It’s National Volunteer week! Our volunteers are amazing. And this last year hasn’t been easy.
Covenant House Alaska relies on volunteers to engage with our youth in ways no other team members can. The dedication of time and talent expresses such a profound and genuine caring for our youth. There are many ways Volunteers are involved! They are behind the scenes for our major events. Often scheduling activities or supporting us remotely in a wide variety of ways.
Volunteering in COVID Era
This past year has brought many challenges for all of us. In order to keep our youth safe, we reduced the number of people on our foot print by restricting our space to only essential staff and the youth that we serve. Unfortunately, this meant less in person volunteer-led experiences for our youth. We could no longer have lessons in our music room, yoga and mindfulness in our gym, and limited connections in our job lab.
Evolving Volunteer Opportunities
We best serve our youth by evolving and adapting! A pandemic wasn’t going to change that fact. So, we found creative ways for volunteers to reach out and contribute both virtually and remotely! Our volunteers’ willingness to learn new software, change the way they serve, and roll with the punches has been inspiring. Yes, our trusted base of volunteer heroes weren’t in our space, but we felt their generosity and care every day!
“A heartfelt thank you to our volunteers from everyone at Covenant House Alaska for hanging with us.”
Holly Payne, Covenant House Alaska Volunteer Coordinator
Doors Open to On-site Volunteers
After a year of virtual volunteering, it’s with great excitement that we are now opening of our doors to volunteers to come on site once a week. We are asking every person in our space to follow the same COVID safety precautions as our staff. This includes weekly testing, self-screening, and masking. We are thrilled to get applicants welcomed into our space and settled into a routine.
Virtual and In-Person Opportunities Available!
Due to the nature of our service, volunteers who regularly interact with our youth or come onsite must be 21+, pass a series of background checks, and take additional trainings with us. Our mentors for transitional living programs must be 28+. However! Taking what we learned from the last year, we are now able to offer a hybrid of virtual and in person volunteer opportunities. All ages can now get involved and end youth homelessness in Alaska.
We’d love for you to join our team. Volunteer today!
It’s National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In an effort to spread more awareness, we want to talk about the often forgotten male survivors of trafficking and debunk a few misconceptions of trafficking.
Just like young females, we know that young males are exploited at high rates; however, they are recovered at a fraction of the rates of females. Criminal cases against their traffickers are prosecuted at even lower rates than females.
Why does this happen? The core of the issue is the way people subconsciously perceive a young female versus a male in a trafficking situation.
First of all, young males are more likely to be seen as more in control of their trafficking situation. For example, they are often found posting their own photos online whereas a young female is usually advertised by a pimp. Young males are also more likely to be seen as “complicit” in their trafficking. People will assume that they are “enjoying” the sexual component of their situation simply because they’re male.
Overall, males are less likely to be viewed as victims. They’re more likely to be seen as sexually deviant for the same trafficking situation in which a female is deemed a victim.
Misconceptions aside – what does a common trafficking situation look like for a young man?
Many males recovered from trafficking situations were left vulnerable after being rejected by their guardian because of their sexual orientation. The heartbreaking truth is that when these LGBTQ boys are forced out of their childhood homes and understandably walk straight into the welcoming arms of someone who “accepts” them for their sexual identity, this person holds a lot of power over the young male. In a common trafficking situation, this person inevitably confronts the young adult with a money issue and propositions him for help.
People don’t tend to think of traffickers as women; however, often times, the young male is coerced by a woman who leverages a maternal bond. In some ways, this sort of bond can be harder to break than the romantic relationship bond that traffickers tend to leverage with young females.
We at Covenant House Alaska firmly believe that our tactics to end human trafficking must include tools and language that are oriented to empowering both our young women and men out of their trafficking situations.
Young males are harder to place into after care services because of these harmful stigmas. We must be more open to talking about the truths of males and trafficking so that they can be equally set up for success.
Every Tuesday, we like to share transformation stories of the youth here at Covenant House Alaska! This way, our partners and supporters can see how we make a difference together. No matter how big or small the accomplishment, we celebrate every step forward. Today’s transformation comes out of our Rapid Rehousing Program:
During this trying time of COVID-19, Covenant House Alaska has strived to remain a safe place for youth and young adults transitioning to new seasons of their lives. The pandemic has not been easy for any of us, especially for those who are endeavoring to break the cycles of their vulnerability. However, amidst the turbulence, there are individuals with stories of hope. Connor is one of these people.
Arriving to shelter during our campus-wide lockdown, Connor was a little skeptical of what Covenant House Alaska did at first. He would often question one of our Permanency Navigators about his job duties trying to figure out their relevance and applicability both in general and to himself. Over the course of his stay at the Youth Engagement Center, Connor made the most of his time participating in physical training, Spanish courses, book studies, running workouts, martial arts sessions, and outdoor hiking events. He often commented on how he wanted to break the cycle of laziness and begin to gather direction in his life.
It was not long before Connor was referred to the Rapid Rehousing Program (RRH) and found an apartment with his RRH Case Manager, Dyane Figueroa. At first, solo apartment life was a bit of a challenge for Connor. While he still arrived for physical training sessions and joined group runs, he felt he had so much free time he did not know what to do with it all. As his RRH Case Manager continued to encourage him to look for employment while taking more ownership of his financial obligations, Connor successfully found a stable employer and realized the need to assume responsibility for helping cover the cost of his living situation. After trying a couple different jobs, Connor settled into one that works for him which he now runs or walks 6 miles a day round trip to reach. During this time, he also completed his GED and is actively pursuing joining the armed services to gain medical training as well as travel experience. Needless to say, Connor has certainly succeeded in his goal of breaking the lazy habits he complained about.
With his time in RRH coming to a close over the coming months, Connor has demonstrated what it means to be a dedicated and persistent individual. While every step was not perfect, Connor learned from his mistakes and challenged himself to do better the next time around. Dyane’s relentless engagement with Connor and thorough explanation of the RRH parameters helped highlight how RRH can be a great tool to help young adults on their paths to independence. Way to go Connor!
Interested in learning more about how you can help youth experiencing homelessness in Alaska? Click here!
Margaret is a long-standing supporter of Covenant House Alaska. The story behind her involvement in our mission to end youth homelessness and trafficking isn’t typical. To start, Margaret’s story is wrought with hardship and tragedy. But ultimately, is a story of love and hope.
First, we asked why she wanted to support Covenant House Alaska, Margaret replied:
“If there had been a Covenant House when I grew up, maybe my life would have turned out differently.”
Margaret’s story begins in a small town in Illinois at a time when information wasn’t readily available to those experiencing abuse. Especially crimes committed within the family. Even today, family abuse is underreported. Unfortunately, Margaret experienced these realities first-hand as she suffered in abusive relationships for many years.
She decided to escape and made her way to Alaska in 1983 in search of family support. She received a few mailers from Covenant House Alaska and immediately became interested in our cause.
Healing Through Helping Others
“I just wanted to be loved… and the best way to help yourself is to help others. It’s part of the healing process. I lost all of my kids. But I do have ways I can give to other children that I couldn’t give to my own. And nothing compares to their joy.”
And that’s exactly what Margaret did. Next, she helped herself, through helping others, all while creating opportunities for herself through education. In 2000, Margaret received her high school diploma with a 3.5 GPA, and would go on to earn two more certificates in medical billing and veterinarian services.
Like many of the youth we serve, Margaret’s abusive relationships don’t define her. She has a compassion for people and animals that goes unmatched and has earned her a spot in the hearts of our youth. Margaret is an incredibly talented seamstress, and she shares her gift freely. Just recently, she started making and donating intricate laundry bags to be used at Christmas and other special occasions!
“There are so many opportunities to help. These kids aren’t looking for perfection; they are looking for someone who cares. Covenant House is vital to the young people in Alaska. When I was going through abuse, I needed a place like Covenant House Alaska. And these kids need all the help they can get. They need a safe place.”
Not only does Margaret spend her free time serving others, but she has been providing vital services to the community on the frontlines of the pandemic as a grocery.
Thank you, Margaret, for your loyalty and support. You are truly a treasure in our community.
We sat down with Executive Director – Alison Kear for her thoughts on the pandemic’s impact on the residents and staff of Covenant House Alaska.
Q: Alison, it’s been awhile since we have been able to sit down and get a full run down of what’s happening at Covenant House Alaska. So… how have things been the last 6 months?
A: It’s a simple question with a complex answer. But when all is said and done, I’d say that we at Covenant House Alaska have learned more good during the COVID-19 pandemic than we have experienced bad. We have learned the importance of efficiency in our work, targeting processes and we welcomed opportunities to do our jobs better.
Q: How did you keep your residents and staff safe in those early days of the pandemic?
A: COVID-19 brought tremendous uncertainty in those early months when we didn’t know what was around the corner. I know for me personally, I felt the weight of responsibility in keeping 100 kids and 150 employees safe while dedicating efforts to keeping our doors open to the youth who need us. As a result, we were one of the first emergency shelters in Anchorage to require mandatory testing of our youth and staff. We serve a population that statistically, is the demographic for asymptomatic patients. We needed to know our numbers and we needed to know where our challenges were.
To make this happen, our community partnerships were key. We owe a huge thank you to Alaska SouthCentral Foundation, Alaska Native Medical Center, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Anchorage Municipality Health Department for facilitating our regular testing. We have been fortunate to have minimal COVID-19 cases at Covenant House Alaska, and I believe it’s because we tested early and we continue to test often.
Q: What is the biggest opportunity to come from this pandemic?
A: I think the biggest opportunity we have as a society is to realize that every person, no matter their economic status, can add value to a community. People experiencing homelessness are all too often under resourced and under prioritized. Then, unexpectedly, a pandemic hits and we rely on every citizen to do their part. COVID-19 has affected everyone – it isn’t a socioeconomic issue. And at the same time, it was some of the least of us that provided for the most of us. I watched as our marginalized youth continued to show up to their jobs at grocery stores and gas stations day after day, putting themselves at risk in order to serve the community. So yes, expanding our ability as a society to look at a person experiencing homelessness or lower economic status and to see their value could be the best thing that can come from 2020.
Q: If you could tell the community one thing, what would it be?
A: I would just want everyone to know that heroes work at Covenant House Alaska. Honestly, I am humbled when I think about our workforce coming to work every day, without fail, even when the world around us is unstable and uncertain. Putting their personal fears aside, they held our young people in such high regard and provided comfort and stability. Amazing young people continue to walk through our doors, and the heroes that work at Covenant House Alaska know that youth experiencing homelessness are worthy of love and are our future leaders.
Q: Funding is down at Covenant House Alaska. How have you relied on CARES Act money to continue services?
A: As an organization, we have led youth services with our innovative model of care. Because 70% of our funding is privately donated, we act with agility and can quickly navigate changing circumstances. I think because we have been able to provide our young people with the care they deserve, it gives a public perception that we have all that we need – and this just isn’t the case. We are ending 2020 using $500,000 of reserve money in order to continue services. But we also understand that our community of private donors are struggling – and the CARES Act has made the difference. We aren’t using CARES money to fill our reserve, we are using it to cover salaries in order to keep our doors open 24/7 to struggling youth. I have no doubt that those that have been privately investing in Covenant House Alaska will come back when the dollars are available. Alaskans are tough, and Covenant House Alaska has survived through economic oil crashes and much more over the last few decades. Our donors believe in our mission, and we will do what we can to hold them up until they have the resources to come back. But until then, the CARES Act is giving us the ability to stay afloat until we can operate under our previous model of private investors.
Q: In light of 2020, what does the future care of Alaska’s most vulnerable population look like? A: Individualized micro units in addition to the shelter beds that we offer. There are a ton of things that are on this A Street footprint that a young person can benefit from. In partnership with Cook Inlet Housing, we have plans to bring individualized micro units to our space allowing youth to have access to apartment-style living. For years we have been adapting and putting a strategic plan in place for this style of care, and COVID-19 has only illuminated the need. It isn’t good enough to have hindsight on 2020 – you have to have foresight that is 20/20. And what that means for this organization and myself is not giving up on what we know is needed for the safety of the staff and the safety of our kids. I never thought 65% of my week would be navigating a pandemic, but I would never take back what I’ve learned from COVID-19.
Q: Thank you so much for your time. Do you have anything you would like to add? A: I just want to say thank you. Thank you to our partners and supporters who immediately offered services of mentorship, guidance, and support. This year is unlike anything any of us have experienced, and at Covenant House Alaska we couldn’t have done it alone. From no-questions-asked grants to donated PPE for our staff and youth, our partners leaned in and propped us up. Myself, my team, and the more than 200 youth we protected and have served during the pandemic are so thankful.
Meet Carlette Mack. Although, if you’ve interacted with Covenant House Alaska in the last 25 years you likely already know and love her. After receiving both her Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s in Counseling Psychology from Alaska Pacific University, Carlette started at Covenant House Alaska as an intern. At the time, her mother Mildred (whom Carlette affectionately calls MammaMack) was a case manager here at Covey. Carlette says, “I have always thought it was a beautiful blessing to follow in my mother’s footsteps through my career at Covenant House.” Over the years she has carried on her mother’s fierce legacy of excellence. Since starting in 1995, Carlette has worked her way to the top of our organization, having done just about every job here.
Carlette has served as our Chief Operating Officer for 8 years, and now leaves behind her own legacy as she transitions into a position with Covenant House International as Senior Vice President of Operations. Carlette’s colleagues describe her as professional, fair, and understanding. One co-worker had this to say about Carlette as a respected colleague and confidante: “She is constantly busy and getting pulled in 19 different directions, but when you need her, you have her complete focus. She puts everything else aside.”
It is bittersweet for all of us to see Carlette move on from Covenant House Alaska, but we could not be more proud of her. She will always remain a part of our CHA family. For that reason, we have dedicated a new annual award to be recognized in her honor – the Quiet Thunder Award. Carlette has always been known as a bit of a “quiet storm” because she is tough and relentless, but she also carries herself with poise and quietude.
Carlette’s own mantra is, “I maintain the power to define who I am” and this year’s Quiet Thunder Award recipient Titiana Jordan (Tati) exemplifies this same sense of personal power. Those who work closely with Tati agree that she is a self-assured and empowered individual. In the middle of chaos Tati remains calm and collected, and tackles any crises with confidence and ease. We are so amazed by both of these incredible women.
Carlette, we look forward to watching you continue to grow at International and congratulations, Tati!
ConocoPhillips’ heritage dates back to 1966 in Alaska with the discovery of the largest oil field in North America – and today with 1,100 employees is Alaska’s largest oil and gas producer.
Helping improve the quality of life of the Alaska community is a fundamental value of ConocoPhillips and its employees. That belief is shown through actions at the top. President Joe Marushack was concerned about homelessness in Anchorage and took a seat on the Mayor’s Homelessness Leadership Council in 2018. He was also the Chairperson for the United Way campaign in Anchorage in 2019 helping raise funds city-wide for many worthy causes that help people regain their footing on life. ConocoPhillips Alaska and its employees have given more than $1 million a year to United Way in Alaska for 17 consecutive years. Additionally, the ConocoPhillips Alaska food drive is the largest in the state and has provided 4 million meals over the last eight years.
As a cornerstone donor, ConocoPhillips Alaska has been a long-standing supporter of Covenant House Alaska. In 2019, they donated $53,300 and in 2020, $80,000 was funded.
Every year at Covenant House Alaska we host an event to spread awareness around youth homelessness by asking community members to give up their beds for one night, raise funds, and sleep outside. Last year, several ConocoPhillips employees participated in the Covenant House Sleep Out and spent an Alaska winter night outside. While they had warm sleeping bags and a tent, they gained a firsthand experience of the harsh weather conditions that young people face living on the streets. With a matching grant, ConocoPhillips Alaska helped raise $90,000 in the most recent Sleep Out.
“The Sleep Out moved me most when local youth shared their personal stories of triumph,” said Megan McKay, Public Affairs Specialist. “Hearing their first-hand experiences with homelessness and what drove them to be in those situations moved me beyond words. The clients of the Covenant House are brave, resilient, and it was an honor to sleep out on their behalf.”
ConocoPhillips continues to show their support for us and our residents because they believe what we believe: Everyone deserves a chance to succeed. And that young people, down on their luck, are worth investing in.
ConocoPhillips Alaska has a simple message of success for our residents:
Make a plan toward who you want to be. Learn what skills you need to learn and find people who are doing that job and ask for help. Realize more opportunities open up as you try new positive things. Sharpen your mind by reading and always be curious and work hard. Your future is valuable and worth spending time on. Above all, believe in yourself, or lean on people who do, until you believe that you matter.
If your organization would like to know more about how to become a cornerstone sponsor of Covenant House Alaska, please contact Chief Development Officer, Joe Hemphill, at email@example.com
Every Tuesday, we like to share transformation stories of the youth here at Covenant House! This way, our partners and supporters can see how we make a difference together. No matter how big or small the accomplishment, we celebrate every step forward. Today’s transformations come out of our Rapid Rehousing Program:
Amidst COVID-19, experiencing homelessness has certainly been a roller coaster for many at Covenant House Alaska – sorrow and joy, confusion and clarity, pity to perseverance. From shelter lock downs to shelter transplants, changing policies to reduced work opportunities, the pandemic has obscured the path forward for many of Alaska’s most vulnerable youth. What’s incredible is that through all of the uncertainty, we continue to see transformations and progress. All of this is because of the resilient nature of our youth, and our compassionate staff who continue to show up for them every day.
Covenant House’s Rapid Rehousing Program (RRH) is aimed at helping young adults gain momentum as they transition into independence and out of homelessness. To maintain this momentum, employment is a necessary element in their journey; considering the events of early 2020, this has been very challenging.
However, despite the limited job market, two youth in the Rapid Rehousing Program gained employment; one working at a local pizza shop and the other at a downtown gift store. By doing so, they have taken the necessary steps toward keeping their apartments when their time in the Rapid Rehousing Program comes to an end.
Another one of our youth, Jared, entered our Rapid Rehousing Program in May and immediately attacked his goals and ambitions. In order to stay ahead, Jared used his stimulus check to pay in advance for three months of rent. He has been diligent at work and has been dedicated to making all of his appointments (a hard task for any adult!). He even recently purchased his first vehicle. Jared’s hard work and commitment to his independence despite experiencing homelessness is truly inspirational.
While the pandemic has changed how we provide services and made things more challenging for youth experiencing homelessness, these transformations illustrate how we can continue to move forward even when it seems like the world is at a standstill.
Thank you to our partners and friends in the community who have continued to show your support to our cause. We couldn’t make an impact without you, your contributions, and your time.
Interested in learning how you can help? Click here!
At Cook Inlet Housing, we truly believe that everyone has value and everyone matters—you matter. Never give up on your dreams, we believe in you!
Established in 1974, Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) builds, owns and operates affordable housing in the Cook Inlet region of Alaska, helping to stabilize families, individuals and seniors by giving them a strong foundation for self-sufficiency and success. Their important work also supports healthy, safe and strong neighborhoods and community; to build opportunities that allow the community to thrive, they create dynamic partnerships with many other local organizations.
CIHA believes in supporting community partners who are addressing critical issues around housing insecurity, self-sufficiency skill building and ending homelessness, through partnership, capacity lending and financial support. Currently, their organization employs 180 Alaskans, some of whom support Covenant House Alaska in different ways.
Carol Gore, president and CEO of CIHA, is the current Vice-Chair of the Covenant House Alaska board. Carol has participated in the Covenant House Alaska Sleep Out: Executive Edition, raising money for youth in need and sleeping outside in solidarity with those experiencing homelessness. Sezy Gerow-Hanson, the Director of Public and Resident Relations at CIHA, has been serving on the Fire & Ice Ball Planning Committee for the past several years, bringing great ideas, positivity and enthusiasm to every meeting! Shawn Holdridge, Building Systems & Energy Sustainability Manager at CIHA, supports Covenant House by providing Project Management consultation. In addition to the service of these individuals, as an organization CIHA provides an annual subgrant to support the mission of Covenant House Alaska.
“As an Alaska Native organization, Cook Inlet Housing looks to our elders for guidance and wisdom and we look to our youth for the future. Covenant House Alaska plays an important role in supporting youth who are struggling and experiencing homelessness. The guidance and care provided by Covenant House is a positive, life changing experience for the youth who find themselves in need of help and sometimes in dire situations. We are grateful for a community partner like Covenant House,” says Carol Gore, “we support Covenant House so that Covenant House can support youth with meaningful programs to help them succeed.”
If your organization would like to know more about how to become a cornerstone sponsor of Covenant House Alaska, please contact Chief Development Officer, Joe Hemphill, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine being a young person who, after coming out to your parents as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) or even after trying to discuss your sexuality, is told to pack your bags and get out. Imagine being a target for violence in your family home, and having no choice but to leave to protect yourself. The people who are supposed to love you the most are giving you no choice but to leave the place you know best and you don’t have much money at all. Where would you go? Who would you call?
A child should never have to experience homelessness and a parent’s love for their children should always be unconditional. Unfortunately, many kids do become homeless after being disowned by their parents when they don’t live up to expectations—this can be anything from making poor grades or questioning certain beliefs to not looking the “right” way or identifying as LGBTQ. In certain situations, the parents are not able to stop siblings from enacting violence in the household due to same reasons. As a result of family rejection, discrimination, criminalization and many other factors, LGBTQ youth represent as much as 40% of the homeless youth population. LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to be homeless than their non-LGBTQ peers, which is an alarming disparity.
Each day, the average teen is constantly learning more about themselves and making decisions that will shape who they will be tomorrow. They are still developing social-emotional intelligence and learning to fit in at school; it is not an easy time for all young people—many youth face bullying at school, but LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied. It is this discrimination that leads to other issues, like a higher likeliness of alcohol and drug abuse. Only 37% of LGBTQ youth report being happy compared to 67% of non-LGBTQ youth. 80% of LGBTQ youth believe they will eventually be happy, but almost 50% believe they would have to leave their hometowns in order to be happy.
With each incident of physical or verbal harassment, the risk of self-harm increases 2 ½ times. Many LGBTQ youth also end up missing more school than non-LGBTQ youth because they don’t feel safe there. This leaves these youth feeling hopeless and wondering why their school officials are not doing more to help them feel safe and protected. Not only is this a sensitive time developmentally for people at this young age, the added pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement, have exacerbated the issues that are already prominent in the lives of LGBTQ youth, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) LGBTQ youth.
Homelessness is another issue that adds stress and stigma to young people’s lives. Anchorage’s LGBTQ youth, including those who live at Covenant House and otherwise, are yearning for connection with other young people in safe spaces where healthy activities are facilitated, like craft nights, book clubs, important discussions, and writing workshops. They want spaces where they are seen and heard to talk about the police brutality, racial violence, and discrimination people are experiencing locally and throughout the country. They want to take action in their community. It is now more important than ever to protect these young people and show them support, to provide these spaces, to listen to what they have to say, and to make sure they have visibility and amplification.
To make positive choices and develop a sense of confidence and self-love, these youth need acceptance from adults and supportive mentors who believe in them and their futures, whether it be their parents, grandparents, teachers, or a CHA employee. They need someone who will listen to their concerns as soon as they are ready to talk about them. They need affirmation. Did you know that calling youth by their correct pronouns can lower their risk of suicide by up to 80%?
Check out the resources below to get help, get educated, or to get involved in this important work.
If you are a youth who needs to talk to someone, here are some resources for you.
Covenant House Alaska, a non-profit providing immediate needs to youth as well as many other resources to independent living. Need Help Now? Call the Outreach Team: 907-887-4611
The Trevor Project, a support network for LGBTQ youth providing the nation’s largest crisis intervention and suicide prevention services: Call 1-866-488-7386 to talk with someone now. www.thetrevorproject.org
The Pride Institute: facility that offers a residential treatment program, including psychiatric care for depression, anxiety and other needs. www.pride-institute.com