What About Bob?

Kerry Reifel Volunteer Stories

Retired Scientist Brings Compassion and Creativity to Covey Youth

Bob Winfree first came to Covenant House several months ago to offer a landscape painting workshop for our youth, but soon signed up to volunteer each week in our art room. He is a retired National Parks scientist and research manager who settled in Alaska about twenty years ago with his family. Bob took up visual arts after retiring, including painting, photography and magazine production.

Though Bob’s education and work experience did not center around youth who have experienced significant trauma, he seems to inherently know what our youth need in a given moment, and how to interact with them in ways that help them to let their guard down, relax and be creative. In a short time, Bob became one of our favorite volunteers, and a favorite of our youth as well.

“Bob just understands,” says Radmila Moon, one of CHA’s Youth Activities Specialists “He knows when to engage with youth and when to give them space. Even our youth who might have a hard time taking instruction from men due to experiences in their childhood come to me later asking when Bob will be back. And he is consistent. He is here every week, and our youth know they can count on that, which is just so important.”

In addition to working in our art room, Bob has hosted budgeting workshops for youth at our Covey Academy and Rights of Passage programs, and workshops showcasing careers that young people can get into without a college degree. He takes great care in preparing how to demonstrate concepts to young people and, when videos can be incorporated, he looks for those hosted by people of color so as to provide diverse perspectives.

“As I’ve gotten to know the youth who come to the art room,” says Bob, “our discussions and small talk, some of which is quite profound, is at times worth a lot more than the art skills they learn. The art just gives them something to do while they’re talking. In the first few weeks, youth would come into the art room and sit at the far table but now, youth come in and fill the seats at my table first.”

Like CHA, Bob has a personal mission. He cares about what kind of world his grandchildren will inherit. He says, “Working in the art room is not what I’d planned on when I applied to volunteer at Covey, but that’s ok. I’ve come to realize that I am more at peace when helping others than I am when I’m thinking about myself.”

We are so grateful for our volunteers at Covenant House Alaska, who show our youth every day that their community cares for them.

Mothers Helping Others

Kerry Reifel Mentor, Volunteer Stories

By: Kerry Reifel

As a mother of two, Rachel Camm understands the challenges young moms face. That perspective is evident in her role as a volunteer mentor at Passage House, a program run by Covenant House Alaska that supports young mothers and their children. Rachel draws on her own experience raising kids to provide a listening ear, words of wisdom, and critical support to the women at Passage House.  “From a mother’s perspective, simply being there to listen and support the young mothers is so important,” Rachel says.

And she doesn’t just listen – she takes action. Rachel recently provided a ride and helped one young mom fill out paperwork to gain access to reliable childcare. This act of service represents a vital step toward independence for that young mother and her ability to properly care for her child in the future.

Rachel’s passion for service took root early. Raised in the UK, she grew up volunteering at food banks, soup kitchens, and collecting donations with her family. Those values stuck with Rachel as she moved across the world, first to Malaysia and then Alaska.

At Passage House, Rachel does it all – cooking, mentoring, and bonding with the women over shared activities. But it’s the one-on-one support in times of struggle that she finds most impactful and meaningful.

Rachel has witnessed firsthand the power a helping hand and listening ear can provide. Her hope is that homeless services will take on a more preventative approach in the future as well, keeping people from ever having to experience homelessness in the first place.

Want to get involved too? Consider volunteering with one of Covenant House Alaska’s programs by filling out a volunteer form at here or reaching out to Volunteer Manager Holly Payne at volunteer@covenanthouseak.org .

Kick Off the New Year with Covenant House Alaska

Kerry Reifel Events

Support Covenant House Alaska at Kaladi Brothers’ Dale Tran’s New Year’s Day of Giving

Covenant House Alaska is honored to be named, Kaladi Brothers’ Dale Tran’s New Year’s Day of Giving recipient for 2024.  This 35+ Year Tradition at Kaladi Brothers includes giving 100% of their beverage sales on New Year’s Day to a local charity and our supporters can help.    

You can participate and support Covenant House Alaska simply by buying a cup of coffee .   Also, Kaladi Brothers will donate 50% of all coffee bean sales ordered from their website through January 1st to Covenant House Alaska!  So, even if you are out of town, you can enjoy great coffee while supporting Covenant House Alaska.    

Kaladi Brothers is also hosting a donation page on their website, where you can click through directly to donate. For each $5.00 donated directly through the donation page, Kaladi Brothers will donate one free drink card to Covenant House Alaska on your behalf.  

However you decide to participate in Dale Tran’s New Year’s Day of Giving, from near or far, we want to thank you for helping  support Covenant House Alaska.   And, of course, a big Covey Hug and sincere thank you to the folks at Kaladi Brothers who support our youth and our community year round.      Also, a shoutout to Kaladi Brothers partner’s CIRI, NMS, Bering Straits Native Corporation, Alaska National, Parker, Smith & Feek, Akela Space, Moose’s Tooth, and The Hotel Captain Cook for teaming up to continue this tradition and support Covenant House Alaska’s mission.   And a special thank you to  matching partners, First National Bank Alaska and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, who will match part of the funds raised at Dale Tran’s New Year’s Day of Giving.  

   Click Here to Participate 

Art, Empathy, and Advocacy: Keelan’s Volunteer Journey at Covenant House Alaska

Kerry Reifel Volunteer Stories

By Madison Sauder

Keelan Kenny recently moved permanently to Anchorage and began volunteering at Covenant House Alaska in July of this year. After growing up in Salt Lake City and living in Colorado, it was her new roots in Alaska that made her want to get involved in her community here.

When she saw the art room volunteer position on our volunteer portal, it all fell into place. Keelan, a passionate crafter, felt like the art room was an approachable place where she could make an impact. She now comes every Wednesday and spends a few hours with the youth, helping with art projects and giving them a place to spend time.

While she of course loves providing a place for self-expression, she says some of the most impactful moments have been helping young people overcome frustration.  “People want it [art] to be perfect,” working with youth to push past this desire for perfection and troubleshoot their projects has been a highlight of her time in the art room.

She has also seen how the art room is not just about painting or doing crafts but provides youth a place to feel comfortable. In this context of comfortability, Keelan says, is where many of the young people at Covenant House Alaska have felt safe to share their stories with her. “It happens ad hoc, randomly” she says, “and we are chatting about it”.

The impact, Keelan insists, is not just on the youth. Her volunteering at CHA has been a source of personal growth. With mentorship from staff, she feels prepared for handling challenging situations with youth and has learned best ways to interact with them. On a larger scale, Keelan says she now feels better informed about resources in our community for those experiencing homelessness or housing instability. She also has become an advocate for the unhoused community in Anchorage even outside of the age range Covenant House Alaska serves.

Covenant House Alaska is “a breath of hope” she says. In regard to a problem that can feel insurmountable, seeing the day-to-day positive impact and efficacy of the transitional housing model has made her hopeful.

She encourages others to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska. She highlights that there are opportunities to engage, regardless of what your skill set, or availability is. There is also the possibility to change up the way you volunteer. Keelan, for example, plans to start helping with opening the gym for the youth. Providing a place for physical activity as the weather has gotten cold. Don’t be intimidated, Keelan urges. When she started volunteering, she felt anxious about what being one on one with the youth would be like. She found it was not a problem. The staff provided plenty of support to ensure she has had a successful volunteer experience.

Keelan and volunteers like her are an important part of Covenant House Alaska. If you or someone you know are interested in volunteering, you can visit our volunteer webpage https://covenanthouseak.org/volunteer/ or contact our Volunteer Manager Holly Payne at volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

Passage House Celebrates 30 Years of Empowering Young Mothers

Kerry Reifel Covenant House History

Nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood, Covenant House Alaska’s Passage House might appear as just another family home. However, its walls hold a remarkable story of 30 years of transformative impact on young mothers and their children.

Established in 1993, Passage House is a five-bedroom transitional living program designed for pregnant or parenting women aged 16 to 24. It goes beyond teaching independent living skills, focusing on nurturing essential parenting abilities. Over the years, it has provided a safe haven for over 300 young women facing numerous challenges.

Gena Graves, the program’s Director of Transitional Living Programs, recalls how Passage House was born out of a critical need. Back then, pregnant teens had nowhere to turn and still keep their babies with them, often lacking family support and societal acceptance. Covenant House Alaska’s decision to create Passage House in a peaceful residential neighborhood was pivotal, offering a supportive environment for these young mothers.

The program empowers its residents to take control of their lives, equipping them with the skills and confidence to succeed independently. From managing daycare to securing employment, Passage House guides these young women towards self-sufficiency.

One of the core goals of Passage House is to instill in its residents the belief that they can achieve great things. With support, young mothers have gone on to build successful careers and earn scholarships, proving the power of empowerment.

As Passage House enters its fourth decade, it continues to serve, providing young women with the guidance and support they need to build better futures for themselves and their children.

Making a Move to Mentoring

Kerry Reifel Events, Mentor, Volunteer Stories

by: Kris Johnson

Christi Meyn, an Anchorage native, has found her calling in volunteering as a mentor in the Rights of Passage program at Covenant House Alaska,.

Christi admits that she can’t remember the exact moment of her first encounter with Covenant House. The presence of the house in the Anchorage community is so ubiquitous that it became a natural part of Christi’s awareness. Growing up in Anchorage, she says it seems like she’s always known about Covenant House through the site’s many community events. 

Christi’s involvement as a volunteer was fueled by the need to address state budget cuts to homeless services in 2019. These cuts prompted her to get involved with other local organizations, but those commitments eventually ended in 2022.

As Christi was in the process of moving, she found herself with a surplus of moving boxes. Wondering if Covenant House accepted donations of moving supplies, she visited their website. There, she discovered a mentorship opportunity. Without hesitation, she signed up for training and began her work in the spring of the same year.

“I’m motivated to stay involved because it gives me a sense of giving back to the community,” Christi explains. “Helping someone be successful in their future, even if just a small amount, is a fulfilling experience.” Christi’s altruistic spirit and dedication to the cause of youth homelessness drive her to make a meaningful impact.

As a mentor in the Rights of Passage program, her role involves building meaningful relationships with the young residents. She is currently matched with one young person in particular, offering weekly support in various forms, including homework help, and providing a listening ear and words of encouragement during challenging times.

But her involvement extends beyond the surface, as she truly connects with the youth she serves. Whether it’s a casual stroll in the park or helping with the complexities of academics, Christi is there to lend a helping hand. Her dedication to the program exemplifies the spirit of compassion and empathy that Covenant House embodies.

As for her future aspirations at Covenant House, Christi expresses her enthusiasm for getting to know the young people better. She is also eager to initiate puzzle and game nights during the winter. This desire to engage in fun and bonding activities reflects her commitment to creating a supportive and nurturing environment.

Christi’s dedication to Covenant House is a testament to the profound impact one person can make in the lives of young people experiencing homelessness. Her story is a reminder that, even in the face of adversity and budget cuts, dedicated volunteers like Christi can help guide youth to the future they envision for themselves. With her motivation and passion, Christi continues to make a lasting difference in her community.

Service Beyond Boundaries

Kerry Reifel Volunteer Stories

By: Kris Johnson

In a world often marked by indifference, there are those who stand out as beacons of hope and compassion. Jacob McKessey is one such individual who, through his unwavering dedication, has become an integral part of Covenant House Alaska. His journey with Covenant House began with a simple desire to make a difference and has since transformed into a remarkable story of commitment, empathy, and selflessness.

Jacob’s introduction to Covenant House Alaska was serendipitous. He stumbled upon the organization through Be The Change 907, a volunteer page through United Way. Seeking an opportunity to give back to his community, Jacob was immediately drawn to Covenant House’s mission. Our commitment to providing unconditional love and support to young people facing homelessness and trafficking deeply resonated with him.

What motivates Jacob to stay involved with Covenant House is his profound belief in the importance of this mission. He recognizes the immense challenges that young people experiencing homelessness and trafficking face as they embark on their journey into adulthood. For Jacob, it’s not just about addressing the immediate needs of these individuals; it’s about being a part of a solution that offers hope and a chance for a brighter future.

Jacob’s contributions to Covenant House Alaska are as diverse as they are heartfelt. His volunteer journey began with minor landscaping efforts last summer. Since then, he has worn many hats, from assisting in the office with tasks like mailing letters to fellow volunteers, to greeting guests at a Career Fair. Jacob has also been actively involved in tabling events and has lent a helping hand at numerous fundraising events. His hands-on approach extends to the physical maintenance of Covenant House properties, such as cleaning windows at the MACK House and weeding at the Passage House.

When asked if there’s anything he hasn’t done yet but would like to do at the site, Jacob’s response reflects his eagerness to serve beyond boundaries. He mentioned that he’s spoken with site staff about tackling miscellaneous tasks that arise on the property. This willingness to adapt and lend a hand wherever there’s a need epitomizes Jacob’s dedication to the cause.

Jacob’s story serves as a reminder of the profound impact an individual can have through the gift of time and the warmth of the heart. He may not have vast financial resources at his disposal, but his commitment and desire to serve are priceless. Jacob embodies the idea that giving back can take many forms, and sometimes, all it requires is the will to make a difference.

Jacob McKessey’s journey with Covenant House Alaska is a testament to the power of individuals who choose to step forward and become a force for positive change. His story serves as an inspiration not only to those involved with Covenant House but to all of us, reminding us of the importance of empathy, compassion, and the enduring belief in the potential for a better world.

From New York to Alaska: Couple Drives Almost 5,000 Miles to Volunteer in Anchorage

Kerry Reifel Volunteer Stories

By: Kris Johnson

Sherry and Ted Hersey have always made it a point to volunteer in their communities. When the onset of COVID-19 led to lockdown, in-person interactions came to a screeching halt, so showing up to give back was no longer a possibility. The couple got online in search of a way to continue helping others. 

“Covenant House Alaska posted an opportunity to sew laundry and gift bags for residents. That was something I could do with the fabric I already had at home and my fledgling sewing skills,” Sherry said. 

Sherry took advantage of her social media platforms to post about the opportunities and recruit people from around the country to help make the bags. 

She and her husband, Ted, then loaded up their campervan and drove nearly 5,000 miles from New York to Anchorage to volunteer. Along the way, they collected items for care bags in each state and province through which they traveled, and were thrilled to be able to deliver the bags to Covenant House Alaska in person.

This isn’t the only time the husband and wife duo have garnered charitable support across long distances. The two are avid travelers and frequently volunteer while on the road during their many trips. 

Ted says that volunteering on the road as they travel is “a chance for us to give back to the communities we visit. As we volunteer, we get to work side by side with people in the community and hear their stories.” 

They also get a closer look at the services offered and people helped by the nonprofits they visit, Sherry shared, adding that volunteering helps them “get to know a community at a deeper level than just passing through as a tourist.” 

“We have so much gratitude for the team at Covenant House Alaska for making us feel welcome and taking time to organize our volunteer week.” 

Other ways the two have enjoyed volunteering at Covenant House Alaska include cleaning the kitchen used by residents, weeding and mulching the front garden beds at Passage House, the site’s 18-month residential mother and child program. Sherry and Ted have also done some gardening, as well as paver installation, at Rights of Passage, the transitional living program for ages 18-24. They say although they are donating their time and skills to others, they have learned some new things, too.  

“We learned how to use a drum sander to strip off old paint from a deck and greenhouse area,” Ted shared. “We then power washed and painted the deck and a garden bench.”

As much as they’ve given to the shelter, the Hersey’s say they also understand how important it is to help site staff, which once involved assembling and mailing thank you letters.

Ted and Sherry plan to continue their humanitarian efforts as part of their connection to a Habitat for Humanity International program called Care-A-Vanners, where participants with their own vans, RVs, and campers travel to volunteer for a two week period.

The couple recently left Anchorage to set out on their next adventure, but says if they had more time in Anchorage, “we would have liked to learn more about the job skills training program and work with the youth, sharing our skills and hobbies of computers, photography and card-making.”

Inspired by a tour of the site where she saw a mural of mother and baby animals native to Alaska, Sherry plans to design greeting cards to sell on Etsy, and donate all proceeds to Covenant House Alaska.

Baking Up Success

Kerry Reifel Events, Our Youth

By: Kerry Reifel

For most children, fundraisers for extra-curricular activities are a pretty common rite of passage while growing up.   But, at Covenant House Alaska (CHA), many of our youth haven’t had those simple childhood experiences, which is what makes four Covey Youth’s recent accomplishment so much more significant. 

A group of CHA youth created the opportunity of a lifetime for themselves this summer as part of a trip to Orlando.  A team of four youth, accompanied by staffer Annie Shane, traveled to the National Career Development Conference organized by Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) Joining them were eight students from Bethel Regional High School, led by Brett Smith, the JAG Bethel Program Coordinator, and another teacher from BRHS.  The trip itself was funded by a grant and in itself was a remarkable experience.   For many of these students, the journey marked their first time venturing outside their home state, making it an even more memorable.

But, that’s not all! 

The youth found they were going to have a free day while at the conference.  They all decided that they really wanted to go to Universal Studios for the day.  The cost of which wasn’t covered by the designated funding.  They would need to fundraise to raise enough money to cover the cost of admission.  The youth were determined.   In a brainstorming session led by Annie Shane, they decided they would sell baked goods.  That’s right, they decided to host a good old-fashioned bake sale.  Other staffers also jumped on board, like the café and kitchen manager who helped bring the idea to life by assisted with recipes, baking and creating a sales plan.   A “JAG Alaska” logo, designed by a youth who had also interned with Media 7, graced the baked goods label. The Media 7 connection led to an unexpected yet heartwarming sponsorship, with sweatshirts featuring the youth’s logo design.

The community rallied behind the cause, and over the span of three weeks, the youth managed to raise nearly $700 through the sale of their baked treats. The success of their fundraising campaign not only covered the cost of Universal Studios tickets for a full day of fun at the theme park, but also exemplified their determination and teamwork.

In addition to their epic Universal Studio’s day, the conference was a hub of diverse activities aimed at personal and professional growth. Workshops, competitive events, leadership training, and career exploration sessions provided the youth with an invaluable platform to learn and develop. One of the highlights was a career preparation event where a student crafted a compelling PowerPoint presentation on their chosen career field, presenting it to a panel of judges. Additionally, two students, one from Anchorage and one from Bethel, served as Alaska’s voting delegates, participating in the election of national officers for JAG’s National Career Association. Their contribution received praise from JAG staff at the national level, underscoring the impact of their involvement.

The youth invested their time in attending five pre-travel meetings, focusing on leadership skills and readiness for the conference. These sessions not only fine-tuned their abilities but also fostered camaraderie among the group. It was evident that the youth were determined to make the most of this opportunity and truly shine on the national stage

Young person cuts a tray of baked goods

As the journey unfolded, the youth shared their thoughts on what JAG meant to them. One participant highlighted how JAG had a profound impact on their mental well-being, stating, “I didn’t expect it to have such an impact on my health. Before JAG, I was depressed and a lot was going on, and it helped me control myself and my reactions to others.”

Striking Chords of Change

Kerry Reifel Events

By: Kerry Reifel

Michael Scholz remembers himself as a rebellious teenager that became entangled in the harsh realities of life on the streets of Anchorage. During which, he was a resident at Covenant House Anchorage off and on for several years.  Despite those early difficulties, his life is very different now and he is thriving by any measure. Today, he is not only working towards his master’s degree but is also a successful technology salesperson and a musician with a band called Somnum Foris.

His journey began when he sought refuge at Covenant House Alaska after leaving home at the age of 15. Covenant House Alaska provided him with stability, community and the support of a case worker during the next three years. Then, he was able to keep employment, get a GED during that time and his first apartment at the age of 18. 

Michael’s love for music was his constant companion during his turbulent youth. He immersed himself in the world of punk and heavy metal, finding an outlet in the mosh pits of concerts which he described as a way to channel his anger in a safe environment.    The music and the concerts were an outlet for him.

Michael credits a CHA volunteer with first teaching him the piano.  There was a piano in the day room at CHA that he would sit and try to play.  At that time, he hadn’t any formal training, but a volunteer named Phyllis noticed his interest and began to teach him the fundamentals, like music theory, hand placement and even a couple of songs. 

He used it as a form of therapy and self-expression, composing songs that narrated the struggles faced by those living on the streets. These days, under the banner of his band, Somnum Foris, which is Latin for “Sleep Outside”, he is releasing an album titled “Dark Places in Cold Cities.” The album aims to shed light on the suffering that society often chooses to ignore.  Michael is donating the proceeds from this album to Covenant House Alaska. 

Michael’s own life stands as a testament to the transformative power of compassion and the importance of providing opportunities for those in need.  He said, “I am thankful for the help I had received from Covenant House Alaska during the times of my life where I was young, lost and more vulnerable. It was a pivotal part of my journey into adulthood.”

From his rebellious teenage years to finding success in his career and his music hobby, Michael Scholz’s story exemplifies the strength of the human spirit. Through his actions, he continues to make a difference, aiming to inspire and uplift those who have been through similar struggles and hardships.