Dreaming Big: Part 1

Foster Burgess Impact Updates

The Fellows for the 11th Class of the Children and Family Fellowship have just recently been announced! We are absolutely thrilled to share that Covenant House Alaska’s very own CEO, Alison E. Kear, has been selected as a Children and Family Fellow by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. When Alison nonchalantly walked down the hall to share the news with her team that she was one of the selected 15, she played it cool—typical Alison!—but she is over the moon now that she has digested that this is actually real and she can’t stop talking about it (heck, she can barely sleep)! She is the second person in Alaska who has ever been selected—the first being Gloria O’ Neill, CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), in the 8th Class.

The mission of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore, is building a brighter future for children, families, and communities, which they work toward, in part, through the Children and Family Fellowship. The Fellowship is an executive leadership program designed to give professionals the confidence and competence to lead major system reforms and community change initiatives. Every couple of years, they select 15 individuals across the United States to become a Fellow, in recognition of their hard work to advocate for children and families in their communities.

This fellowship is a two-year commitment and will demand a lot of work in identifying exactly what Covenant House Alaska (CHA) and the Anchorage community needs in order to continue lowering the number of homeless individuals and eradicating youth homelessness in our city. The Fellowship is fast-paced, has long seminar hours, and requires mental and emotional stamina. Alison will use the 21-month fellowship to work within her agency, organization, and community toward specific, measurable improvements for large numbers of young people and families:

“My passion has always been learning – and taking what I’ve learned to then apply it to systems that help empower at-risk youth. Right now, I’m working hard to create a culture at CHA that includes youth voice, in an environment that used to live only by rules established by adults who weren’t living the same experience of the youth. Years ago, we thought we knew what was best to give homeless and at-risk youth; now we know they must be included in the conversation. I thrive to connect funders to the most amazing mission and our kids to ensure that organizations like Covenant House Alaska exist. I want to be in a position to help young leaders manage sustainable careers and to help organizations realize what resources they need so they can make the most difference for young people who face significant obstacles. I want to be in a position to influence policies and support organizations in their funding, and to create systems change, so that each case worker ultimately touches the life of a young person in the most powerful way possible.”

While this work will involve many active meetings full of thoughtful brainstorming, collaboration, and a careful analysis of the issues and trends surrounding homelessness in Anchorage, Alison is up to the task and ready to face these issues head-on with the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This fellowship will benefit Alison, pushing her closer to her personal goals, and in turn, will simultaneously benefit the whole of Covenant House Alaska, the Anchorage community, and the youth whom she tirelessly serves. “We are extremely proud of Alison for being selected for this fellowship,” said Judith Crotty, Covenant House Alaska Board Chair. “She already has a strong record of achievement and through this fellowship she will be able to set her sights even higher to improve the lives of youths in Alaska.”

We all want to whole-heartedly congratulate Alison on her award and are pleased that her dedication to young people and our community has been recognized. She deserves it. Alison’s mom — Mary Whittemore (pictured with her above) — who she credits for her boldness and lack of fear of failure, always told her to dream big, and this is one of those big dreams come true. We are so excited about everything she’s going to learn on this two-year journey as a Children and Family Fellow and the countless dreams she will make come true for youth in Anchorage. Now it’s time for her to get to work! Check back for updates as we follow her on her journey.

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

Sex traffickers target homeless youth. It’s time to end this horrible epidemic.

coveyhouse Impact Updates

In April 2017, Covenant House released a groundbreaking study that shed new light on the link between youth homelessness and human trafficking. The largest study ever of human trafficking among homeless young people, it was conducted in 10 cities nationwide, including Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. The results were staggering. Of the 10 cities studied, Anchorage had the highest reported prevalence of trafficking. Twenty-eight percent of the youth surveyed at Covenant House Alaska were found to be survivors of human trafficking—more than a quarter of youth at the shelter, compared to 19 percent in the survey nationally. Eileen Wright, Trafficking Case Manager at Covenant House Alaska, relates her experiences about the work done at our youth shelter for survivors of sex trafficking.

Not too long ago, a teenage girl arrived at our shelter at Covenant House from a small village in rural Alaska. Like most our youth, she had experienced some kind of trauma and was looking for a safe place to spend the night off the streets. Little by little, we began to unravel her story. The girl had been locked inside a boarded-up room and held against her will with armed men outside barring her escape. Her boyfriend, the trafficker, had brought customers into the room to sexually assault her as he profited from her abuse. She had come to Anchorage from the village to escape a dangerous home life. She now found herself trapped in the nightmare of sex trafficking, with no place to go.

Sex trafficking is an insidious crime, where predators target the most vulnerable of society. In Alaska, we have one of the most vulnerable populations in the entire country: our children. Alaska sadly has the highest statistics of child molestation and abuse in the nation, and the highest rates of sexual assault and child neglect. These children are particularly at risk to sexual exploitation and chronic homelessness later on; they’ve already been “normalized” to a life of abuse and so are easy prey. There are criminals out there, looking to make a profit. Homeless youth are the targets.

Traffickers groom young people through manipulation, coercion and lies. It usually starts out with a relationship with a youth who is already vulnerable, who has no sense of value or self-worth. The trafficker lies to them, telling them they are loved, they are appreciated and will be cared for. For many at-risk youth, this is the first time anybody has lavished them with such praise and affection. A young girl soon cannot imagine their life without this person; in their minds, they are the only ones who have ever truly cared for them.

Then comes the abuse. Their boyfriends, the pimps, tell them “If you really love me, then you will do this favor for me.” Resistance is met with beatings and threats. Girls will often be tied down and injected with meth or heroin, igniting painful addictions. And thus the cycle of trafficking begins.

When we found out the results of the study, that 28 percent of our youth at Covenant House Alaska were survivors of human trafficking, none of us here were surprised. If anything, we felt that it was underreported. We were also not surprised to learn that Alaska experiences the most heinous cases of sex trafficking in the nation. The researcher, Dr. Laura Murphy of Loyola University’s Modern Slavery Research Project, told us that from among all the Covenant House sites across the country, ours had the most brutal cases of sex trafficking— worse than the big, crime-filled cities of Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and even New York. And it’s true. When youth finally do open up to us, their stories are horrific. It is absolutely soul-crushing.

I love these young people. All of us here at Covenant House truly do. And I believe that the most important thing we can do for youth who are being trafficked, for all our youth who experience abuse and homelessness, is to show them unconditional love and respect. We build trusting relationships with them and always accept them for who they are. We make it so that Covenant House is a safe place that they can always come back to. The more times they come back here when they’re in trouble, the more likely they are to open up to us. And we become that relationship of unconditional love that they thought they had, which unlocks the ability for them to share the abuse they’ve suffered. Burdens are easier to carry when someone else is supporting you.

We all must do something to end this epidemic of sex trafficking in Alaska. It can start with our most precious resource: our children. Our mission at Covenant House is to “serve the suffering children of the street and to protect and safeguard all children.” If more Alaskans took that mission to heart, then perhaps we could begin to tackle the underlying trauma that brings youth to the streets, and ultimately to sex trafficking, in the first place.

—Eileen Wright, Trafficking Case Manager for Covenant House Alaska

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

To read the Covenant House study on human trafficking, go to https://covenanthousestudy.org/landing/trafficking/. For more information on how you can join Anchorage’s movement to end youth homelessness, please contact CHA’s Volunteer Specialist at 907-339-4261 or volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

Covenant House Alaska volunteer shares her passion and experience.

coveyhouse Volunteer Stories

We are blessed to have volunteers at CHA. Here is one of their stories:

Volunteer Terry Tarner spends her time at Covenant House Alaska doing ordinary tasks like washing clothes, folding laundry and sorting through piles of donations.

These duties may seem mundane, but Terry says these chores are actually critical to Covenant House’s mission.

“Doing laundry or organizing closets means the case managers and staff working the front desk don’t have to. They can instead take time to connect with the kids,” says Terry, who comes into the youth shelter an average of five hours a week. “Those are the people on the front lines every day, the faces that the kids really need to see.”

Terry is an Air Force veteran who started volunteering at CHA as a practicum student through the University of Alaska Anchorage. She quickly found how important volunteers are to CHA’s operations.

“The kids come here for a variety of reasons, and none of them are good,” Terry stresses. “When a youth comes back and forth a couple of times, and then finally enters CHA, they know that this will give them a better path than what’s offered on the street.”

Initially, Terry’s first volunteer duties involved running errands for staff.

“Then I started taking on the donation room,” she says, explaining the process. Donations are first sorted to make sure they’re appropriate for the young clients. The clothing is then laundered, folded and hung in CHA’s Clothing Closet. Brand new items go into the “Birthday Closet.”

“If someone has a birthday, they can choose a new pair of pants or makeup or sometimes a nice dress, something new and special they can pick out for themselves,” Tarner says. “The best part is, when a youth goes in the Clothing Closet and they literally don’t have anything. They’re just happy to find something that fits them and doesn’t look like it came from their grandmother’s closet.”

Terry adds that getting to know the youth has been the most rewarding part of her volunteer job.

“When a young client comes into our Clothing Closet and I find them something warm or new or in a particular size, they appreciate it so much,” Terry explains. “It boosts their confidence.”

Terry says here are a lot of volunteer opportunities here at CHA, and the rewards are greater than what you give. “There is always something to do at Covenant House,” she says.

From helping a youth pull together an outfit for a job interview, to helping young residents write a resume, to sorting through clothing donations, the everyday tasks at the shelter are nonstop but all crucial to the mission of Covenant House Alaska.

“Youth are just looking for a chance,” Terry says. “They’re looking for someone to listen to them, not to take care of them. It means a lot to them.”

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

Interested in volunteering? Please contact our Volunteer Specialist at 907-339-4261 or volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

Community Gives Back with Warm, Comforting Soup

coveyhouse Events

It’s often been said that soup is good for the soul. At Covenant House Alaska, it is much more than that. Warm and comforting soup can often be a lifesaver to many of the homeless youth who find their way to our shelter.

“Having soup 24 hours a day means Covenant House cares about me,” says one CHA youth. As another young resident put it, “Having soup available means I don’t have to steal food when I’m hungry.”

Nearly 20 gallons of hot, soothing soup are offered everyday to homeless youth dropping into Covenant House Alaska for a warm meal and safe harbor. For many youth, it is their first meal of the day. For others, it serves as the beginning of their journey at Covenant House Alaska, a journey that will ultimately lead them away from the dangerous streets and into a life of stability and independence.

Preparing homemade soup is also a meaningful way to for the community to give back. Just ask long-time CHA volunteer, Kari Hall. Each month, she cooks about 15 gallons of delicious and healthful soup for Covenant House youth. “I love doing this,” Kari says. “It’s a good feeling knowing that you’re providing something warm and nourishing for kids coming off the cold streets.”

Kari has also volunteered her time teaching CHA teens how to prepare and cook yummy homemade soup. She even taught youth how to make her Italian White Bean soup recipe, which won the 2016 Bean’s Café Empty Bowl Project Award. The teens enthusiastically helped her chop Costco-sized boxes of vegetables for 31 gallons of soup, and learned a lot in the process.

“The most rewarding part was watching the kids help prepare the vegetables— they were having fun!” Kari says.

Kari also throws “Soup-Making” parties at her own home, inviting friends and colleagues over to help her chop and prepare the gallons of ingredients she needs for her homemade soup recipes. It’s a labor of love, and her guests share in the joy of knowing their efforts will go towards making at-risk youth feel nourished and loved with each bowl of hot soup they are offered. For 30 years, more than 25,000 Alaskan youth have walked through our shelter doors, and started the next chapter of their lives with a steaming bowl of loving homemade soup!

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

For more information about donating soup to Covenant House Alaska or organizing a Soup Party, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at 907-339-4261 or volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

We Must End Sex Trafficking of Our Alaska Youth

coveyhouse Impact Updates

In April 2017, Covenant House released a groundbreaking study that shed new light on the link between youth homelessness and human trafficking. The largest study ever of human trafficking among homeless young people, it was conducted in 10 cities nationwide, including Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. The results were staggering. Of the 10 cities studied, Anchorage had the highest reported prevalence of trafficking. Below are excerpts from Alison Kear’s testimony she submitted to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ hearing on human trafficking.

Seven years ago, Anchorage police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned communities about a rise in rural Alaska Native girls and women who leave their families and villages for Anchorage and are then lured into the sex trafficking trade with the promise of security. There seems to be a market for young Alaska Native women who can be trafficked as other ethnicities. This is where I first learned about the severity of the trafficking problem in Alaska. In this presentation, I discovered that the number one spot that young people were being recruited for sex trafficking was, of all places, Covenant House Alaska. When I got over my shock and anger and sadness, I was committed to change that.

Unfortunately, we know Alaska suffers the highest rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide in the country. The Alaska rape rate is two and a half times the national average. Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average. And within the foster care system, Alaska Native children are seven times more likely to be in foster care than non-Native children. These are all risk factors that lead to extreme vulnerability and homelessness among Native youth. They are easy targets for sex traffickers who promise these youth security, love, companionship, a warm meal and a bed. These kids don’t have support networks or a community. So if Covenant House doesn’t find them first, who does? Traffickers.

Certainly, one way to help end sex trafficking is to end youth homelessness—the connection between the two is undeniable. And within the Anchorage community, we are coming together to do that. Covenant House Alaska has built strong partnerships with many organizations to help our homeless youth who are vulnerable to trafficking. We partner with Southcentral Foundation, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, First Alaskans Institute and Cook Inlet Housing Authority, who are all working inside our shelter and alongside us to heal the trauma all our at-risk youth have experienced.

We are also working to address the lack of training among health and law professionals so they can more quickly identify victims of sex trafficking. We partner with the Alaska Native Justice Center and the FBI, as well as Priceless, the anti-trafficking organization, and two local domestic violence organizations, STAR and AWAIC. Together, we serve all trafficking victims who walk through our shelter doors.

It’s going to take these kinds of unique partnerships to get a grip on this growing crime of sex trafficking in our state. These children are our children—our community members and the future of our state. We are more determined than ever to end their victimization.

 Alison Kear

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

For information on how you can volunteer to help end youth homelessness and human trafficking, please contact volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

Pregnant and Abused Teen Finds Sanctuary and a Future at Covenant House

coveyhouse Our Youth

“If it hadn’t been for Passage House and the amazing staff, I’m not sure I would be standing here today.”

“I was 18 when I found out about Passage House, the Covenant House program for pregnant and parenting teens who are homeless. I was about 8 months pregnant with my son, whose father abused me. At the time, I was living with relatives. The city bus was my only transportation.

Part of my story includes the fact that I spent my teenage years doing drugs and drinking, just about every day. But when I found out I was pregnant, I quit. I applied to Passage House and was accepted. There, I learned about caring for a newborn. Kathy, Gena and Anne were very helpful while teaching me how to parent my son. I learned a lot in our weekly groups and in our daily conversations. They all were very kind, encouraging and understanding.

I had been in an abusive relationship with the baby’s father, but after four years, I finally made the decision to leave him. With the help of Covenant House, I focused all my attention on my son and myself. I got a job as a teacher at an Early Head Start program, which then enabled me to earn my Child Development Associate credential. I’m happy to report I plan to start college for nursing soon!

The Passage House staff has been there for me through all of my ups and downs. I have turned to them to share my joys and struggles and they have always supported me. I am very grateful for them. I am here to tell you that there was a time when I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to parent my son, and if it hadn’t been for Passage House and the amazing staff I’m not sure I would be standing here today—the mother of an amazing little boy whom I love so very, very much.

I am so impressed by the community’s love and support for Covenant House. Thank you for continuing to support our at-risk youth, and the young mothers and their children. You have no idea how much it means to all of us.

 – Laura Cantrell, Covenant House Alaska and Passage House graduate

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

My Life has Changed So Much

coveyhouse Our Youth

“To tell you this story, I’m going to start from the beginning, back to April 1, 2017. I lived in Nome, a small town just over 1,000 miles northwest of here. What led to me to Anchorage was being homeless in the bitter months of the brutal winter, living on the streets of Nome, in temperatures that reach -20 degrees below zero. In Nome, there was nothing for me. I was leading a miserable life. I had come to Covenant House Alaska on the first day of April at 4:00 p.m. to make a change.

At Covenant House, I took every opportunity to better my life. I found out about the JAG program (Jobs for America’s Graduates) at Covenant House, by coming into the office and talking with a few JAG specialists about the program. I got to know how good of a support system the program was. I asked about high school completion programs and I was so happy and excited to be getting back in school and finishing up my diploma. Ever since I re-enrolled into school through JAG, I’ve been going to school nonstop since day one. I’m proud of how much work I’ve put in over the last eleven months. I finished my Alaska Studies class with a 90% grade.

Honestly, I’m not working on my high school diploma just for myself. I’m doing it for my four nieces and my nephew back home to show them if I can do it, they can do it, too.

My life has changed so much since I came to Covenant House Alaska. If I hadn’t made the choice to leave, I would be living a miserable life back home on a daily basis. I wouldn’t have any stable housing. I wouldn’t be back in school, earning my high school diploma. I wouldn’t have words of encouragement, and support, and most of all…motivation. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself and I’ve gained a lot of independence. I’ve learned responsibility and professionalism, and how to manage my bank account properly. And I now have goals and plans for my life. My goals after I earn my high school diploma are enlisting into the United States Marine Corps, and possibly becoming police officer after my time in the military. Thank you ALL for supporting the youth of Covenant House Alaska.

–Kevin Thomas is now in stable housing, living independently, and is a proud advocate for at-risk youth of Alaska.

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

Graduation Day

coveyhouse Events

Now is the season of graduations. I have certainly been to my share of them.

I attended graduation last night and I barely held it together.

I was so proud of one our Covenant House grads but also a little sad that the road she had to take was so fraught with struggle and pain. Here are these kids, awkwardly crossing the stage with heads low, teetering on heels in their finest clothes, taking their diplomas and squeaking off stage terrified and holding their breath.

Each one was holding a piece of paper, and enough anxiety about the future to be palpable to the audience.

All these years of worry, geometry tutoring and tears…she got through it. We got through it.

It took nights strongly encouraging her to get to bed. It took all of the many case managers through the six years we’ve known her to teach her about her own self-worth, and how to build the skills necessary to complete her education and find a job that will help her respect herself.

It took breaking up fights, nail painting, and a ridiculous amount of pool. It took patience—and sometimes some pretty unorthodox approaches on our part—to be the adults in her life unlike any other.

She says that we raised her and a part of me hates that. No kid should be raised in a homeless shelter.

But then again, if you were going to have all of us on your team, maybe that’s a lucky thing.

—Program Director at Rights of Passage, CHA’s transitional living program for at-risk youth ages 18–21.

We are so proud of the determination and hard work of our young graduates. They’ve worked hard to achieve their goals while juggling jobs and life challenges most adults would find daunting. CHA offers many different education programs, including “Back on Track” and the nationally recognized “Jobs for America’s Youth” programs, as well as classes through Nine Star Education & Employment Services and the Anchorage School District. We also had youth graduate from the Southcentral Foundation’s Men’s Wellness Program and the Feed Me Hope Culinary School. We are excited about what the future holds for these high-achieving young people! 

For more information about how you can help CHA youth pursue their education and job goals, please contact Hilary Patterson, Director of Education & Employment at  (907) 339-4259 or hpatterson@covenanthouseak.org.

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

In Her Own Words: A Story by Taylor*

coveyhouse Our Youth

Without Covenant House I have no idea where I would be today. I do know, however, that I would not be parenting my son and living on my own, and I certainly wouldn’t be as hopeful about my future as I am today.

From a very early age, I was homeless. We spent most of our nights sleeping in parks, under bridges, or in a car with my family. This way of life was not safe, stable or supportive. My mother tried to hold things together. She started prostituting and we spent much of our life running from an abusive father.

By the age of 18, I was still homeless and did a lot of couch hopping. I finally ended up with a friend who lived in a cabin with no running water, no electricity, and an outside port-a-potty for the bathroom. It was there that I discovered I was pregnant with my ex-boyfriend’s child. I knew I needed help. I found Covenant House.

When I reached out to Covey, they reached right back and helped me overcome numerous barriers in my life. For one thing, my life experiences up to this point had taught me not put any trust in people. It took time to get to the point where I could trust the staff and for them to convince me that they truly did want the best for me. What I found at Covenant House was genuine care and compassion. They offered kindness, stability, support, medical care, resources I didn’t even know existed for me, and a lot of counseling which I needed more than I would ever have admitted at the time.

I had many tough decisions to make, like whether or not I’d be able to parent my precious little one. As I struggled with this and other decisions, the staff remained by my side every step of the way to help work through them.

At times it felt as if I were following in my mother’s footsteps and I’d get so discouraged it hurt, but I knew that there is a vast difference between my mother and me. With the help of Passage House, I got back on my feet. They gave me more than I could ever have asked for. They helped me build a resume, fill out applications, learn good parenting skills and I even learned how to cook. I eventually got a receptionist job and started saving money to put towards essential needs.

Covenant House gave me hope, the ability to trust again, and the opportunity to see a better future for my son and myself. If I could have one wish, it would be to be the best mother possible for him. I know now that I might be my mother’s child, but I don’t have to be my mother. I never want my son to go hungry, to ever feel unloved, or to ever have to fend for himself until he is absolutely ready. I am determined that he will not have the life I did.

Covenant House is a wonderful organization that has given, and continues to give, hope to thousands of homeless youth each year. Without this organization, I am pretty positive that there would be a lot more crime and teen suicide in Alaska. The staff at Covenant House genuinely cares about the youth of this community, and not just the ones who seek their services. As one of the youth who has needed the services they provide, I can tell you that there is nothing more amazing than people who truly care for you as an individual. And they can only do this, I understand, because of the wonderful support from the community. Thank you so much.

*Taylor’s name has been altered in consideration of her and her family.

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.