Volunteer Spotlight: Rights of Passage Mentor, Ginger Kane

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Ginger became an ROP mentor 4 years ago in 2016. After finishing college, Ginger moved back to Anchorage, had two kids and began working in the oil industry for BP Alaska. At Christmas time, BP organized a volunteer event at Covenant House Alaska to help wrap gifts. It was during this event that Ginger met Holly Payne, our Volunteer Coordinator. “Talking with Holly, I was able to learn about everything going on at Covey and all the ways I could become more involved,” Ginger says, “I’ve always enjoyed working with kids. I used to coach girls’ soccer teams, so being able to give feedback in a helpful and useful way is something I felt confident in. It was a good fit for me at that time in my life. So I applied to become a mentor and began spending one day a week at ROP.”

For her weekly visits to ROP, Ginger would choose a recipe, purchase the ingredients, and then cook meals with the youth in the evening. Ginger loves cooking with the kids, no matter if lots of kids come to help or if it ends up being one on one. “I remember one kid who had never cracked an egg before and when he did it, he was so proud, which was really cool to see. Sometimes the kids would recommend a recipe and we would work through it together, which can also be a great experience for them to see that even adults don’t always know what they are doing!” Ginger laughs. “It’s also an opportunity for them to share knowledge if they have it, like if they know how to slice an onion perfectly or have a trick to preparing certain foods. Being able to focus on cooking takes off the pressure to talk about anything specific at once. It has helped break down any sort of initial barriers to connecting.”

Over the past four years, Ginger has collected many memorable moments and has spent time with several youth. What she enjoys most about spending time with the youth is giving them a space where they can feel safe and relax. One moment in particular that stands out to Ginger is when she took two young men from ROP hiking who were normally pretty subdued and quiet, “Once we made it to the top of the mountain, they were just so excited, going on and on about how cool it was and how they were going to run back down. You could just really tell they were able to let go of their worries up there. I loved being able see them feel a bit more free and to be able to provide that.”

Another moment that has stuck with Ginger was seeing the transformation of a young lady who would come in each week to help cook. “I could tell that she was going through some struggles in her life and just seemed unhappy and stuck, and then she got a job and every day that I saw her afterwards, she was just really happy and eventually she was graduating the program and moving into her own place. I sat down with her and let her know that she was doing so great. She explained that she had watched her friends doing awesome things and then one day, she realized that the only thing stopping her from doing awesome things was her. It just clicked for her and she realized that she was in control of her life in ways that she might not have been previously. Watching her grow and then to really see her fly was just so awesome.”

Ginger’s favorite thing about being a mentor is her ability to be a listening ear for the youth and be someone who can congratulate them when they do something good. She strives to be someone they can trust and someone who can give useful feedback. She has been paired with five specific youth over the years, but she finds that her individual mentee relationships with youth are just as impactful as the time she spends with the group. “Watching these kids contend with their struggles and seeing that they can acknowledge that something hard has happened in their lives but then they have the strength and courage to move on is truly remarkable. I get a lot of energy from the kids—after a day of work being an adult, it’s so fun and refreshing to get with the kids. They’re all working on different things and it’s great to hear about their accomplishments.” Ginger finds that learning the best way to speak with each youth and figuring out what will be most helpful for them is the most challenging thing about serving as a mentor, “You really have to know how to be constructive and figure out how to give positivity. They’ve had enough judgement and criticism in their lives, so I’m always sure to really get to know the kids and learn the best way to approach them and meet them where they need to be met.”

Even through the difficulties of COVID-19, Ginger has stayed as involved as possible, joining the monthly virtual mentor activity nights and now, as mentor activities transition back to in-person, they figure out safe things to do outside. Ginger just recently was paired with a new mentee and they have been enjoying walks outdoors.

Physical Distancing Scavenger Hunt Mentor Night Activity!

Having someone like Ginger who cares deeply about the youth and really embraces the role of a mentor is such a wonderful asset to have for our Rights of Passage program, where kids are trying to learn everything they need to know in order to support themselves and are building outside networks that can help them remain independent, employed, and housed once they graduate. Her commitment to being a consistent source of encouragement and support for the youth will continue to make a positive impact on our youth for years to come.

About Ginger:

Ginger is an Engineer at work in the oil industry. Her favorite thing is being outside, hiking and biking mainly. Instead of taking a car to work, she likes to bike! She has a 5 and 7 year old who are now at the point they can join alongside her on outdoor adventures. She loves that COVID-19 has led to being able to spend more time with her family!

If you are interested in learning more about mentoring or other volunteer activities, go to https://covenanthouseak.org/volunteer/

Monthly Cornerstone Donor Spotlight: TOTE Maritime Alaska

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Commitment to the Communities We Touch

TOTE Maritime Alaska, formerly Totem Ocean Trailer Express, is a part of the Saltchuk Family of companies. They have been keeping Alaska supplied for nearly 45 years by cargo fleet shipments twice weekly from Tacoma, Washington to Anchorage, Alaska. But shipping is about more than reliable delivery, it’s about people

The TOTE team is dedicated to efficiency, integrity, exceeding customer expectations, and meeting community needs. At the same time, they are equally committed to the happiness and wellness of their employees—currently they have 35 employees working in Alaska. TOTE seeks to support key initiatives in Alaska and Washington, focusing on four areas: Safety, Environment, Community, Health & Wellness. 

TOTE’s aim is to strengthen the communities in which their employees live and to serve through strong relationships. Included in their giving commitment is a strategy to support and promote employee engagement through volunteer opportunities with non-profit partners, such as Food Bank of Alaska, Camp Fire Alaska, and Covenant House Alaska. TOTE has been supporting Alaskan communities since they began serving our state by donating at least 1% of all yearly earnings. Additionally, TOTE donates millions of dollars per year through in-kind shipments to non-profit organizations. Not only does TOTE engage in monetary giving, individual employees also donate time, energy, and their expertise.

Grace Greene, President of TOTE Maritime Alaska, serves as a board member of Covenant House Alaska and Alex Hofeling, VP and Alaska General Manager, is a mentor to youth in our transitional living program, Rights of Passage. Both of them have participated in our Sleep Out: Executive Edition, raising money for youth and showing their solidarity and support by sleeping outside in the cold of November. Over the years, TOTE volunteers have helped support Covenant House by assembling furniture for young women and children in our Passage House program and joining together with their customers during the United Way Day of Caring to plant flowers and help with landscaping.

“One of the most important things to our company is giving back to the communities that we serve,” Greene says, “We really take pride in that.” TOTE believes in the mission of Covenant House Alaska because, “Safety is at the forefront of everything we do at TOTE. Supporting Covenant House means that our local youth have a safe place to call home and it provides them with resources to improve their living situation so that they can become independent and successful.”

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 jhemphill@covenanthouseak.org

Volunteer Spotlight: John Beaton

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.