways that we could help out!” said Heidi.

Mike said that enjoys how the role encourages the two of them to work as a team and lean into their individual talents to succeed at such a variety of tasks.

“She’s better with people,” said Mike, “and I’m more of a worker.”

Through these activities, Heidi and Mike have built meaningful relationships and shared tender moments with our youth. In an instance that Mike said was “hard to put into words,” the pair and a young woman decorated a Christmas tree using ornaments that belonged to Mike’s mother. 

“The young lady we decorated the tree with, she really got into it,” said Heidi. “It was neat to have that moment with her — I thought that was a really special moment.” 

For the duo, these indelible experiences are part of what makes their volunteer work at MACK House such a fulfilling experience. 

“I think you get way more out of it than what you put into it,” said Mike.

Closer to the community and each other. 

By spending time at MACK House, Heidi and Mike have felt their connection to their community mature like a fine wine. 

The pair said that they catch tiny glimpses of the effect their volunteering has on our youth. Be it in a quiet word of encouragement from a young person, or how another emerges from a sulk when they’re invited to help cook a meal, these small clues to the difference they’re making keep Heidi and Mike riveted to our mission.

“Even though you don’t feel like you’re doing much,” said Mike, “I think it does make more of an impact than you can appreciate at times.”

On a more personal level, the couple said that volunteering together has been a meaningful bonding experience as husband and wife. 

“It brings us closer together because we have a common goal to help others,” said Mike, “and we’re supporting that by volunteering.”

Volunteer today!

We are so thankful for Heidi and Mike’s incredible contributions to MACK House and our mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness in Alaska. This goal is only achievable with the support of volunteers like them, and we are always looking for Alaskans who want to get involved! 

Heidi strongly recommended mentoring at Covenant House Alaska but stressed that the organization can find an opportunity for anyone interested in volunteering. 

“There are so many different things that you can do, whatever your time or talents,” said Heidi. If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here.

Volunteer Spotlight Hayley Chronkhite

Volunteer Spotlight: Hayley Cronkhite

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Apr. 20, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

With this month’s Volunteer Spotlight falling within National Volunteer Week, we want to celebrate our volunteer Hayley Cronkhite, who was Covenant House Alaska’s honoree at Anchorage’s Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon. 

For over two years, Hayley has opened up the Art Room at our Youth Engagement Center for our youth every Wednesday. Her dedication to connecting with and improving the mental health of our young people through art earned her recognition from the Municipality of Anchorage and multiple community service organizations at the 2022 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon. 

For Hayley, the joys of sharing art’s healing nature with our youth have kept her coming back week after week.

“That’s always a happy moment for me, taking a break,” said Hayley. “To be able to give the youth that sense of normalcy, or just a moment of it, when they might not have that otherwise is all I can ask for.” 

We are so thankful for Hayley and her restorative work with our youth. She is beyond deserving of the recognition she’s earned from our community and is a beloved member of our Covenant House Alaska family. 

Silver lining of a pandemic-sized cloud.

Like so many others, the COVID-19 pandemic made big changes to Hayley’s life. However, it was also what led her to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska. 

Originally from North Pole, Hayley had been living in Anchorage since 2006 and working for Orthopedic Physicians Alaska when the pandemic hit. 

Her organization paused its surgeries to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, they began working with the city to run COVID-19 screening across town at sites like the Sullivan Arena and Covenant House Alaska. 

Hayley said that the first time she stepped into our downtown Youth Engagement Center to work a day of testing, she was awestruck by the painted-door murals we have on display. 

“They were just so gorgeous,” she said, “and I was like, ‘I wanna be a part of that!’”

On her way out, she stopped at our front desk and filled out a volunteer interest form on the spot. And as soon as the pandemic allowed it, Hayley was back in the YEC and running the Art Room. 

Making room for art.

As a volunteer, Hayley organizes activities in our Art Room for our youth every Wednesday. Be it through a guided project or an afternoon of open painting, her volunteering always gives our young people a chance to have fun and express themselves through art.

“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it doesn’t have to be a Picasso,” said Hayley, “but sometimes I get one, and I’m like, ‘Woah, where did that come from?!’” 

Many of Hayley’s guided activities let our young people try a technique or medium that they have never attempted before, like experimenting with different oil paints or using tiles for a canvas. 

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to see a young person be really excited to try something new,” said Hayley. 

Whatever the specific project, Hayley’s activities always give our youth a healthy outlet for their emotions. 

“Some people can’t always express in words how they’re feeling,” said Hayley. “Whether it be through mixed media or painting or photography, sometimes it’s easier for people to express themselves through art.”

For many of our young people, these activities in the Art Room have been an important source of healing as they transition out of homelessness. Their creations are further proof to Hayley of the therapeutic power of art. 

“They might not even be able to explain what it means, but if they’re able to put it down on paper, sometimes it helps,” said Hayley. “I think that in itself is a really great way of helping and learning and growing.”

Drawn together. 

Hayley said that she did not expect to form such a strong bond between her and our young people through her volunteering. 

“I can guarantee you that the youth will surprise you,” said Hayley. “They surprise me every time I come in, whether it is opening the door for me, or asking how I’m doing, or asking how the project last week turned out — you know, little things.” 

One youth with whom Hayley has been drawing and painting for over two years recently moved out of our YEC and into our Rights of Passage transitional housing program. Hayley described this departure with the same emotion that a parent might describe their child leaving for college. 

“I found out last Wednesday,” said Hayley, “and I was crying because I was so happy but also so sad!” 

To Hayley, all of these relationships are what give volunteering at Covenant House Alaska a feeling like no other. 

“Just to have a connection with everybody has been a great experience, to walk into a place and just feel happy and safe — it’s just a good vibe.”

From paints to plates. 

In recognition of her incredible volunteer career, Hayley was Covenant House Alaska’s honoree at the 2022 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, an annual celebration of Anchorage’s volunteers thrown by the Municipality of Anchorage, Bridge Builders, Serve Alaska and JustServe. 

The organizers awarded volunteers who give their time to the Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Alaska, the Special Olympics, Covenant House Alaska and similar organizations for their altruism and contributions to our community. 

Hayley said that being included as a member of such an impressive cohort was a true honor.

“It was great to see the different organizations that are giving back to Anchorage and this community, making a difference that is really needed!” she said.

For us at Covenant House Alaska, we could not be happier that Hayley received such recognition. Her restless work has changed the lives of so many of our young people, bringing color and light into a place of darkness. 

Volunteer today! 

Covenant House Alaska is always looking for new volunteers to join our team! Whatever your passions or interests, there is certainly a way that they can uplift our youth. 

Hayley said that anyone on the fence about volunteering should consider not just how you will impact our youth, but how our youth will impact you! 

“I think coming in and spending a little time with them will make your day so much brighter,” said Hayley, “because it makes my Wednesday great every week!”
If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here.

Hayley was recognized by the sponsors listed on the program at the 2022 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.

Volunteer Spotlight: Activities with Amelia

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Mar. 24, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

Our volunteers breathe joy into Covenant House Alaska, and no one exemplifies this better than Amelia Jeffries, whose weekly activity series remains highly anticipated and thoroughly loved by our youth. 

After Amelia moved from Australia and began volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, her weekly “Activities with Amelia” has become a welcome mainstay at our Youth Engagement Center. Through rock climbing, pickup basketball, bingo and more, Amelia has fostered a true connection with our young people and her new home. 

According to Amelia, she catches herself having just as much of a blast participating in the activities as the Covey youth! 

“It’s been a two-way street,” said Amelia, “because not only are they having fun, but I’m having fun!” 

Thanks to Amelia and her fellow volunteers, our young people have the chance to enjoy wholesome fun and make everlasting memories. Her work is visible to all of us in the smiles on our youths’ faces after Activities with Amelia. 

From down under to the far north

Hailing from Perth, Australia, Amelia moved to Anchorage in May 2021 with her husband. While her VISA barred her from working in the US, she still wanted to find a way to contribute to her new community. 

“I was living in this place and taking advantage of all it had to offer,” said Amelia, “but I wanted to figure out a way where I could be involved and not just take from the community but give back in a way.”

She decided that the best way to do so was to start volunteering regularly. So, Amelia asked her friends and family about volunteer opportunities in Anchorage.

Thankfully for us, they pointed Amelia towards Covenant House Alaska. She did some research online and discovered that we were looking for a volunteer to run recreational activities at our downtown Youth Engagement Center. 

“It seemed like something that I could do every week to get to know the youth and feel like I was a part of the Anchorage community somehow,” recalled Amelia. 

Activities with Amelia

Now with an impressive six-month tenure of weekly volunteering under her belt, Activities with Amelia has become an institution at the YEC.

Week after week, our young people get the chance to put everything else aside and just play, thanks to Amelia. She has organized activities that range from the standard schoolyard fare, like basketball and frisbee games, to the adventurous and outrageous, like rock climbing, bingo and even karaoke!

“I was pretty nervous at a point there, doing karaoke,” said Amelia, “but the youth were surprisingly confident. I don’t think that I would have had that confidence at that age!”

At the onset of her volunteering, Amelia said that she was moved by the kindness of our youth and how excited they were to spend time with her. Emotion broke into her voice as she said that she was “thankful that all the youth that I’ve been involved with have been very welcoming.” 

Now, after a half-year of activities, these strong first impressions have blossomed into a strong relationship with many of our young people. Such mutual trust has enabled Amelia to have many meaningful interactions with our youth, like when one young person felt comfortable enough to help her learn to play frisbee. 

“His technique and his skill were really good, and he was able to teach me how to improve,” said Amelia. “I think that was a really good thing for him to do because he was able to feel happy and confident about his own skills and then kind of show them off to me.”

A connection to Anchorage and herself

For Amelia, her volunteer work has proved to be the communal experience with Anchorage that she hoped it would. She described feeling better ingrained in her new city from her experience and learning from our youth about the wonders of Alaska. 

“When they’re talking about their lives and Anchorage, I’m obviously new to Anchorage so I’ve been learning lots about Alaska — people going fishing and things like that,” said Amelia. 

However, Amelia also said that volunteering at Covenant House Alaska has had a personal effect on her as well. Overcoming her trepidations to volunteer in a new country has emboldened Amelia with newfound confidence amidst a period in her life of dramatic change. 

“America and Australia are very similar, but I had never pushed myself to be in situations over here that I maybe wasn’t 100% comfortable with,” said Amelia. “Being able to push yourself and put yourself in a situation that you don’t experience every day can really grow you as a person.”

Between our youth and staff, we are so gracious to have Amelia as part of our team at Covenant House Alaska. We know that our young people will love whatever the activity may be if it’s with Amelia. 

Volunteer today!

We are always on the lookout for driven volunteers who are passionate about ending the experience of youth homelessness in Alaska. There are always a plethora of ways to get involved at Covenant House Alaska based on your available time and set of talents. 

Amelia said that anyone on the fence about volunteering should not overlook how much they could get out of such an experience.

“I think a lot of people look at volunteering as just the volunteer giving their time and themselves to the volunteer experience,” said Amelia, “but it’s also all about what you’re gaining from that experience.” 
If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Tanna’s Career Journey

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Feb. 24, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

Covenant House Alaska is an organization designed to uplift everyone under its roof. This is why many members of our team, like Tanna Lee, have risen from volunteering to working at Covey through our career opportunities. 

After volunteering to give back to a nonprofit that once came to her aid, Tanna decided to transition into full-time employment at Covenant House Alaska as an overnight staff member at Rights of Passage. Her work throughout her time at Covey has impacted our youth and staff alike, and we couldn’t be happier that she has decided to come aboard. 

Tanna said that after her volunteer experience awoke a passion within her, she had to make it a bigger part of her life. 

“I remember telling myself ‘Hey, you’ve been here for two hours going on three hours, it’s time to go home, this is just volunteer work, not your job,’” said Tanna. “So, I found myself wanting it to be my job!”

Our pursuit of ending the experience of youth homelessness in Alaska is emboldened by Tanna’s relentless engagement with our mission, and that of all of our volunteers as well. 

Coming back to Covenant House Alaska

Covenant House Alaska held a special place in Tanna’s heart, as she accessed its services for a time during her teen years. 

“When I had no friends, when I had no guidance, when I felt lost, I felt like Covenant House was part of my adolescent years that helped me out,” said Tanna. 

Now as an adult, Tanna said that she was looking for a way to give back to an organization and a community that helped set her up for a successful future. So, she decided to volunteer with our Maintenance Team and bring her cleaning experience and knowledge imparted by her “neat-freak” dad to Covenant House Alaska.

No job was too tough for Tanna. With the team, she took on cluttered gym closets, hallways of faded paint, mud tracked into entryway floors — and even dirty toilets. 

“I know it’s considered a dirty job to a lot of people, like ‘Ew, a toilet, ugh!’” said Tanna. “But I didn’t want the youth or the workers to have to come to a facility with dust and grime. I just wanted everyone to experience a clean facility.” 

Tanna took pride in doing work that anyone in our space could appreciate with a simple glance. 

“I wanted there to be a before and after,” said Tanna. “I wanted someone to walk into the Navigation Center or the gym and go ‘Oh wow, this looks really good.’ I just wanted that wow factor, kinda like magic.” 

Volunteer to career

As Tanna kept coming in to volunteer, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted to make Covenant House Alaska a bigger part of her life.

“I just found myself wanting to be a part of it,” said Tanna. “The more I volunteered, the more I kept telling myself, ‘Man, I wish I could do more!’” 

So, Tanna decided to pursue a career at Covenant House Alaska. She applied for an opening with our Relief Staff, a choice she said required courage. 

“I wanted to take that leap of faith,” said Tanna. “I wanted to let go of every doubt I had.”

Tanna of course got the position and quickly proved herself to be an essential part of the team through her trademark industriousness. Very quickly, she moved from a part-time relief staffer up to her current position as overnight staff at our Rights of Passage facility. 

Loving, learning and working at Covenant House Alaska

Now as an employee, Tanna says that she finds her job to be a fulfilling way to serve her community, make genuine connections with young and ambitious Alaskans, and grow as a person herself. 

Tanna said that she often draws from her own history with Covenant House Alaska to help guide her in her work, which she says encourages pointed self-reflection. 

“I’ve learned to embrace my experience and embrace the experience of learning things as I go,” said Tanna.

According to Tanna, one of the most rewarding facets of her position is being able to interact with and learn from the young people Covenant House Alaska serves.

“They’re smarter than I was at their age,” said Tanna, “and I thought I was all that and a bag of chips!”

Without Tanna and our large cohort of volunteers-turned-staff-members, Covenant House Alaska would not have anywhere near the capacity to serve Anchorage in the way we do. We are far beyond thankful for Tanna and the contributions of all of our volunteers and staff to our shared mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness. 

Join our team!

Covenant House Alaska is always on the lookout for compassionate, driven individuals to join up with us, either as a volunteer or member of our staff.

For those on the fence about getting involved, Tanna said that they ought to trust whatever notion is pushing them towards serving our community’s youth. 

“If you’re already thinking about it, that means your heart’s in the right place,” said Tanna. “If your head is not, just go for it!”

Covenant House Alaska is recruiting candidates for both direct care and administrative positions. To browse our job openings, click here.

If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here