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.

Passage House Mothers Hunker Down

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

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

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

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

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

April Cornerstone Donor Spotlight: Wells Fargo

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Love Our Volunteers!

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It’s National Volunteer Week and each year, we take time to recognize the amazing volunteers who support the youth, programs and services at Covenant House Alaska. We have roughly 50 volunteers who consistently dedicate time each week throughout the year. Normally, we use this week to gather with volunteers, shower them with kind words and small tokens of appreciation, and thank them in various ways. But, with the recent changes due to COVID-19, we began to hunker down. About six weeks ago, we closed our doors to all volunteers and transitioned many of our staff to work from home situations where possible. Volunteering has looked quite a bit different as we creatively engage current volunteers virtually for the time being. We continue to accept applications for on-site volunteering once things return to ‘normal’ and it is deemed safe to do so.

Current volunteers have stepped up in a variety of ways so that they can continue to connect with the youth they see every week at each of our sites. Each month,we host a mentor activity night, where Rights of Passage mentors gather with youth for a fun, relationship-building activity, such as standup comedy nights,  cooking together, snow tubing trips, and more. Now that gathering in person is not an option, mentors have gotten together with youth by Zoom. This past mentor activity night was a virtual one, where youth and mentors played Pictionary together! Other volunteers like the Crisis Response Canines have been sending over photos of the dogs that the youth have grown quite attached to. They even send sweet messages along with the photos for the youth to read. Many of our volunteers have also supported youth and staff through notes of encouragement, our Amazon Wish List, or meals. 

Mentor Night Pictionary
Alix of the Crisis Response Canines staying safe & healthy!

One thing that is required to safely coordinate volunteers is staff. Because we have been reduced in our on-site staff numbers, it’s been difficult to figure out different ways to support volunteer efforts, but the CHA staff have created some new ideas: Passage House, our transitional living home for pregnant and parenting young women, requested new curtains for all of their bedrooms. Education & Employment asked for virtual webinars or videos about life skills, which has actually picked up traction from interested volunteers even outside of Alaska. “Being forced to think about virtual offerings has been difficult, but it will prepare us to utilize these tools more in the future to improve our overall volunteer program,” Volunteer Coordinator, Holly Payne comments.

If you are interested in volunteering, check out the updated “Give Time” portion of our website. Although we aren’t processing new volunteers right now, we are still happy to receive applications and speak about ways to contribute virtually. If you have any ideas that you’d like to contribute about how you would like to be engaged as a volunteer, please let us know by emailing volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

Covenant House Alaska Staff: First Responders to COVID-19

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Keeping 140 vulnerable adolescents hunkered down with 6 feet between them at all times is not an easy task. Our staff have become first responders to COVID-19, protecting our most vulnerable population while also protecting others in our beloved community. Keeping youth from exposure and keeping them informed is a matter of life and death; “although young people don’t usually die from this virus, you can save others who do have a higher risk of dying by staying inside and avoiding contact with others,” staff remind youth every day.

Our youth are not experiencing the outcomes of COVID-19 in the same way that other young people are, because they are also experiencing the personal crisis of homelessness. As they struggle to adapt to this new way of life, we recognize the importance of providing shelter and a healthy environment to keep them inside as much as possible. To do so and flatten the curve, all hands are on deck, though some hands are from a distance. One frontline staff shared their feelings about their experience during this time, “everyone is screened upon entering the building and we keep them inside unless it is absolutely necessary that they go out, but like many young people, our youth haven’t really understood the severity of the virus. That is one of the scariest things about coming in to the building to work each day. As much as we wish we could make them stay inside at all times, it is just unrealistic—they have jobs and errands to take care.”

One fear youth have right now is not being able to see or get in touch with their families—this has been especially difficult for youth whose families are also homeless. They’ve had more difficulty in maintaining employment because of the closure of the bus line, while those looking for employment have been limited to finding something within walking distance. They’ve had limited connection to others—normally, the building is bustling with admin staff, mentors, donors, and warm volunteers who come in to support youth with a variety of offerings, such as therapy dogs, regular art classes, birthday celebrations, guided meditation, music lessons, hot soup, clothing, conversation, and more. But lately, it is quiet because those people are no longer entering the building. Except for a skeletal group of direct care staff and residents, it has been empty. Staff and youth are relying on themselves and each other.

Staff are working hard to fill the big holes that are being felt in the absence of outside community supporters. Looking on the brighter side of things, one youth said “now that I can’t go to the mall to hang out with friends or go to the movies or even see my friends at school, I have realized that there actually are fun staff and other residents to hang out with in the building. I used to think I had to get out of the building to have a good time and be around friends, but now I see that I have friends all around me at Covey.” Earlier this week, youth got together to make crafts to show gratitude to staff. One youth drew flowers and hearts around a message saying, “Thank you 4 not forgetting us, we love you!” Many youth have mentioned how thankful they are that Covey’s doors are still open to those needing shelter in a time where no one else is welcoming in strangers, and have even noticed staff being more attentive to their needs.

Like many other organizations in the community, we are facing an unprecedented and unusual situation. And we’ve grappled with a number of questions: How do you manage this many youth in one place, contending with each individual’s needs and desires? How do you keep them happy and feeling hopeful for the future? How do you show them the love they need to get through this situation while they also work to overcome other obstacles? How do you let them know that they will be ok?

When we look at what our staff do to keep our youth calm and safe, we see a tremendous effort and relentless passion. They have multiplied outreach efforts to retrieve youth from outdoor camps and congregational areas where physical distancing is impossible and safety gear is not available. They have helped engage youth with activities like group workout routines, tie dying t-shirts, playing games, and making TikTok videos. They are providing meals to youth who do not live on site by implementing a food service grab-and-go pick-up through the café door at our youth engagement center. They have continued to coordinate education and employment for youth by providing learning activities in the computer lab and they have coordinated homework delivery systems with ASD that work well for youth who are in school. They have made themselves available to cover shifts ranging over a 24-hour period every single day of the week. Our doors have not once closed, our soup pot has not once gone empty, and every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) continues to be provided each day.

Staff continue to show up to keep youth safe, healthy, and entertained, even if it means leaving their own families and putting themselves at risk. Back at home, they are missing out on hugs from their own children just in case they might have been exposed to coronavirus at work, to ensure their children’s safety. They are shifting their schedules as needed, working overnights even though they usually work day shifts. While they watch the majority of people around the world stay home, they show up each day with their masks on, ready to care for 140 youth each day, while also helping each other. Stop and consider that our front line staff have been coming to work every day, to be sure youth in our community continue to have a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and access to a shower & clean clothes. Please help us continue our work. Give what you can at www.coveycares.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Mentor Mary Michaelsen

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Mary and her mentee, Zee, making mac&cheese at Rights of Passage.

It was Christmas time of 2018 when Mary first came into Covenant House Alaska’s Youth Engagement Center. It was an Adopt-A-Day event with her company, Wells Fargo; they served lunch and played fun games with youth and staff. During this event, Mary was able to sit down and talk with the youth as well as the staff. She learned about some of CHA’s other programs and volunteer opportunities—one being the mentorship program at Rights of Passage. It was shortly after that event she submitted a mentor application. She began her mentorship in March of 2019.

When asked why she wanted to become a Rights of Passage mentor, she replied, “I have 2 little sisters, one is 13 and the other is 22, who still live back in the Midwest. I’m still really close with them and teach them a lot of things young people need to know and I’m always there if they need to talk. When I realized that the young people at Covenant House and ROP are lacking that relationship, it made me want to step in; all kids need—and should have—that relationship.” Rights of Passage mentors commit to 2 years of service in that role, in which they attend monthly group outings with ROP residents and staff while also consistently supporting an individual youth they are matched with. Part of the support that mentors are expected to provide to their mentee is sharing knowledge and expertise with youth, that will give them applicable skills as they transition to independent living. As a financial education expert, Mary was able to give her mentee tips on money management—everything from credit establishment, investing, and budgeting. Mary’s engagement in her work and love for her community has recently gained her the honor of becoming part of the 2020 class of Top 40 Under 40; this group of individuals are recognized as the top professionals in the state who have demonstrated not only excellence in their field but a deep commitment to their community. 

Mary’s mentee, Zee, recently moved out on her own and is living alone in her own apartment—Zee says it feels really great to be able to have her own place and make it her own. During the time they spent together over the past year, Mary was able to see Zee through some great milestones: Because Zee’s favorite food is wings, Mary took her out to celebrate her birthday at Wing Stop; it was Zee’s first time going to Wing Stop and now she LOVES going there. Mary was also able witness Zee’s excitement and to wish her and her family congratulations when Zee’s sister gave birth to a healthy baby. Another favorite moment of Mary’s was actually one of the first times she and Zee had ever hung out. She went with Zee to an art gallery downtown to help her hang her art up for a First Friday event, “Zee is such an amazing artist. She was very excited to finally be able to show her work in a gallery. It was just so nice to be there and see her in that environment. The gallery owners were so impressed and pleased with how much work and care she had put into it.”

So far in her mentorship experience, she has appreciated the activities facilitated by Rights of Passage staff because they are a great way for mentors to really get to know the youth, “they have had quite a bit of fun stuff that I’ve been able to go to. Just to name a few, they’ve had a retreat, a camping trip, and actually, my very first activity was an outing to Dave & Busters. It didn’t even feel like I was volunteering because it was just so much fun. We even broke into teams and competed. It brought me back to being a kid. It just felt like I was hanging out.” Another thing that Mary really appreciated throughout the year were the classes that Covenant House Alaska hosted to learn more about at-risk youth. Mary took a day off work to attend an all-day class for volunteers and staff on Youth Mental Health and First-Aid. She loved it because she learned a lot of helpful information, but also because she got to hear the perspectives of people who work with the youth every day, “seeing everyone who works at Covenant House and how passionate they are is amazing. Just being able to be a part of that is very rewarding for me.”

Mary has just recently completed her first year as a mentor and is looking forward to her second year. In reflection, she says, “Being a mentor requires me to put myself out there while also letting it be on the youth’s time. It takes time to build those relationships; sometimes mentors may not even be paired with a youth for the first year or so, just depending on whether or not they click with anyone. I’m glad I was matched with a youth quickly. Overall, I feel like I’m still pretty new and there’s a lot more to be involved with. There’s a deeper level of engagement that can be done.” Emily Weimer, an ROP staff, is impressed by Mary’s ability to connect with youth and appreciates the influence she has had, “Mary is very outgoing and open. She encouraged one young lady to go outside who had never really gone out before. She also showed her mentee, who was ensconced in street culture, that there was much more to Alaska than that. Mary has a creative heart and a strong spirit. She has shown tremendous follow-through that has made a great impression on youth.”

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Kendalyn Mckisick Events, Volunteer Stories Leave a Comment

With the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to our community, we know that many people  feel compelled to help in any way they can to flatten the curve and to assist people who need it most right now. It has been amazing to see the quick response of people in our community—and across the nation—stepping up to help in any way they can. Many others are still searching for ways to help while maintaining safety.

Here are some things you can do to support us and other organizations in safe, effective ways:

  1. Ask 10 friends to like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @covenanthouseak.

2. Participate in our “Happiness Is…” project on Instagram stories.

3. Share your favorite Covenant House Alaska story/memory with us by  direct message on Facebook or by email: development@covenanthouseak.org (subject line:  FAVORITE STORY)

4. Read some stories on our blog page and then leave thoughtful questions or comments.

5. Arrange a food delivery by contacting development@covenanthouseak.org.

6. Learn about other organizations in our community helping to serve others, like Food Bank of Alaska, Beans Café, Brother Francis Shelter, AWAIC, Seeds of Change, St. Francis House Food Pantry, Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center, and Grow North Farm.

7. Draw an image of spring or hope and share it with us on social media by tagging @covenanthouseak

8. Write notes of encouragement to our youth and staff. Mail them to: Covenant House Alaska, Attention: Carlette Mack, 755 A St. Anchorage, Alaska 99501

9. Shop our wish list on Amazon 

10. Go to www.coveycares.org to make a donation online.

We feel so blessed to be part of a community that invests so much care in our youth and in other organizations who share our values. To us, happiness is serving Anchorage’s most vulnerable population—especially during this difficult and uncertain time when we don’t know what tomorrow holds.