Volunteer Spotlight: Tanna’s Career Journey

coveyhouse Volunteer Stories

Feb. 24, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

Covenant House Alaska is an organization designed to uplift everyone under its roof. This is why many members of our team, like Tanna Lee, have risen from volunteering to working at Covey through our career opportunities. 

After volunteering to give back to a nonprofit that once came to her aid, Tanna decided to transition into full-time employment at Covenant House Alaska as an overnight staff member at Rights of Passage. Her work throughout her time at Covey has impacted our youth and staff alike, and we couldn’t be happier that she has decided to come aboard. 

Tanna said that after her volunteer experience awoke a passion within her, she had to make it a bigger part of her life. 

“I remember telling myself ‘Hey, you’ve been here for two hours going on three hours, it’s time to go home, this is just volunteer work, not your job,’” said Tanna. “So, I found myself wanting it to be my job!”

Our pursuit of ending the experience of youth homelessness in Alaska is emboldened by Tanna’s relentless engagement with our mission, and that of all of our volunteers as well. 

Coming back to Covenant House Alaska

Covenant House Alaska held a special place in Tanna’s heart, as she accessed its services for a time during her teen years. 

“When I had no friends, when I had no guidance, when I felt lost, I felt like Covenant House was part of my adolescent years that helped me out,” said Tanna. 

Now as an adult, Tanna said that she was looking for a way to give back to an organization and a community that helped set her up for a successful future. So, she decided to volunteer with our Maintenance Team and bring her cleaning experience and knowledge imparted by her “neat-freak” dad to Covenant House Alaska.

No job was too tough for Tanna. With the team, she took on cluttered gym closets, hallways of faded paint, mud tracked into entryway floors — and even dirty toilets. 

“I know it’s considered a dirty job to a lot of people, like ‘Ew, a toilet, ugh!’” said Tanna. “But I didn’t want the youth or the workers to have to come to a facility with dust and grime. I just wanted everyone to experience a clean facility.” 

Tanna took pride in doing work that anyone in our space could appreciate with a simple glance. 

“I wanted there to be a before and after,” said Tanna. “I wanted someone to walk into the Navigation Center or the gym and go ‘Oh wow, this looks really good.’ I just wanted that wow factor, kinda like magic.” 

Volunteer to career

As Tanna kept coming in to volunteer, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted to make Covenant House Alaska a bigger part of her life.

“I just found myself wanting to be a part of it,” said Tanna. “The more I volunteered, the more I kept telling myself, ‘Man, I wish I could do more!’” 

So, Tanna decided to pursue a career at Covenant House Alaska. She applied for an opening with our Relief Staff, a choice she said required courage. 

“I wanted to take that leap of faith,” said Tanna. “I wanted to let go of every doubt I had.”

Tanna of course got the position and quickly proved herself to be an essential part of the team through her trademark industriousness. Very quickly, she moved from a part-time relief staffer up to her current position as overnight staff at our Rights of Passage facility. 

Loving, learning and working at Covenant House Alaska

Now as an employee, Tanna says that she finds her job to be a fulfilling way to serve her community, make genuine connections with young and ambitious Alaskans, and grow as a person herself. 

Tanna said that she often draws from her own history with Covenant House Alaska to help guide her in her work, which she says encourages pointed self-reflection. 

“I’ve learned to embrace my experience and embrace the experience of learning things as I go,” said Tanna.

According to Tanna, one of the most rewarding facets of her position is being able to interact with and learn from the young people Covenant House Alaska serves.

“They’re smarter than I was at their age,” said Tanna, “and I thought I was all that and a bag of chips!”

Without Tanna and our large cohort of volunteers-turned-staff-members, Covenant House Alaska would not have anywhere near the capacity to serve Anchorage in the way we do. We are far beyond thankful for Tanna and the contributions of all of our volunteers and staff to our shared mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness. 

Join our team!

Covenant House Alaska is always on the lookout for compassionate, driven individuals to join up with us, either as a volunteer or member of our staff.

For those on the fence about getting involved, Tanna said that they ought to trust whatever notion is pushing them towards serving our community’s youth. 

“If you’re already thinking about it, that means your heart’s in the right place,” said Tanna. “If your head is not, just go for it!”

Covenant House Alaska is recruiting candidates for both direct care and administrative positions. To browse our job openings, click here.

If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here

CEO Alison Kear’s 25 Years at Covenant House Alaska

coveyhouse Covenant House History

Feb. 5, 2022

Our fearless leader has been at Covenant House Alaska for 25 years! To celebrate, we sat down with Alison to talk about her incredible career, and what the future holds for CHA. We invite you to keep reading for a deeper dive into her accomplishments and stories on how the community has rallied around CHA over the years. Congratulations, Alison!

Q: Alison, first we’d like to say, cheers to 25 years! Has the time gone fast?

A: Well, you know what they say, “the days are long but the years are short.” That accurately depicts my time here for a myriad of reasons. There have been days where the excitement of construction and progress have made time fly! And other days, unthinkable tragedies, one after another – yeah, those days are long. But then I turned around and it’s been 25 years! I could have never imagined that my life would be filled with so much purpose. I wouldn’t change it for anything. 

Q: How did you become interested in Covenant House Alaska?

A: I was up here on a three-year contract with a hospital. It wasn’t my intention to stay in Alaska or to even work at a nonprofit. But during this time I was doing some serious soul searching, and my good friend Deirdre (Phayer) Cronin convinced me to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska. The rest is history. 

Q: What have been the biggest changes that you have seen?

A: Hands down, the biggest change I have seen is the transformation from an organization that primarily offers emergency shelter services to an organization that takes a holistic approach that sets our youth up for long-term success. We went from being a shelter to weather a storm, to an organization that partners with other organizations in order to provide comprehensive mental health services, education and career support to transitional living accommodations — soon to include long-term living arrangements with Bridge to Success!  

Q: How have you seen the community change?

A: I have definitely seen a shift in the community as far as how we view our young people. I’m proud to say that the stigma of a “runaway” youth has shifted towards understanding that the young people seeking our help are escaping truly horrific circumstances at no fault of their own. We are viewing our young people as resilient, smart, and capable youth who just need a little help. 

When I first started, 90% of our funding came from out of state – mostly from our parent organization Covenant House International and other states looking to help. It brings me to tears to say that today, 90% of our funding comes from the beautiful people of Alaska. The community has stepped up and taken control of the situation at hand. Together, we are actively working to end the experience of youth homelessness in Alaska. 

Q: Are the youth that we serve different than they were 25 years ago?

A: Our youth have always been capable. They have always been worth it. They have been and always will be our future leaders. That consistency has kept me going for 25 years. I will say that the age we are serving has changed. Back then we were seeing a lot of really young kids walk through our doors. Today, the majority of our youth span 18-24 years old.

And what we know now through science and research, is that the brain is still developing through the early 20s. Young adults still need our safety net of support. I honestly hate that our young people have to be so resilient – that they have to run through thorns. That being said, I’ve never met so many resilient people in my life. It’s our honor to be in this space. 

Q: How has your understanding of youth homelessness changed over time?

A: My biggest growth is simply that we aren’t the experts on what young people need, they are the experts. If we just listen, the young people in our lives will tell us everything we need to know! We just need to be willing to hear them and understand that it may look different from our own experiences. As soon as we made this change, that’s when we as a team really started moving the needle and seeing young people flourish. 

Q: Do you have a transformation story that sticks out over the years?

A: Brian. Hands down, a young person named Brian. He was here when I first started, and his experiences have spanned my whole career. He had severe challenges but continued to hit milestones despite them. Not that it was all roses, because success isn’t linear. I was there when he graduated high school, I was the emergency contact when he was in the hospital, and I was there when he opened his college acceptance letter (still hanging in my office!). Everyone needs a safe place to be themselves, in their highs and their lows. And Brian taught me that even in those lows, it’s our job to love unconditionally. He’s a grown man now, and we haven’t had contact in a few years, but I hope he is well. 

Alison Kear 25 Years

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?  

A: The realization that we can’t do this alone and the implementation of the youth engagement model. This included finding community partners that aligned with our mission and infusing them  into our space in order to provide well-rounded services. It takes a village to raise a child, and what an incredible support system we have within our community partners. 

Q: What does the next 25 years look like?

Wow, I would just say that if God gives me 25 more years then it will be in the service of young people. For you board members reading, you will have to retire me. I want to look at systems, I want to bulldoze a path for young people toward success. A path that is so strong, that it escapes no one. 

That being said, I have always said that I want us to become an education and employment center that offers housing, and we have made movements in that direction. I am more than hopeful for the future of Alaska’s young people. Stay tuned! 

Q: You certainly haven’t done this alone. Anyone you would like to thank?

There is so much to say. But to everyone – from our longtime investors, donors and volunteers to the incredible team here at CHA – thank you. You have my heart and my most sincere gratitude. And I would be remiss if I didn’t take the chance to publicly thank Cathy Rasmuson, Rasmuson Foundation, and Carol Gore, Cook Inlet Housing Authority. These two powerhouse women have had a large impact on my career and have been there every step of the way. 

Q: It was announced that Covenant House International President Kevin Ryan is set to retire in 2023. How has he impacted your career?

A: Kevin Ryan has been my boss for 13 years now. Prior, it was Sister Mary Rose. What a privilege to span those two careers. Sister Mary Rose stepped in when we needed her and preserved the structure of the organization with dignity; then, Kevin Ryan took over and brought soul to our mission.

He pulled the young people out of the shadows and lifted them into the light, allowing us to celebrate them for who they are, just as they are. He walks a path of acceptance, vulnerability and respect. I have taken many cues from his revolutionary leadership, and the young people of Alaska are better for it. He will absolutely be missed, but I am confident that we will continue to take steps toward a better future with our next era of leadership. 

Thank you, Alison!

Help us celebrate and thank Alison! $25 for 25 years. Write it in the notes on coveycares.org !

CEO Alison Kear breaks the ground at the construction site of our new Bridge to Success program.

Volunteer Spotlight Passage House Mentor

Volunteer Spotlight: Mentor Melissa Lampert

coveyhouse Mentor, Volunteer Stories

Jan. 25, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

In honor of National Mentoring Month, we want to spotlight the volunteer work of Melissa Lampert, a mentor at Passage House. 

Melissa’s mentor work at Covenant House Alaska stands as a testament to the impact a caring adult can have on a young Alaskan. Over her four-year tenure as a mentor, she has given five young women a guiding hand to hold as they began the journey of motherhood. 

Looking back on her service, Melissa believes the relationships she’s had with these women have made a difference in both of their lives. 

“I feel truly that there are times where I get to help them,” said Melissa, “and they’re helping me too in ways that they probably don’t even realize.”

We are beyond thankful for Melissa and the work of all of our mentors. They model the tenacious compassion and unconditional love that are the bedrock of our values at Covenant House Alaska. 

Becoming a mentor

As an Alaskan native, Melissa had long been aware of Covenant House Alaska but decided to get involved after a chance encounter at her old job. 

While working one day at communications firm Northwest Strategies, a co-worker asked Melissa to proofread a brochure they were writing. Fatefully, this brochure was advertising Covenant House Alaska’s mentorship program, and her co-worker must have done a great job — Melissa was sold!

“This brochure was working before they even started handing it out!” she said. 

Melissa then applied and was accepted to mentor new or expecting mothers residing at our Passage House facility downtown. In the years since she has become a mainstay to the program and a trusted role model to many of its participants.

Fun and fulfilling service

Under the purview of our mentorship program, Melissa has forged a strong bond with each of her mentees through activities big and small. 

Sometimes, her outings with her mentee consist of great Alaskan adventures, like taking a trip to the Wildlife Conservation Center, scarf painting, attending a self-defense class, visiting the Anchorage Zoo and riding on a trolley tour of Anchorage. 

Other times, they may be quiet yet intimate projects at Passage House, such as Christmas cookie decorating, throwing a baby shower or cooking a warming meal. 

Melissa said that these experiences have brought her closer to the women at Passage House. 

“It’s fun to do the activities, but also to see the activities through the girls’ eyes,” said Melissa. “It’s just different, their perspective and their insight.”

Life-long and life-changing relationships

The relationships Melissa has built through mentoring have stood the test of time and given her valuable perspective on her local community. 

Melissa said that spending time with these young mothers has shown her their undeniable resiliency and love for their children. 

“They just really fight for their kids,” said Melissa. “They’re just like any other mom, they really care about their kiddos and want to give them the best experience that they can have.”

And even though Melissa has mentored five women since entering the program, she is still in close contact with her first mentee, who graduated from our Passage House program and is now Melissa’s neighbor. Just a few weekends ago, this young woman invited Melissa and her husband to attend her child’s third birthday party. 

“It’s so cool just to watch her little one grow up,” said Melissa. 

Become a mentor today!

Our mission at Covenant House Alaska depends on mentors like Melissa, and we could not be more appreciative of their service. And we are searching for more!

According to Melissa, if you have the time to dedicate to the program, mentoring is a fulfilling and effective way to give back to the community. 

“We could all benefit from a good mentor, right?” said Melissa. “At any stage of your life or career, we could all use a good mentor.”

If you would like to apply to be a mentor at Covenant House Alaska or get more information on our program, visit the Mentor page on our website by clicking here.

If you would like to find other ways to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here.

How you can improve Alaska’s beleaguered human trafficking laws

cha-dev Awareness

Jan. 21, 2022

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

Working to end human trafficking in Alaska is central to our mission at Covenant House Alaska. Yet, this will likely remain an uphill battle for as long as our laws remain in their current state.

Alaska’s human trafficking laws fail to address the breadth of trafficking crimes committed against children while lacking the nuance to ensure justice and support for survivors. With laws that experts consider to be the worst of any US state, our representatives must make sweeping changes if we are to rid our state of human trafficking.

While our state government is beginning to take meaningful steps to correct these grave errors, Alaskans need to remain engaged with human trafficking issues long after Human Trafficking Awareness Month is over to demand its diligence and follow-through.

Right now, the facts are grim. Yet, the truth about human trafficking in Alaska is that it is a solvable problem if we commit to ending this blight as a community. 

Defining terms: “Commercial sexual exploitation of children”

Many of Alaska’s deficiencies in its human trafficking laws arise from the specifics of its language. Thus, an awareness of human trafficking requires understanding a few technical terms that often guide the implementation and determine the effectiveness of these laws. 

The first term that we need to define is the “commercial sexual exploitation of children,” or CSEC. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention defines CSEC as a “range of crimes and activities involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a child for the financial benefit of any person or in exchange for anything of value … given or received by any person.” 

Activists and experts advocate for the use of this term instead of phrases like “child prostitution” or “child sex trafficking” because it does a better job of including the full range of sexual crimes committed against children, while other such terms often refer to individual crimes. 

For example, CSEC’s definition specifies that any sexual abuse of a child “in exchange for anything of value” qualifies as CSEC. Thus, this term covers the common yet overlooked practice of criminals offering children things other than money, like a place to stay or drugs, in exchange for sexual acts. 

While this term is favored for its catch-all nature, specific crimes that constitute CSEC include child sex trafficking, the production or distribution of child pornography, sex tourism, early marriage and many others. 

Defining terms: “Human trafficking”

Similarly, understanding what the term “human trafficking” does and does not mean is crucial to understanding these laws. 

Defined by the Department of Justice, “human trafficking” refers to any “crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex.” This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “trafficking in persons (TIP).”

While “human trafficking” is often mistakenly used as a synonym for sex trafficking, this definition and revisions to US federal anti-trafficking laws clarify there are two main dimensions of human trafficking: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. 

Labor trafficking refers to the use of coercion to get someone to perform labor or a service. One common example is someone threatening another person with violence to pressure them into running drugs. 

Similarly, sex trafficking refers to a person coercing someone else into committing a commercial sex act. However, under federal law, in any circumstance in which the person committing the sex act is under 18, it constitutes human trafficking regardless of if the perpetrator coerces or forces the minor into the act. Alaskan law extends this threshold to anyone under 20.

So, all of the crimes under the umbrella of CSEC are also under the larger umbrella of human trafficking. At the same time, human trafficking does not refer solely to CSEC or sex trafficking, as it also includes labor trafficking. 

One common misconception about human trafficking is that it requires someone to transport another person across a state or international border. This is not the case. Under the law, human trafficking can take place entirely within the confines of the same state or even the same city block. 

Addressing the breadth and depth of human trafficking

What these terms illustrate, and why it is important to understand their nuances, is how wide the scope of human trafficking is and how many individual crimes fall under it. 

If we are to rid Alaska of human trafficking, our laws need to be carefully written to accommodate the breadth and depth of this issue. This demands a linguistic balancing act of using language that is at times inclusive enough to catch all instances of human trafficking and precise enough to administer justice to its specific infractions at others. 

This is a difficult task for lawmakers. Legislating in this way requires subject-matter expertise that many legislators, who are responsible for passing laws on a wide variety of topics, may not have while affording little room for error. 

By this token, a state’s failure to pass airtight anti-trafficking laws does not mean its politicians are indifferent or even weak on this issue. However, it does mean that there are identifiable and consequential holes in its ability to prosecute traffickers and protect survivors. 

Alaska’s current, and failing, human trafficking laws

By any and all measures, Alaska’s anti-trafficking laws fail to protect its youth from sexual exploitation. 

The expert nonprofit Shared Hope International placed Alaska last on its 2021 ranking of every state’s child sex trafficking laws. Our state failed to meet each of Shared Hope’s six criteria for effective legislation, which measured everything from the clarity of a state’s laws to its ability to guarantee justice and care for victims. 

Some of these failings stem from a lack of specific language differentiating CSEC from other crimes. This often results in disastrous unintended consequences.

In one egregious example, the way Alaska’s “Prostitution” statutes are written makes them apply equally to minors and adults. As a result, victims of child sex trafficking may end up facing criminal charges, thousands of dollars in fines, or even jail time if they are alleged to have violated these laws. 

By a similar token, Alaska’s courtroom protections for minors are written in a way that fails to extend them to victims of CSEC. While Alaska offers children under 16 the option to testify via closed-circuit television in cases of “Offenses Against the Person,” CSEC cases are classified as “Offenses Against Public Health and Decency.” Thus, minors may have no choice but to endure the trauma of facing their trafficker in court. 

Other shortcomings are due to the language of Alaska’s laws failing to capture the broad range of crimes that can constitute CSEC and human trafficking. This creates loopholes that may prevent prosecutors from holding traffickers to account or victims from accessing life-saving resources. 

For example, Alaska’s human trafficking laws lack a penalty scheme for business entities that profit from trafficking. Alaska does have a catch-all law that charges any individual who assists a trafficker in their crimes with a felony, but the absence of such a law specific to business entities may limit the state’s ability to hold them accountable and hinder trafficking investigations. 

Furthermore, the law only binds Alaska to connect victims to child welfare services when their trafficker is a “person responsible for the child’s welfare.” This means that in cases where a survivor’s trafficker is not their parent or guardian, the state may not be required to provide them with such help.

Finally, Alaskan law does not mandate training on the identification and intervention in child sex trafficking for its Office of Children’s Services employees, state employees in general, law enforcement officers, judges or teachers. 

While this does not mean that these individuals do not undergo any such training, and in fact federal law mandates it for OCS employees, codifying this requirement in state law ensures such a commitment and establishes an important measure of accountability. 

Hope for improvement

While Alaska’s anti-human trafficking laws are pockmarked with undeniable holes, politicians are beginning to take notice and take the first steps towards action.

Last month, Governor Mike Dunleavy announced his “People First Initiative,” a series of legislation and executive actions aimed to improve public safety in Alaska. One of the issue areas that this project promises to address is the shortcomings of Alaska’s labor and sex trafficking laws. 

As part of this initiative, Governor Dunleavy created the Governor’s Council on Human and Sex Trafficking via administrative order on Dec. 14. The order created a 15-member advisory board tasked with delivering a report to the governor recommending improvements to Alaska’s anti-trafficking laws and victim services by Sept. 30. 

Additionally, the governor plans to shore up these laws by passing a broad crime bill that both patches up Alaska’s trafficking laws and makes other changes to the penal code, according to a press release

At press time, a draft of this bill is not available to the public. However, the governor’s office will likely wait until the council finishes its report before writing the bill so that it may incorporate their recommendations. 

With this blitz of serious action, there just might be cause for hope that Alaska is on a path towards justice and recovery for its human trafficking survivors. 

Awareness prompts action

If this piece has demonstrated nothing else, it is that human trafficking legislation exists in a world of nuance and tact. As a result, we want to be very careful and very clear with what we want to call upon our readers to do. 

All we want to ask is that you remain aware of the state of human trafficking in Alaska and continue to educate yourself and others about this heinous crime. 

While we applaud Governor Dunleavy’s creation of the advisory council, it would be irresponsible to encourage support of this crime bill before we know its specifics. However, remaining passionate and informed on this issue is the best way to keep pressure on our representatives and ensure their steadfastness in the fight against human trafficking. If you would like to read more about Covenant House Alaska’s anti-trafficking work, click here. If you are interested in volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, click here.

Volunteer Spotlight: A Special Volunteer from Santa’s Workshop

coveyhouse Volunteer Stories

12/24/21

By Mariam Mayanja — Covenant House Alaska Volunteer Writer

When you hear the words “Christmas Committee,” your imagination easily takes you to Santa’s workshop. A place run of jolly elves with joyous names like Kandi. However, Kandi doesn’t run Santa’s workshop but leads the Covenant House Alaska Christmas Committee.

Kandi Hernandez is originally from Texas and moved to Alaska four years ago following her husband’s military placement with their four children. As a mother and interior designer, it can be hard to balance all the obligations that come with work, family and volunteering. Hernandez feels committing to serve, especially around this time of the year, is important.

“No matter where you go, you [should] get involved in your community,” said Hernandez on why she volunteers.

Getting involved at CHA

Prior to the pandemic, Hernandez got involved with her community through volunteering with her church or children’s school. However, 2020 changed how folks look at engagement. In late fall 2020, she started seeking opportunities to volunteer.

Hernandez found volunteer opportunities with Covenant House Alaska last year in an internet search. “It was just totally a fluke, honestly,” said Hernandez. “I was reading about Covenant House, and I love that Covenant House reaches out to meeting like the basic needs of the youth. I just connected with those simple kindnesses.”

Shortly after learning the mission, she started volunteering to wrap presents for Christmas 2020 with her teenage son. This experience was remarkably positive for her and her family, so much so that she kept an eye on future volunteer opportunities for Christmas 2021.

Santa’s #1 helper

When an opportunity arose to lead the Christmas Committee, she jumped for it.

Volunteering with the committee has helped Hernandez use her gifts for organizing and planning in new ways.

“I know some people get like really bogged down by things like spreadsheets or being organized, [but] that almost always rejuvenates me,” said Hernandez. “I think that [volunteering] grows me in that way. God gives us these gifts, and it doesn’t have to just be in this one lane that we can use them.”

As one of the people entering the youth residents’ wish lists into the Covenant House Alaska gift registry, she often sees requests for things for their homes. With her background as an interior designer, Hernandez understands that people want their space to “feel special to us and to reflect who we are,” and enjoys being part of giving that gift.

Kandi and the Christmas Committee led the charge on wrapping gifts for our youth.

One day, when Hernandez looks back at Christmas 2021, she will remember wrapping 300 socks with her husband and four children while her littlest put bows and ribbons on each package in the Covenant House Alaska multi-purpose room. She’ll look back and remember seeing the presents that were requested getting wrapped.

“I know teenagers, and I know that they’re going to be excited when they get this,” said Hernandez. “I could just imagine a kid opening [it] up and smiling because it was something that they wanted.”

Thank you, volunteers!

We offer our holly-jolliest of thanks to Kandi Hernandez and all of our volunteers who have contributed their time and talents to Covenant House Alaska this yuletide season. Because of you and your elf-like work ethic, it feels like the North Pole has been moved just a little farther south this year.

If you are interested in joining Covenant House Alaska’s Christmas Committee next year or finding another way to volunteer, visit the volunteer page of our website for more information.

Kandi and her family pose for a photo amidst gift wrapping.
GCI sent a strong team to our 2021 Candlelight Vigil and Sleepout event!

Cornerstone Donor Spotlight: GCI

coveyhouse Volunteer Stories

12/17/21

By Sam Buisman — Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

Every day, Covenant House Alaska is humbled to partner with GCI, who has furthered our mission and bolstered our Alaskan community through its devoted service and charitable giving. 

For well over a decade, GCI has given Covenant House Alaska bountiful gifts of money and time that have proven instrumental to our mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness. The capacity and quality of the services we provide for our young people are reflections of GCI’s generosity in this partnership. 

As GCI Chief Marketing Officer Kate Slyker puts it, our work together brings our community one step closer to guaranteeing every young Alaskan the future they deserve. 

“Every homeless youth has the right to a home and food, guidance and education, and the right to be loved,” said Slyker. “Covenant House offers crucial support in their journey to become healthy, self-sufficient members of our community.” 

Reliable service across Alaska

For GCI, service has been an indelible tenant of its mission across its 42-year history.

The company has invested more than $3 billion into building Alaska’s telecommunications network, connecting people and businesses in well over 200 communities spanning the entirety of our state. Despite the massive range of their coverage, GCI has not sacrificed quality for quantity, as they recently launched the US’s northernmost true standards-based 5G NR service in Anchorage. 

Yet, what service means at GCI extends beyond their formal operations and into a philosophy of giving back to Alaskan communities. In the past five years alone, GCI has given over $10 million in the form of cash, grants, scholarships and products to organizations across Alaska. 

Furthermore, GCI provides each of its employees with 16 hours of paid leave for volunteering. As a result, thousands of GCI employees have been able to give their time and talents to food banks, shelter facilities, youth sports teams and other causes in the communities where they live and work.

GCI and Covenant House Alaska

We are incredibly thankful for GCI’s choice to support Covenant House Alaska with its abundant giving and conviction in our shared mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness. 

“GCI is proud to support all of the life-changing work being done each and every day at Covenant House Alaska,” said GCI Chief Customer Experience Officer Maureen Moore.

As one of our Cornerstone Partners, GCI’s financial support of Covenant House Alaska fuels the fundamentals of our care. From the hot meals we feed our young people to the beds that they sleep in, there is no aspect of our care that GCI’s generosity doesn’t touch. 

Additionally, GCI routinely and enthusiastically participates in our annual fundraising events. We can always count on a strong GCI showing for our Sleep Out. This year’s event certainly wasn’t easy! At negative 15 temperatures and clear skies, GCI team members Roberto Mendez and Blake Pierce spent the night outside, in solidarity with youth experiencing homelessness. Collectively, GCI raised a whopping $14,750. GCI is also a regular attendee at our Fire and Ice Ball and a contributor to the event’s silent auction.

“We are thankful for the support of local businesses, like GCI, in our efforts to shine a light on this crisis and raise funds so we can provide Alaskans with a safe, warm place to sleep,” said Covenant House Alaska CEO Alison Kear. 

Between all of these activities, GCI’s support of Covenant House Alaska is essential to the work we do to empower Alaska’s most vulnerable young people.

“Calling” bingo: GCI’s Adopt-a-Day

At Covenant House Alaska, we provide the necessary services for our young people. In turn, we rely heavily on our community partners and volunteers to facilitate the extracurricular activities that make life more interesting! In December, GCI sponsored an entire day of operations at Covenant House Alaska through our Adopt-a-Day program. But, as always, GCI went above and beyond the call of duty and organized an afternoon of fun activities for our youth!

GCI sponsored a thrilling game of bingo on their Adopt-a-Day!
Thanks to GCI, our youth and staff were treated to Serrano’s for lunch!

First, GCI got Anchorage’s own Serrano’s Mexican Grill to cater lunch. The savory and spicy scents of chicken tacos and pico de gallo wafted through our Youth Engagement Center, proving irresistible to the nostrils. 

Then for some mid-meal entertainment, GCI sponsored a classic game of bingo for our youth! For prizes, GCI provided an array of tech gadgets that are certainly in high demand, such as wireless speakers and earbuds. Our young people held onto every letter and number the caller announced, blotting their sheets with glee!

Thanks to GCI, a snowy Wednesday turned into a winter carnival of games, prizes and food that our youth will never forget. 

Ringing in the holiday season

On top of everything else GCI gives to Covenant House Alaska, they donate to us a warehouse’s worth of tech products to be given as Christmas presents!

Every December, these gifts from GCI make our young people feel loved and treasured during what can be a difficult time for those experiencing homelessness. The joy on the face of a young person unwrapping one of these presents is only rivaled by that in the hearts of our staff.

We won’t give away what is waiting in our youths’ stockings from GCI this year, just in case any of them might be reading, but we are beyond thankful for their gift, and we know our young people will love it!

Thank you, GCI!

What GCI demonstrates is a true devotion to uplifting all Alaskans. We could not be more honored to work alongside them in pursuit of this noble goal. 

If your organization would like to know more about partnering with Covenant House Alaska, please contact Chief Development Officer Joe Hemphill at jhemphill@covenanthouseak.org.

Chef Shawn on her work and Thanksgiving meal plans.

coveyhouse Events

11/25/21

By Covenant House International

In celebration of Thanksgiving, we are featuring a special interview with Ms. Shawn (aka “Boss”), the powerhouse chef supervising the Covenant House Alaska kitchen. 

What drew you to work at Covenant House Alaska?

Shawn: I have a passion for cooking. I worked with an organization feeding adults [experiencing homeless] and when I realized that our youth were at risk, I felt that I needed to do something more for our community. If our youth can get a fresh start at a career or finish school, I like knowing at least they have a warm meal in their belly and they can make it through another day. 

How do you model absolute respect and unconditional love in your kitchen and how do you instill it into the food you prepare for our young people?

Shawn: I model absolute respect by being a role model. I have a tenacious attitude and confidence in what I want for myself. I want to share my passion with others, and I do this by preparing warm comforting meals to feed the soul. I cook with love like my parents taught me, and I want to give back by sharing my talents with the staff and youth here at Covenant House Alaska.

What has changed or stayed the same since the pandemic began?

Shawn: Since the pandemic, we have seen several changes at Covenant House Alaska, and in our kitchen. We no longer have potlucks and we do not have big gatherings. We don’t have volunteers right now and our biggest events were canceled. We must continue to take caution for ourselves and the youth we serve. The one thing that has stayed the same is that we still have to feed the youth and the one thing I will make sure of every single day is that they have a nourishing meal. 

Can you describe a breakthrough moment or share a personal story about a young person whose journey has meant a lot to you?

Shawn: There was a youth that crossed my path at a young age, and I am known to give encouragement to every young person. This youth had a tough upbringing, and I would say to him, “Just stay in school. It will get better.” I did not know the youth’s family history, but I could tell there was trouble in his home. Several years later I ran across this youth again and he greeted me with the usual, “Hey, Ms. Shawn.” He told me he wasn’t living at home anymore and was finishing up school so he could graduate! I replied with, “That’s great to hear, keep up the good work and finish school! I’m proud of you!” With that said, this youth graduated high school, has a child now and is working at a local branch of a bank. I was so surprised to walk in and see that he was my bank teller! I teared up a little because I know my encouraging words meant a lot to this youth. Of course, the first words I said to him were, “I am so proud of you!” 

How does Covenant House Alaska prepare for Thanksgiving to make it feel special for the young people in residence?

Shawn: Covenant House Alaska goes all out for Thanksgiving! My staff and I make sure the youth have a big meal every year with a variety of sweets: cookies, ice cream, and pumpkin pie. We cook mashed potatoes, turkey, and cornbread dressing. We make real deal homemade gravy, ham, green beans, and let’s not forget the cranberry sauce. 

Shawn ended the interview with this message to the community, “We can’t forget the amazing support we receive from donors and corporations throughout our community. Happy Thanksgiving!”

Thank you to our veterans from Covenant House Alaska

Covenant House Alaska Thanks our Veterans

coveyhouse Awareness, Volunteer Stories

Nov. 11, 2021

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

In honor of Veterans Day, Covenant House Alaska extends the most gracious of thanks to our country’s veterans and active-duty servicemembers. 

We recognize that our staff, volunteers and Alaska is privileged to include many veterans, and we thank all of them for their service. Their selfless devotion to the protection and improvement of our communities models the value of service to which Covenant House Alaska aspires. 

Many of the veterans involved in our mission, like our Director of Information Technology Patrick Murray, apply their insights on service from the military to their work here.

“Service is doing something that’s not about you,” said Murray, who spent eight years in the US Army. “It’s about doing something for the person to the left and the person to the right.”

So today, and every day, Covenant House Alaska offers its sincerest respect and deepest gratitude to our veterans. 

Recognizing our veteran staff

Our staff is blessed with the talents of multiple veterans whose combined time in the military exceeds 80 years. 

We would like to thank Air Force veteran Nicole Stuemke, Marine Corps veterans Michael Schmidt and Curtis Young, and Army veteran Patrick Murray for their service, along with the many other veterans on our staff who wished to remain anonymous. 

Your contributions to Covenant House Alaska and the wellbeing of our country are indispensable, and you inspire the rest of us to answer our mission’s own call of duty with vigor and tenacity. 

Veteran volunteers

Covenant House Alaska is fortunate to not only have so many veterans on our staff but in our cohort of volunteers as well. 

Our volunteers include at least six veterans, along with two active-duty military personnel and five members of military families. These numbers also most likely underestimate the servicemembers who volunteer at Covenant House Alaska, as we only recently began collecting this data. 

For many of these volunteers, like Air Force veteran Melissa Kitko, their military service is a profound influence on their approach to community service. 

“The military is a gathering of brothers and sisters from different backgrounds reaching for a common goal,” said Kitko, who served from 1993 to 2006. “The mission is critical, but priority is also on the well-being of your wingman or battle buddy. Serving the community provides a similar feeling of mission-ready camaraderie.”

It fills us with incredible pride that so many of our community’s veterans and military personnel choose to spend their time and energy furthering our mission, and we couldn’t be more grateful. We strive to continue our work in a way you deem worthy of your support. 

Thank you for your service!

Once more, to all of the veterans intertwined with Covenant House Alaska’s mission, we thank you for your incredible sacrifice for our country and community. 

Our volunteers are essential in our mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness. If you are interested in volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, please click here for more information. 

Cornerstone Donor Spotlight: Alaska Communications

coveyhouse Impact Updates

11/4/21

By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer

With its history of service to Alaskans outdating the history of our state itself, Covenant House Alaska is proud to partner with and humbled to receive the generous support of Alaska Communications. 

As a long-time supporter, Alaska Communications’ gifts to Covenant House Alaska are foundational to our mission of ending youth homelessness. The fact that our facilities stay lit and heated are testaments to Alaska Communications’ devotion to our local community. 

“We are pleased to partner with Covenant House Alaska as one of their primary supporters,” said Alaska Communications CEO Bill Bishop. “The work they do for the homeless youth of our community is necessary, and their unflagging energy and support for those youth is commendable.”

Connecting Alaskans through work and service

As the leading advanced broadband and managed IT services provider in the state, building reliable connections is the modus operandi of Alaska Communications. Their state-of-the-art data network and undersea fiber-optic system ensure Alaskans can connect with others across our vast state and the lower 48.

Yet, Alaska Communications’ devotion to connectivity extends beyond their formal work. This value defines their company philosophy and motivates their tireless community service.

Thus, Alaska Communications has demonstrated its commitment to the communities where its 560 team members live and work through an outpouring of service projects and gifts. They have donated $425,000 dollars to United Way and over $200,000 dollars in corporate donations and scholarships to the Boys & Girls Club of Alaska.

Alaska Communications’ devotion to responsible corporate citizenship and the future of young Alaskans makes us both proud to work alongside them and humbled that they would choose to extend their benevolence to our organization. 

Alaska Communications and Covenant House Alaska

For over 20 years, Alaska Communications has been an unwavering supporter of Covenant House Alaska.

Aside from their sizable gifts, we rely on Alaska Communications to keep our ever-growing system of care facilities running smoothly. Alaska Communications was integral in the opening of our Rights of Passage program, as they built the communications network that keeps our sites and staff in contact with each other. 

Their employees and executive team have even taken the time to serve as mentors at Covenant House Alaska and participate in our community events. Alaska Communications staff have organized fishing trips for our youth and prepared Thanksgiving dinner for our young mothers at Passage House. 

Alaska Communications team members and CEO Bill Bishop are also regular participants in our annual Sleep Out event. They described it as a moving and eye-opening experience that broadened their perspective on what some Alaskans are living through.

Thank you, Alaska Communications

Overall, Alaska Communications describes it as a community responsibility, and thus a responsibility of businesses inside that community, to ensure the safety of young people. We give them our most profound thanks for their concrete and efficacious actions that live out this philosophy. 

If your organization would like to know more about partnering with Covenant House Alaska, please contact Chief Development Officer Joe Hemphill at jhemphill@covenanthouseak.org

We are beyond grateful for the support of Alaska Communications!
Living room at MACK House

Opening of MACK House

cha-dev Events, Impact Updates

This September, we opened the doors of MACK House (Minors Accessing Care & Kindness), our new housing facility designed to serve the specific needs of minors experiencing homelessness. We talked with Executive Director Alison Kear about this exciting new venture.

Executive Director Alison Kear cutting the ribbon with Mildred Mack accompanied by Amy Miller, Carol Gore, and Carlette Mack.
Executive Director Alison Kear cutting the ribbon with Mildred Mack accompanied by Amy Miller, Carol Gore, and Carlette Mack.

Q: Alison, we are all thrilled about MACK House and what it means for the youth we serve. Can you explain MACK House and its impact?

Simply put, MACK House is a safe place for teenagers experiencing homelessness — a safe place for them to take a reset. It is our intention to provide the unconditional love and absolute respect that we are known for but in a home environment versus a traditional shelter experience.

Specifically, this residential property will service up to ten 13 to 18 year olds experiencing homelessness. We will provide three meals a day, snacks, access to educational support, healthcare services and the services of our community partners. It’s going to be staffed 24 hours with people that love young people. And we’re intentionally keeping the size small so that they can get the dedicated attention that they deserve and need. Anyone who has raised teenagers will understand that strategy (smile).

Q: MACK House is specifically for minors. How is having a separate facility for this population going to allow us to serve them better?

A: We have always known that we wanted to create a more home-like experience for the minors who need our support. Prior to MACK House opening, all youth 13 to 24 were receiving services in the same space.

Our teams have managed it extremely well, but as we know, there are large developmental differences between a 13 year old and a 24 year old. This step of bringing minors to their own, residential home is an important piece of the puzzle in nurturing their specific needs while allowing us to expand services for the largest growing population of youth experiencing homeless: young adults 18 to 24.

Our goal is for Anchorage to be the first city to achieve “functional zero,” meaning we are effectively housing youth faster than others become homeless. This doesn’t mean that a young person will never experience homelessness. It In summary, minors have definite and different day-to-day challenges than our older youth. With minors, we are still working closely with families, with schools, and overall a different home structure of homework and navigating teenage angst. Being in their own space is truly a unique position we find ourselves in at Covenant House Alaska, and it’s because of the support of our community.

Q: Last quarter, we discussed the micro-unit groundbreaking, and now we are talking about another new facility, MACK house. Why are you opening these facilities at the same time, is that a part of the plan?

A: When I first started at Covenant House Alaska 25 years ago, the average age that we served was 14. Now, our average age is almost 20. Meaning, we could create a space that was small enough to offer that family-like environment that was still large enough to meet the need for it. This data also tells us that we need more for the largest growing population of homeless youth, ages 18 to 24. By moving minors off the YEC footprint and into their own home, we can construct the micro-units and expand the services for young adults. Simply put, teenagers have different needs than young adults, and now we have gotten to a place in our 33-year history where we can kick our services up a notch with separate facilities. To say this was a long time coming is an understatement. Not only are we thrilled, but so are our youth. They have been telling us for quite some time that this is what they have wanted.

By moving minors into their own home and specializing their care, it has paved the way to offer services like independent living quarters right here on our emergency shelter footprint.

Carlette and Mildred Mack arrive at MACK House.
Carlette and Mildred Mack arrive at MACK House.

Q: Why is it called “MACK House?”

A: “MACK” stands for “Minors Accessing Care and Kindness,” but we chose the name to honor our former staff members Mildred and Carlette Mack, who are a mother-daughter duo with a long Covenant House Alaska legacy. These two amazing women, who were fierce advocates and leaders, embody the values of family and unconditional love. You actually get to see it play out with them.

That’s what the Mack family drove within our organization — they want every young person to feel loved and feel like there’s someone special on their side. No family I’ve ever met other than the Mack family has really been able to demonstrate that through their career or even their own work at Covenant House. That is what will be demonstrated at MACK House, plain and simple. Young people will be loved. Young people will be valued. Young people will know of the Mack story. And also, “MACK” is easy to say.

Q: Could you tell us more about Mildred and Carlette Mack? What is special about them?

A: Oh, wow, you are really going to make me ugly cry here!

Mildred started as a caseworker here at Covenant House Alaska in 1993, and she served our youth with the utmost compassion and devotion. And what I realized when I started

working here is every young person that walked through the front door would call her, “Momma Mack.” That says a lot about her disposition.

Her daughter Carlette followed in her footsteps only two years later, starting as an intern. She worked her way through nearly every job here before becoming our COO in 2012. Carlette left us in 2020 to work with Covenant House International, and we really do miss her, but she’s so deserving of it and we’re all so happy for her.

Those ladies, they are “care and kindness.”

Q: We know that opening MACK House was quite a community effort. Who helped us in funding this project?

A: We had several generous funders from across our community without whom we could not have realized the MACK House mission.

The Municipality of Anchorage, the Richard L. and Diane M. Block Foundation, the Carr Foundation and the Administration for Children & Families Basic Center Program were all essential in funding this project. Their enthusiasm for and demonstrated devotion to empowering Alaska’s most vulnerable young people demonstrates the same value set we aim to embody with MACK House.

And, of course, this could not be possible without the continued support of all of our donors and volunteers. Everyone who sets aside a chunk of their paycheck, be it $100 or $1, to Covenant House Alaska, or spends a weeknight with our youth, or who contributes to our mission in any of the countless ways that they do, shares in this joyous occasion.

Thank you all for enabling us to continue the Macks’ legacy of tenacious service and unflinching compassion.