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.

CHA Volunteer Spotlight: Aubrey Morgan

Kerry Reifel Events, Mentor, Volunteer Stories

By: Kris Johnson

Aubrey Morgan grew up around young people in need of support, her mom and aunt setting the example of giving back by including her in the work they did running a group home.  

woman in brown shirt with jeans holding up a cell phone to take her own photo

So when a former Covenant House Alaska staff member overheard Aubrey expressing a desire to get back into volunteering, they both knew she’d be a perfect fit for serving our young people. 

“Growing up helping individuals with special needs became a passion at a young age,” Aubrey said, adding that in high school she began working with Partner’s Club, a group that brings high school students and physically/intellectually disabled students together to provide sports training for Special Olympic Sports. She also volunteered at the Special Olympics. 

“I always had so much fun watching the kids smile and laugh. Seeing someone’s true happiness is such an incredible thing,” she said. “Sometimes I think we take the simple things for granted.”  Aubrey remembers going on home visits with her mom as a young girl. Her mom would coordinate a Secret Santa game every Christmas and Aubrey vividly remembers helping to wrap gifts and bring them to the kids in the homes. She says experiences like these made “fortunate enough to learn the meaning of gratitude at a young age,” and she hopes to pass the lesson along to her daughter. 

Being in the beauty industry allows her to help make people feel beautiful, a skill she says is fun for her. 

“So I thought, why not give back to my community and make everyone feel that way? These young adults already have so many challenges and obstacles they are overcoming, why not make them feel good doing it?” Aubrey said. “The confidence a simple haircut can bring back to someone is amazing. And watching people smile at themselves at the end gives you such an amazing feeling.” 

Aside from giving haircuts, Aubrey has also helped with prom at Covenant House Alaska, and is hoping to be able to get involved in other ways. 

“Being a new mom and a business owner keeps me so busy sometimes, but I read every email to see if there’s one of the volunteer needs I can fit into my schedule.” 

Aubrey said she also regularly keeps track of the work all the employees and volunteers are doing at the site. 

“They have built such a beautiful and welcoming community for our young people here in Alaska. The amount of time and work these individuals put in every day is inspiring! I hope to be able to give back just as much one day.” 

Microsoft TechSpark and Covenant House Ignite Economic Innovation and Opportunity

Kerry Reifel Events

Covenant House Alaska is excited to announce its collaboration with Microsoft TechSpark to promote inclusive economic opportunity, job creation, and innovation in Alaska. Through this partnership, Covenant House Alaska aims to address the challenges faced by vulnerable youth in the state and leverage technology to empower them for a brighter future.

Covenant House Alaska plays a vital role in providing shelter, education, and employment opportunities to young people facing adversity. With the support of Microsoft TechSpark, Covenant House Alaska will be able to enhance its impact and extend its reach to a broader audience.

Microsoft’s grant to Covenant House Alaska will fund a TechSpark Community Engagement Fellow, who will work closely with local partners to drive initiatives focused on computer science education, digital skilling, and digital inclusion. This Fellowship represents the first-ever TechSpark collaboration in the state of Alaska and reflects Microsoft’s commitment to supporting underserved communities nationwide.

Covenant House Alaska CEO, Alison Kear said, “We are thrilled to collaborate with Microsoft TechSpark to create greater opportunities for the youth in Alaska. This partnership will enable us to leverage technology and innovation to address the unique challenges faced by homeless and at-risk youth, empowering them to build a brighter future.”

Kate Behncken, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Philanthropies, highlights the significance of expanding TechSpark to all 50 states, stating, “we hope to continue our hyperlocal, partner-driven work to help communities realize the potential of technology and foster greater economic opportunity.”

Microsoft TechSpark’s expansion focuses on four key areas: digital access, digital skills, computer science education, and digital transformation. The program has already made a substantial impact in the eight communities it operates in, and Covenant House Alaska.

Covenant House Alaska provides a wide breadth of housing, education and workforce development designed as a one-fits-one approach to serving every teen and youth adult in need of our services to help them become the best versions of themselves.  Covenant House Alaska aims to break the cycle of homelessness and empower young people to thrive.

Volunteer Spotlight: Chinmaya Kathe

Kerry Reifel Events, Volunteer Stories

By: Kris Johnson

In the early days of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the world had stopped, and while in quarantine many people began taking on hobbies and searching for ways to give back. Chinmaya Kathe is no exception. Signing on to, Chinmaya learned of Covenant House Alaska. 

Chinmaya uses his skills to elevate the experience and help operations run smoothly for Covenant House Youth

“I was looking for opportunities to use my professional skills to volunteer and make a difference,” he said, adding that Covenant House’s mission resonated with his values and beliefs.

“I believe that young people are the future of this world, and supporting them during this

critical age can help them become better citizens of their community,” said Chinmaya. 

When he first connected with Covenant House, his work at our Alaska site was new, but he was no stranger to serving young people. Originally from Mumbai, India, Chinmaya came to the United States for his graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he first got involved in youth volunteering through the Graduate Student Senate, an on-campus group that, according to the university’s website, “represents every student, giving them an official voice.” 

He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works as a data analyst, a profession that requires skills he happily lends to Covenant House Alaska. 

Quickly adapting to the pandemic’s new normal — remote work — Chinmaya contributed to the site using his expertise in data analysis and Smartsheet, an online platform for managing tasks and projects. He also helped develop a mobile tool to manage the clothing room inventory and to meet the clothing needs of the youth. And, last December, he developed and managed a holiday gift registry for the youth.

Now, more than three years after his introduction to Covenant House, Chinmaya is still highly motivated to stay involved, consistently watching his email for volunteer opportunities and other activities taking place at Covenant House.

Even with all that he has done, Chinmaya said he is still “always looking for new ways to contribute to the amazing work being done at Covenant House.” 

“In the future, I would also like to participate in activities that allow me to interact directly with the youth,” he said.

Chinmaya doesn’t have plans to slow down his work in Alaska anytime soon, because he “appreciates the personal touch” site staff bring to volunteer coordination. 

“Receiving birthday or holiday cards from them makes me feel like a valued member of the Covenant House family,” he said.

Covenant House Alaska Welcomes New Board Members

Kerry Reifel Events

Covenant House Alaska is thrilled to introduce several exceptional individuals who have joined our board of directors during this past year. With a shared commitment to addressing youth homelessness and providing support, these dynamic leaders bring a wealth of experience and a diverse range of backgrounds to further our mission, enriching our board with their unique perspectives and adding to our overall diversity.

LeeAnn Garrick, Chief Operating Officer for Cook Inlet Tribal Council Inc. (CITC), brings over 16 years of leadership experience in the Alaska Native Tribal Health System. Ms. Garrick’s extensive knowledge and expertise in supporting vulnerable populations, particularly Alaska Native youth experiencing homelessness, will be invaluable to our board. She is also a CIRI shareholder and member of the Ninilchik Natives Association and the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

Jennifer Tungul, Vice President, Alaska Operations, Matson Navigation Company of Alaska, is responsible for terminal and equipment operations across multiple Alaskan locations. Ms. Tungul grew up in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and raised her children there as well. Her experience offers a statewide perspective, and her community involvement and commitment to inclusivity make her a valuable addition to our board.

Marilyn Romano, Regional Vice-President for Alaska Airlines, plays a crucial role in shaping the company’s strategic external relations, sales and marketing, and communications in Alaska. Her leadership experience and dedication to helping young people gain skills for successful employment pathways align perfectly with our mission. Marilyn has served on or is serving on the Rasmuson Foundation board, the Governor’s Aviation Advisory Board, Northrim Bank Board, and the Alaska Airlines Foundation.

Vinit Rajani, Manager of Strategy & Portfolio Management and Commercial for ConocoPhillips Alaska, brings more than 16 years of oil and natural gas experience to the table. His expertise in strategy, portfolio management, and his philanthropic work highlight his dedication to supporting vulnerable populations. Vinit grew up in India and credits his successes to the people in his life supporting him and desires to emulate that.

Ryna Lealai, a Youth Champion Fellow, has lived experience with homelessness and has become a passionate advocate for young people facing similar challenges. Her commitment to empowering youth and creating a sense of community aligns perfectly with our organization’s mission.

Elizabeth Pavlas, the Chief Operations Officer at Global Credit Union, brings over 20 years of management experience to the board. With her strong leadership skills and strategic decision-making, she will contribute significantly to our efforts in serving Alaska’s youth.

Rev. Matt Schultz, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage, is a valuable addition to our board. With his background in theology and community engagement, Rev. Schultz brings a unique perspective and a deep commitment to service. His involvement with Christians for Equality, the Homelessness Leadership Council, and other advocacy groups further demonstrates his dedication to making a positive impact.

“The addition of these exceptional board members reflects Covenant House Alaska’s dedication to diversity and inclusivity. Their combined expertise and passion for making a positive impact will further enhance our ability to provide unconditional love, absolute respect, and relentless support to young people facing homelessness and survivors of trafficking,” says Alison Kear, Chief Executive Officer at Covenant House Alaska.

Together, we will continue to build bridges of hope for Alaska’s youth, empowering them to overcome adversity and achieve a brighter future. Covenant House Alaska remains committed to our mission of making homelessness for vulnerable young people rare, brief, and non-recurring. With the support of our expanded board, we are poised to make an even greater difference in the lives of those we serve.

Volunteer Spotlight: Johanne Harrap

Kerry Reifel Events, Volunteer Stories

By: Kris Johnson

When her three teenage daughters started to get older and find their own interests, Johanne Harrap says she began “looking for something with meaning.” That’s when she got involved with Covenant House Alaska as a volunteer.  

“My daughters are 14, 17 and 20. I have one at college and two at home. I realized I’m really almost past all the phases, and I think the teenage years are the hardest. So I think being part of an organization that serves predominately young adults, it just kind of appealed to me,” says Johanne. 

Johanne has lived in several countries and says, “Homelessness is something you can’t escape.” In her experience, it is a universal issue. 

She was born in Western Australia and attended university there for a little while before joining the Royal Australian Navy. She served for 19 years as a Maritime Warfare Officer, what would be the equivalent of a deck officer in the United States Navy. Johanne drove and navigated ships, and then specialized in submarines. She was part of the first group of women to become submariners. 

“That’s where I met my husband, who progressed to become  a submarine captain.” They moved often and work brought the family to England for two years, then back to Australia. After leaving the Navy, a new job led the family to Alaska in 2013 for three years. They then moved to  Houston, Texas, then  to Brisbane, Australia, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and, finally, back to Alaska in 2021. 

“You can’t avoid it,” said Johanne. “We’ve lived in different countries, and we’ve moved around a lot. And no matter where you go, no matter what city, state, country, everywhere has the same problem, and I suppose that the younger group of people facing homelessness just sort of tugs even more at your heart.” 

She began volunteering at Covenant House Alaska in November 2022, diving right into the holidays. She describes it as “a really good environment to work in.” 

Holly Payne, Volunteer Manager at the site, said Johanne helped the staff manage their holiday registry by uploading youth requests, sorting and organizing gifts as they were received, decorating the youth engagement center for the holidays, and now helps them maintain the clothing room. 

“She’s dedicated over 59  hours since she began and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Her organization skills have been a blessing and she is able to successfully accomplish tasks without too much direction,” said Holly. 

Johanne said the staff make it easy to want to return to help. 

“Everybody’s very friendly, helpful, and the staff that are there will go out of their way to show appreciation for volunteers coming in that day and to say ‘thanks, you’re doing a great job.’ Everybody’s very genuine and appreciative of your time. And I mean, obviously, you don’t do it to get thanks from people. But people coming in and helping out leaves the staff more time to actually focus on what they need to be focusing on, the young people.” 

Johanne has made volunteering at the site a family affair by including her daughters. 

“I think, especially in the teenage years, our kids become quite insular. And it’s all about me. So I think it’s important to get some volunteer hours in so that they can take the time out to actually go and do something that’s not about them. I think as teenagers, that’s probably the most important time to be able to do that. So when their schedules allow, I get them to come along and they always enjoy having the chance to help out.” 

Johanne has also gotten a friend to join her in volunteering, Holly said. 

“She has volunteered some time with her family and just recently brought a friend on board as well,” Holly said. “She’s done lots of work behind the scenes that allow our staff to focus on the youth. We are happy to have her on our team!”

Shining a light on one of our fabulous volunteers

Volunteer Spotlight: Nate Ward

coveyhouse Events, Mentor, Volunteer Stories

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.