Volunteer Spotlight: John Beaton

Kendalyn Mckisick Volunteer Stories 1 Comment

John Beaton is a passionate guitar player who has been volunteering at Covenant House Alaska since December of 2017. Once a week, he comes to the Youth Engagement Center to spend time with youth in the music room, teaching them to play the guitar. “I didn’t know what to expect when I started, but it’s been such a rewarding experience. There are times when I have a lot of kids come in and then some weeks, no one comes in. Some of the kids have playing skills already while others have never even picked up a guitar.” John wanted to get involved with youth initially because he was interested in becoming a teacher and thought it would be a good step in that direction. 

John first heard about Covenant House when an old boss of his mentioned it in passing  Since he had been wanting to volunteer his time, he did an online volunteer match to find different opportunities. He was matched with Covenant House, “it was as if it was fate,” John says, “part of the reason I wanted to volunteer by offering guitar lessons is because I struggled for about two years with really bad rheumatoid arthritis; I could barely move my arm. It was when I started playing again that Covenant House popped up in my email through the volunteer match website.”  

When John comes in to volunteer, he meets the youth where they are at—whether they have never picked up a guitar, or if they already know basic chords, or even if they don’t want to actually play but just want to have a conversation. He has written songs with some of the kids, which he says always inspires him to keep playing in his every-day life. If a youth has never played before, he will show them a couple of simple techniques. “The go-to song that I teach new players is “Hurt” by Johnny Cash because it’s only a few chords. I love to pull the song up on Spotify and let them listen so that they can hear themselves playing next to Cash. They really enjoy that. Depending on their ability, there are some kids who will play Metallica with me. It’s pretty neat because it takes me back to my own youth—those were songs I used to play when I was their age. Even though I’m much older than them now, we can connect through music. I’m often surprised at how many different kinds of music the kids know!”

When John reflects on his most memorable moments, he thinks back to when he started, 

“in the first couple of months, there was a kid who played the piano. They already had some music they were working on writing. I was able to help them figure out different arrangements—I would record it, take it home, and see what I could do with it. That really inspired me and kept me coming back. There was another youth who had just started to fumble around on guitar. Each week he would come in and we would play for about an hour. He got pretty good. Watching him develop his skills was pretty neat.” 

John says he feels appreciated every time he comes in, “never once have I gotten a birthday card from my employers, but CHA has sent me one every year!” Even though there are some weeks where no youth come in to play with him, John loves coming in for his visits because he has never met an unfriendly person; the staff is always great and the youth are usually really nice and appreciative. As a dad whose routine includes going to work and spending time at home, John says it’s nice to break it up and interact with people and he’s happy to be able to help other kids. “On a personal level, you know, my kids know that I go down there to volunteer and always want to come with me. I hope that, even though they are still young right now (three under 11), that it will rub off on them and they’ll still want to volunteer when they become old enough.”

John plans to continue offering guitar lessons at the Youth Engagement Center for the foreseeable future. Many youth look forward to his visits each week and they love the opportunity to play music with someone from the community. They always feel supported by John’s presence as an instructor and comforted to know that someone cares about them enough to volunteer their time and expertise. Both youth and staff at CHA appreciate John’s flexibility and commitment to his volunteerism.

John and one of his kids having a jam session during quarantine.

Stronger on the Other Side

Kendalyn Mckisick Events Leave a Comment

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Covenant House Alaska has supported over 200 youth with immediate shelter, independent living situations, meals, and connection to resources. We’ve provided mental health and physical health care, supported emotional wellbeing, and fostered education opportunities to students as they continued school outside of the classroom. While the doors of many other organizations and businesses throughout the community slowed down or closed, our work only intensified. 

We saw an increase in the number of minors at our shelter who have nowhere else to go because OCS was not doing any foster home placements for a time due to the pandemic. In working closely with OCS, we were able to ensure that kids in foster care with no placement were brought to our emergency shelter program, which is housed within the Youth Engagement Center (YEC), where they can remain safe until circumstances change. Also, under normal circumstances our YEC is only licensed to allow youth to stay with us until they turn 21, but to be discharged abruptly during a pandemic would be traumatic in ways we were not prepared to allow. We were able to work out a temporary variance in our licensing so that, on a case by case basis, we could allow 21-year-olds to stay with us at the YEC. 

We reorganized our shared spaces to create room for social distancing, have hand sanitizer stations all over the building, and set up two separate locations for youth who are display symptoms and are awaiting test results or for those who test positive, when and if that occurs. We distributed masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to our youth, who would have no other way to access them.

For the young people we had recently placed into their own apartments through our Rapid Rehousing Program, a whole different set of difficulties emerged. Youth in apartments were experiencing extreme isolation. After living in shelter settings for so long they are not used to living alone, which intensified  depression and other mental health issues. Sudden and unexpected isolation made youth want to seek out the communities they once knew, however dysfunctional they may have been. As many can attest, loneliness during this pandemic has been challenging even with strong support systems.

Due to state and city mandates, our team of Permanency Navigators (PN)–mobile case managers who help youth in whatever ways they need to stay successful–are unable to serve these youth in the same ways they could a few months ago. Our PNs could no longer drop in to spend time with youth and were not allowed to pick them up and take them grocery shopping or to appointments, vital periods of time during which the strong connections our youth need were maintained. Instead, our PNs purchased and dropped groceries, and learned how to utilize our city’s mobile food bank system, which we then taught the youth to use from home. From the beginning of the hunker down orders, our PNs helped 212 youth with 1,299 different instances of service to help keep them fed, housed, safe and stable.

This continued relentless engagement has been necessary because most of our youth do not own their own vehicles and rely on public transportation, which also ceased for a time. AnchorRides started a service that we have been able to use for some youth to get to appointments, though it must be scheduled far in advance. In situations that can’t be planned for, we have used cab vouchers to make sure our youth can get where they need to go. However, these options are not sufficient to get our youth to work. Our youth who have not lost their jobs because of business closures lost them for lack of a way to get there. As a result, and because of regulations currently in place that do not allow evictions for failure to pay rent, local landlords have been extremely reticent to go into lease agreements with our youth who need housing. Our Rapid ReHousing Case Managers and PNs worked tirelessly to cultivate and sustain positive relationships with Anchorage landlords as a way to mitigate these fears. They responded swiftly to any complaints or concerns landlords may have and collaborated on solving problems. Our teams seized this moment as an opportunity to build our reputation as an agency so that when we finally see the end of these strange times, those local partnerships will be stronger.

Staff shortages were incredibly taxing on all of our programs. Volunteers, who are a crucial supplement to our staff, are not able to be on-site and all non-essential staff are required to work from home. Our entire Housing Department began working at the Youth Engagement Center and our transitional living programs to supplement staff shortages and some administrative staff began covering shifts where necessary. When normal Street Outreach to help youth on the streets and in camps was not possible during hunker down mandates, our Outreach teams also helped to fill in staffing gaps. We reached out to other service providers and relied on our Permanency Navigators to help us connect with youth who were staying at the Sullivan or Ben Boeke Arenas to make the contacts our Outreach teams cannot. Our Outreach staff have made extra efforts, through social media, to keep in touch with youth we know are still on the streets.

Mental and physical health care is more important for the continued success of our young people now than it ever was, at a time when it is least accessible. Most clinics and counseling centers are not open. Also, access to COVID-19 testing is difficult to get and cost prohibitive to our youth. To meet these needs, we have leaned heavily on our partnership with SouthCentral Foundation who operates our clinic at the YEC. With added precautions, our youth have been able to utilize the clinic to meet basic medical needs. In partnership with ANTHC, we were able to get every one of our youth and staff tested for COVID-19 on site at the YEC at no cost to them, with 24 hour results. Of more than 200 total youth and staff, we have no positive cases at this time.

Many of our youth come to us struggling with substance abuse and mental illness as factors contributing to, and resulting from, their homelessness. When we built the Youth Engagement Center (YEC), we added offices in the building for our partner agencies who provide counseling and treatment, so that the help our youth need is all in one place. Currently, our partners are not able to come on site leaving a huge gap in services our youth depend on. Our staff set up Zoom meetings in the same offices where these partner staff usually work so that the experience of meeting with counselors is as normal for our youth as possible. Another long-time community volunteer group, the Crisis Response Canines, have been a huge part of supporting the emotional wellbeing of our youth for the past several years by providing therapy dog visits and conversation to the youth. We have not been able to welcome them in, but they have been sending videos and photos of the dogs playing and saying hello, looking forward to when they can return.

Keeping over 200 youth safe, happy, and provided for over the past few months has been far from easy; we have seen both youth and staff struggle through this time. Nevertheless, our focus has been on keeping these young people hopeful for the future, because hope is what keeps us all going. The way our staff and partners showed up—unafraid to step out of their homes, leaving their own families, making themselves available every step of the way— has given everyone at CHA hope. And while we saw some dark times, we are stronger on the other side.

Walking Through Barriers: Congratulations to our 2020 Graduates

Kendalyn Mckisick Events Leave a Comment

High school students in their senior year of high school have struggled through the adjustments made by school closures that were prompted by COVID-19. They have been removed from their classrooms and isolated from their classmates and their teachers. Extracurricular activities and milestone moments like prom or commencement ceremonies have been cancelled. The graduates from our programs have experienced these changes as well as additional barriers. With all classes moving to virtual delivery methods and libraries closing, students have had issues with internet access and the necessary online programs to complete their courses.

With support from Back on Track specialists and Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) staff, as well as partnerships between the Anchorage School District, United Way, and Covenant House Alaska, 14 students were able to overcome these barriers and earn their high school diplomas this month. 

One student in our night class program was feeling pretty defeated a couple of months ago and was sure she wasn’t going to finish this semester. Our Back on Track specialist, Dayle, sat down one night for hours to help and encourage her to finish, and she did.

The youth here agree the most challenging thing is not being able to meet the people they are working with and the classmates they are working alongside. They are missing the connection that comes with seeing other students regularly in a classroom and being able to see the teachers in person. “It’s hard to build trusting relationships when you can’t see a person, especially if you didn’t meet them prior to the Hunker Down order,” our JAG specialist says, “there’s a level of personal relationships that are especially helpful to build with the youth to be able to effectively support them through school.”

Because of the policies put in place at the Youth Engagement Center in response to COVID-19 and keeping the youth and community safe, JAG hasn’t been able to do as much programming as they would like and have only been able to check in by phone calls, but the youth have expressed they are grateful to have someone check on them and walk with them through these times.

To celebrate our graduating youth, we held a drive through graduation ceremony. These students achieved their goals and earned their diplomas; they deserved that moment. We wanted to acknowledge it in a way that would be memorable for these young people. In addition, a donor reached out in hopes to shop for a gift for each graduate. 

A couple of the graduates are going on to college in the fall, one has already moved out of state, and a few of them already have jobs. Some are still figuring out what the next step will be for them. All of the staff who have been with them along the way are so impressed with them in overcoming all of their barriers and reaching this huge accomplishment.

About JAG

Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) is a program that helps youth with their educational goals and assists with any financial barriers that might come along with them, such as college application fees or testing fees. JAG specialists talk with them about options they could pursue after finishing high school, whether it’s straight to a job or on to secondary education. They also help with job skills and life skills that will lead to more independence and successful employment. JAG is a bridge to help youth get connected to their next step. 

Some of the students in JAG live at Covenant House Alaska. Youth join JAG for many different reasons—they might go to regular high school during the day, and then come to night class to catch up on credits, or they could have a day job and come to night class to keep up with their studies, or they might function better in a smaller environment that we are able to offer in the on-site classroom. 

Covey Kitchen Staff Hold It Down During Hunker Down

Kendalyn Mckisick Events Leave a Comment

Normally, the Covenant House Alaska kitchen staff has an average of 10-20 hours a week of volunteer power to help prepare and serve 180 meals a day. The Hunker Down Order brought changes to our normal visitor and volunteer policy which means the kitchen staff is working with less support, now and for the past few months. “We’ve had to shift our staffing, which requires a bit of extra time in the kitchen,” Kitchen Manager, Chef Shawn says, “we have also had to implement some different serving protocols to decrease contamination, like instead of self-serve salad bars, we are pre-packaging all of the salads, which takes a bit more time.”

With four full time essential kitchen staff who don’t all work the same shifts, it has been a challenge without the support of volunteers who help to prep meals by cleaning and chopping vegetables, making salads, and preparing soups. While soup donations from community members have not been accepted as a health safety precaution, kitchen staff have been spending extra time to ensure that soup is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for youth in need. “Even though the workload has been heavier, it’s worth it. The main goal is to keep the kids safe and fed.”

Kitchen staff have been getting creative to keep the mood light and continue nourishing the young people who live at the Youth Engagement Center, in addition to the young people who are part of the Rapid Rehousing Program, as well as staff. As part of the school lunch program, there is a set menu for breakfast and lunch, but for dinner, the staff can be more flexible. Chef Shawn says, “I just started asking staff what they’d be interested in eating at dinner time. I also ask for suggestions from the kids. I think it makes the place feel more like a home.” Two requests have been really popular with the youth: tacos in a bag, which is made by taking a bag of Doritos, slightly crushing the chips, and then loading the bag with toppings, like taco meat, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa, and sour cream. The other one is egg roll in a bowl, which is what it sounds like: a deconstructed eggroll—sautéed cabbage, carrots, beef, and egg with spices—served in a bowl.  The kids love these meals because they get to personalize them and they are easy to eat. 

“Certain ingredients have been put on hold to order from our supplier because of coronavirus precautions. Rice and various sauces have been really difficult to find,” Shawn says. Kitchen staff have had to reach for different recipes because of the lack of certain ingredients, but everyone agrees that the food continues to be delicious! Whatever the kitchen ends up making, they aim for “warm, comforting and filling.” Shawn says that the amount of meals each day has increased a bit during Hunker Down but they’ve been able to manage, “BIG shout out to the whole CHA team for pulling together to move things forward and help each other out during a crisis. And I appreciate my kitchen staff very much for being dependable and focused.”

If you are interested in helping out our incredible kitchen staff, consider ordering soup from Altura Bistro—if you tell them you’d like to purchase 5 containers of soup for Covenant House Alaska, they will throw in a 6th container for free as a donation! You can also choose to order soup from any other local restaurant and arrange a delivery to our Youth Engagement Center by contacting us at development@covenanthouseak.org. If you’d like to order something other than soup, keep in mind that we serve an average of 60 meals at breakfast, at lunch, and at dinner.

Cornerstone Sponsor Spotlight: GCI

Kendalyn Mckisick Events Leave a Comment

GCI is an Alaska born and raised telecommunications company, providing data, mobile, video, voice and managed services to consumer and business customers throughout Alaska for 40 years. GCI employs close to 2,000 Alaskans. Because GCI is Alaska born and raised, giving back to the community is an important part of our company values. Over the past five years, GCI has donated more than $10 million in cash, products, scholarships, and grants to Alaska organizations. GCI also provides employees with 16 hours of paid leave each year to volunteer with local organizations. GCI has a rich history of giving throughout Alaska and has a strong partnership with Covenant House Alaska.

Two current Covenant House Alaska board members are GCI employees. Maureen Moore has been a generous Board Member for almost 15 years. She has served meals at the holidays with her family, and is the go-to board member whenever a donation is needed for the youth at Covenant House. She has personally delivered anything needed from bacon to ear buds for the kids at Covenant House. Kate Slyker has been a long-time supporter of Covenant House even before she became a board member—she started volunteering at Covenant House when she was only 16 years old, starting out in a teen volunteer group effort. Now, she engages her family during the Christmas season to buy gifts for the youth, wrap dozens of gifts and help CHA prepare for the holidays in any way they need. She, her parents, brothers, sisters and kids have all come to serve dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas for a number of years. She was also Board Chair during the $24 million Capital Campaign to build and open the new facility at 755 A Steet, our current Youth Engagement Center. We have also had a past Board Member from GCI who is now retired, Tony Lewkowski.

Maureen Moore, Kate Slyker and Paul Landes, GCI President, have all participated in Sleep Out: Executive Edition to raise money for Covey youth for many years. Paul Landes was the Chair for Sleep Out: Executive Edition in 2018 and 2019, rallying Sleep Out Champions to raise $1 million each year. Several GCI employees have volunteered for Covenant House Alaska’s youth in various ways. Michael Schmidt, Amanda Prasil and Katie Carrigan have all participated in Young Professionals Sleepout. GCI has been a steady and constant sponsor of our events including Candlelight Vigil, Sleepout, Passage House Luncheon, and Don Fridley Memorial Golf Tournament. Each Christmas for the past several years, they have participated in our Adopt-a-Day program and come in to the Youth Engagement Center to provide meals for the youth and play BINGO for great tech prizes.

In times of need, GCI is always happy and eager to provide whatever may help us. During the hunker down order, they donated telecom services and PSA and social media support. Their employees have coordinated clothing donation drives, they’ve donated door prizes for special events, and so much more. “Youth are extremely important to the future of Alaska, and Covenant House provides a safe haven and opportunity for the vulnerable youth in our community who deserve love and a chance at success,” Kate Slyker explains why GCI is such a strong supporter of Covenant House Alaska. GCI always reaches out to us to see if we need anything, to check on us just like a good neighbor would. And for that, we are forever grateful.

If your organization would like to know more about how to become a cornerstone sponsor of Covenant House Alaska, please contact Director of Development, Joe Hemphill, at jhemphill@covenanthouseak.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Pat & Tico

Kendalyn Mckisick Volunteer Stories Leave a Comment

Pat moved to Anchorage from Kodiak, where she and her dog had been visiting a nursing home regularly to provide company to residents. She was looking for a similar volunteer opportunity in Anchorage, so she called Covenant House Alaska because she had been a supporter for a long time and wanted to see if it was a possibility. Although Pat is a retired teacher, she wasn’t interested in tutoring. She just wanted a chance to “hang out” with her dogs and the kids. She and her dog started visiting the Youth Engagement Center in 2016. They visit once a week for 1-2 hours. Both youth and staff look forward to Pat’s visits every week, so they’ve really been missing Pat and Tico the past couple of months while we haven’t been able to have visitors due to COVID-19.

Over the past four years, Pat has developed great relationships with youth and staff. She has become close with some of the staff who have been there since she started. Pat laughs, “the staff seem to enjoy the dog visits more than the youth do.” The youth most appreciate Pat’s visits because she’s conversational and provides an opportunity for them to have an open free space just to chat. They like talking about things like books, music, movies, and things going on at Covenant House. When we asked Pat about her volunteer experience, she said, “The dog is always a focus. I like to dress the dog up to amuse the youth—it’s always a conversation starter. Tico is always the reason for any interaction I have there. There is one young lady that loves the dog and wants to take him around as soon as I get in. What I really enjoy is that I get to follow the youth on their journey and hear about their successes. Very rarely do any youth delve into any issues they are having unless it’s about getting a job or school or something like that. They often reflect on the pets they’ve known throughout their lives. The funniest thing is that no one knows my name, they only know Tico’s name. Even my coffee card that I use at Covey Café is under Tico’s name.”

The floor staff all say that Pat & Tico brighten everyone’s day when they visit and they really enjoy being around Pat’s easy going nature and free spirit. Pat has been retired for 5 or 6 years and loves to travel. She has been studying Spanish for a long time and tries to get youth to speak Spanish with her, which is always fun for her and the youth. She is a great influence to have around and she always models good behavior. She never gives advice, but she just listens and reflects back what she hears. They treat Pat with respect and find her to be a nurturing and safe person they can look forward to seeing once a week. Pat has become an extremely passionate volunteer and supporter of everyone at Covey, “What I really love about CHA is that their first thing is providing immediate refuge—come in, take a shower, rest if you need to, and eat. The organization is phenomenal. The respect that staff give youth is remarkable. I have never seen anything like it. I worked with adolescents as a teacher and it’s a trying age group, and I have the utmost respect for the CHA staff who work directly with the youth every day.”

Passage House Program

Giving Young Mothers A Chance

Kendalyn Mckisick Events Leave a Comment

Opened on October 15th, 1993, the need for Passage House program was revealed over time after several young ladies, babies in tow, arrived at Covenant House Alaska seeking shelter for themselves and their children. Because Covenant House was not a viable option for these young mothers, and there was no other shelter in Anchorage for young women and their children, there was a great need for this community service. Back then, unless they were in state custody, a mother and child had no other safe shelter options, and oftentimes, being in state custody resulted in the separation of the mother from their child. “These mothers were decent parents, they just needed shelter,” Gena Graves, current Passage House Coordinator, says.

Gena has been there from the very beginning every step of the way. She was hired three weeks prior to opening day to design the program. Gena became the program administrator, the case worker for each young woman who came into the program, and also coordinated all of the activities. As the program has grown and gained more financial support,they now have 3 full time staff and a live-in staff. They house five young women and their children (up to two children each). Their ideal client is at least 18 and a mom who is having her first child because this is the point they feel they can have a positive impact on the trajectory of their lives.

When Passage House first opened, 60 women from the community gathered and combined forces to help make Passage House a real home for the young ladies who would be living there. Using Rights of Passage (Covenant House Alaska’s other transitional living program) as a guideline, they tackled hands-on tasks, like fully stocking the kitchen with cookware, food, and pantry items. They fully furnished the home from top to bottom with basic furniture needs and decor. “The first ever Passage House Luncheon was held shortly after we opened. It provided the funding when we were just getting started,” Gena shares, “believe it or not, the luncheon actually evolved into the Fire & Ice Ball. What you know now as “mystery boxes” at Fire & Ice used to be “mystery baskets”. We didn’t have the luncheon for five years, but people really missed it so we brought it back and scheduled it to coincide with Mother’s Day.”

The program has evolved greatly since opening in 1993, and has seen several successes over the years. The evolution of the program has followed alongside the issues that young women are dealing with. “There are more substance abuse issues and mental health issues now than there were before, so the services provided have changed to meet the needs,” says Gena, “but the focus is always to get them from a state of dependence to independence. 70% and upwards go on to live alone without assistance in 2 years. They go on to be great mothers and do great things.” From day one, the program has been full and most times there is a wait list. As housing opportunities throughout the community increase, the more families Passage House is able to serve. Because there are more viable options available now, these young women move out of Passage House more quickly, which means more spots become open for those on the wait list.

The philosophy of Passage House is to let them do it for themselves. Gena says this is why the program has been as successful as it has been, “We meet them where they are at and move with them through their journey. We build upon their successes and strengths and try to help them access resources to fill in the gaps. We teach them how to do things for themselves. Once they learn how to make appointments for themselves and advocate for themselves, they are prepared to be independent and face the world with their children when they leave and going into the future. We teach them how to interview for a daycare center and help them with references. Because we don’t hand everything to them, the only thing they are changing is their address by the time they leave.” In many ways, the staff at Passage House become family for these women. They still have regular contact and connection with 25% of Passage House alumni, which amounts to about 70 families—some have moved away, some have remained in Anchorage, and some have even become CHA employees.

At Passage House, young mothers are surrounded by support and resources that will guide them to independent living situations for themselves and their children. Passage House is the stepping stone that these women need to become happy, healthy people and mothers. Not only are they given a place to sleep, they are provided the tools and skills all young adults need, like budgeting, legal rights, and nutritious food preparation. Passage House is a stable home. It’s a place where connections are made between young mothers and community members who can offer guidance and help cast the kind of safety nets that we all need in order to thrive. It’s a place to make and share a meal, rest well, forge lasting friendships, build confidence and, most of all, focus on being a loving mother.

You can support the young women and children at Passage House now by registering for the virtual Mother’s Day Tea event happening this Sunday May 10th, by clicking here. As part of the event, there is also an online silent auction that you will gain access to. The bidding opens today on some special and unique items. All of the money raised goes towards the Passage House program.

Mary Jane Fate, Mother to Many, 1933-2020

Aurora Ford Impact Updates 1 Comment

Our state recently said goodbye to a beloved pioneer and luminary, Mary Jane Fate. She was an Athabascan elder, Alaskan trailblazer, and mother to our own Covenant House Alaska board member, Julie Fate Sullivan. She passed away peacefully with her husband of 65 years, Bud, by her side on April 10th. She was 86.

Mary Jane was born in Rampart, a small village on the Yukon River, about 100 miles northwest of Fairbanks, in 1933. According to her cousin, Georgiana Lincoln, “she babysat, I think, about half of the village of Rampart”, which may have been an early indication of the mother figure she would become to countless kids and young people throughout her life.

Born on Sept. 4, 1933, Mary Jane grew up living a subsistence life on the Yukon River where comforts were rare and survival was paramount. During the winter trapping season, in order to follow the animals, they sheltered in tents. During the summer, they fished and preserved as much as possible. Her childhood came with adversity that taught her the importance of being surrounded by a strong community, and throughout her life, she maintained a deep connection to the land, her Athabascan culture, and Alaska Native people – a love she showed through action.

Mary Jane graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding High School in 1952 and went on to attend college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, one of the first Alaska Native women to do so. She married Hugh “Bud” Fate, a Korean War veteran who later became a dentist, in 1954 after he proposed to her on a moose hunt. Theirs became a love that stood the test of time, and a partnership rooted in their shared drive to take care of people and to make the world better.

Julie remembers, “Whenever there was a young person who needed help or a safe place to stay, mom and dad opened our home, wrapped them in love, and helped raised them up.” More than just shelter and love, Mary Jane knew it was important to believe in young people, and in moments when they might feel lost, to give them a place to start. “She’d bring them in, set them on their feet and say, ‘Ok, this is what you’re going to do.’”

Even while raising a family and other kids who needed a home, Mary Jane’s life was an extensive timeline of impressive achievements, though none was simply for the sake of accolades. Rather, Mary Jane saw ways in which her community, especially young people, were struggling and she spent her life laying the groundwork for change.

She was one of the few women who successfully lobbied Congress for the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, she was the first president of her ANCSA village corporation and served every role on that board over 40 years, she helped found the Tundra Times newspaper and, with Bud, the Fairbanks Native Association. She was the first woman co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives; the first Alaska Native women to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council; the first Native person appointed by the President to U.S. Arctic Research Commission, and; she co-founded the Breast Cancer Detection Center for which she received a Presidential award for bringing mammograms to rural Alaska.

“She was an activist during those days, though she would never have referred to herself that way. During the 70s and the Civil Rights Movement, she was right there, giving a voice to other people.” In just one example of this steady determination to create change, Mary Jane co-founded and served as the third President of the North American Indian Women’s Association (NAIWA), which was made up of women representing 43 different tribes from 23 states. Beginning in 1977, she spent more than a year heading a federal program to produce the Special Needs of Handicapped Indian Children and Indian Women’s Problems report that was presented to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The report was a 294-page document compiling interviews and data acquired by 28 members of NAIWA who agreed to be trained as researchers for purposes of the project. They and Mary Jane spent months traveling the country to meet and interview Indian people and develop an understanding of the scope of issues impacting women and children with disabilities. Based on what they found, the report made recommendations to the federal government on programs and policies to help. That’s the kind of dedication she had to making change possible. “She shined a spotlight on domestic violence, conditions on reservations and in villages, abuse and neglect, before people were talking about those things,” Julie says. “She spoke to the issues happening to women, and really, all the same things kids at Covey are survivors of.”

“I still am contacted by people who she encouraged and helped to believe in themselves,” Julie continues. “She was so passionate about youth, and about education. She mentored countless young people before ‘mentorship’ was really a thing.”

Mary Jane was known far and wide for her laughter, intelligence, and her loving spirit, which shined through her until her very last moment. She is survived by her husband and three daughters, and countless others who became her family because she was there for them when it most mattered.

Here at Covey we believe, as Mary Jane did, that to help young people accomplish everything they dream of doing, we must first be that consistent, caring presence that says, “I believe in you, even when you’re not perfect, even if you need time, we will get there together.” Mary Jane was carrying out our mission before it was ever even put on paper. Her years of work and advocacy on behalf of young people has made everything we do possible, and she gave the world to Julie, who has been a quiet but powerful force for Covey for many years. We are so glad she was here on this earth for so many young people to learn from and lean on and we will do our best to be carriers of her legacy of service for as long as there are young people who need love.

Our Board Member, Julie Sullivan, with her mom, Mary Jane Fate in 2010 at the Raven’s Ball, after Mary Jane was given the ANTHC Presidents Award for her work to bring mammograms to rural Alaska.

Passage House Mothers Hunker Down

Kendalyn Mckisick Events Leave a Comment

Becoming a mother is a life-changing event. It changes your perceptions of the world, your responsibilities, your financial needs, your priorities, and even the way you love others. Some are more prepared for the changes that pregnancy and motherhood bring while others are less prepared. Imagine becoming a mother as a young teen who is also experiencing homelessness. Over the past several weeks, our Passage House mothers have also had to go through the stress of COVID-19 and have faced the challenges of loss of employment and the closure of childcare facilities. Like everyone else during this time, our young mothers are navigating the changes that have taken place in day-to-day life.

During Hunker Down, two babies have been born to Passage House mothers—one born at the beginning and one born this past Monday. It has been an especially hard time for them because they were not able to have the usual experience that new mothers expect at the birth of their first child. Usually after a birth, family and friends visit together after the delivery in the hospital room, but because they’re only able to have 1 person in at a time, this happy moment looked a lot different. “It’s not the normal celebration people are used to. Passage House was able to send them flowers but even that was difficult because the hospitals are trying to get people in and out more quickly, so coordinating that delivery was not simple,” Passage House Coordinator, Gena Graves says, “and usually after returning home from a birth, Passage House facilitates the bonding time between the father and the baby. Usually, the father would be able to visit Passage House, but because of health safety, we aren’t allowing visitors.”

During the first couple of weeks of the Hunker Down order, one mother had a toddler living with her at Passage House. Staff quickly realized that communicating to a child not to touch others is really difficult. Because exposure is limited as much as possible, that mother and her child have been temporarily placed in a separate living situation. Besides a huge increase in cleaning and the new babies, the biggest change has been the inability to connect to other family members. Staff go home to their families after their shift, but these youth can’t, which makes them feel frustrated and more isolated. Because the girls are encouraged to work to create support systems outside of the home, many of them are experiencing feelings of loneliness and disconnection. One young girl in particular had close bonds with family from her home village and she has not been able to connect with them.

Another great loss is the Women’s Leadership Conference that usually takes place at this time each year. This is the first time in 22 years that it hasn’t happened. The professional style conference has been a great way for past, current, and potential residents to reconnect with their roots. It is an experience designed to help moms feel empowered and rejuvenated while connecting them to others in the community who can provide tools for success. Gena Graves says, “Overall, it has been extremely challenging to connect with our alumni, even virtually, because not everyone has the same internet access or technology access. We’ve been able to do some food box deliveries to our families, but we haven’t really been able to interact.”

Though the young mothers at Passage House find refuge in the housing and program, they are having a hard time emotionally. These young ladies are some of the strongest individuals and mothers you will ever meet, doing everything they can for the health and safety of their families. But, they still need the support and guidance from our staff to reach stability and independence. You can help them and their families by purchasing one of the special packages being sold to raise funds for the Passage House Program. These are available to purchase until the end of day today at 11:59 pm. You also have the opportunity to make a $10 donation to register for our Virtual Mother’s Day Tea event until Saturday, May 9, the day before event. Purchase gift packages and event registration by clicking HERE.

April Cornerstone Donor Spotlight: Wells Fargo

Kendalyn Mckisick Events Leave a Comment

Founded in 1852, Wells Fargo’s vision is to meet the financial needs of customers and help them succeed financially. With $1.9 trillion in assets, they now have 7,400 locations, over 13,000 ATMs, digital platforms, call centers, and offices in 32 countries and territories. Wells Fargo came to Alaska in 1883 and employs 540 Alaskans while also supporting several non-profit efforts throughout the state.

The Wells Fargo Foundation has a powerful philanthropic focus, targeting three critical issues facing individuals, families, and communities in America: housing affordability, financial health, and small business growth. In 2019, Wells Fargo donated $455 million to over 11,000 national and local non-profits focused on creating system change and economic development for underserved communities, “we use our philanthropic resources and business expertise to address complex societal issues to pave a path to stability and financial success for the underserved,” states Judith Crotty, Community Development Manager and Vice President of Wells Fargo.

One of the complex societal issues Wells Fargo helps to navigate is the issue of youth homelessness in Alaska. Due to a combination of factors, children in Alaska are 56% more likely to be abused and neglected than the national average, resulting in trauma and oftentimes serious life threatening situations. The prevalence of youth homelessness and the ability to access proper mental health resources is a unique, local issue. To bring awareness to this issue and to support the work we do to help at-risk youth in our community, Judith Crotty has been an active Covenant House Alaska Board Chair and Board Member; she has also participated in the Executive Edition Sleep Out for the past 6 years—every time, she has surpassed her fundraising goal, “I have been committed to Covenant House Alaska for so many years because I truly believe in the effectiveness of their programs and the strength of their leadership. They are welcoming and respectful of all youth. They provide shelter from the storm that these youth are facing.”

In addition to having Judith as an active Board Member, we have several other volunteers who come to us from Wells Fargo to fulfill various needs. Currently we have Rights of Passage Mentor, Mary Michaelsen, who has been an amazing influence on the youth who are working towards independent living situations and yoga teacher, Shep Delolli, who has been offering yoga to youth and staff since 2018. Over the years, several volunteers have come in to do a variety of things, like serving meals to youth, engaging youth in activities, preparing soup for donation, providing financial education, and making blankets for youth to receive on Christmas morning. In addition to working for Wells Fargo, all of these volunteers have in common the belief that, “Covenant House’s youth teach us compassion and courage.”

The Wells Fargo philosophy of “responsible and responsive” is something we have seen exemplified in how they show up to aid our community in times of need. The positive impact is felt by many. They have been making an annual contribution to Covenant House Alaska since we opened our doors 31 years ago. From financial support to the investment of time and other resources, they continue to be a solid supporter of Anchorage’s youth who find themselves experiencing homelessness. Without hesitation, they join us in our mission to provide shelter from the storm.

If your organization would like to know more about how to become a cornerstone sponsor of Covenant House Alaska, please contact Director of Development, Joe Hemphill, at jhemphill@covenanthouseak.org.