By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer
We’ve all noticed it. The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, the snow is creeping down from the mountains and into our backyards — summer is over, and the fall is here!
With summer coming to an official close, we wanted to highlight all the amazing adventures our young people were able to experience because of our generous donors and mentor volunteers. For a lot of our youth, the outdoors represent the treacherous living conditions and trauma of the streets that they are fighting to overcome. But because of our supporters, they were able to enjoy the Alaskan summer how it is intended to be.
Stretching from the heights of Palmer to the gorges of the Kenai Mountains, our young people and volunteers covered a lot of ground. So, we want to break down our summer month-by-month and celebrate the activities we fit into each one.
But, before we can do that, we need to extend the most gracious of thank yous to our mentors and volunteers. None of this would be possible without them and their unconditional love for our youth. Thank you for giving these young Alaskans joy and memories.
Our summer had the perfect kick-off with a barbeque at Balto Seppala Park! The combination of our mentors, a smorgasbord of summer meats and a ripping-hot grill added up to a classic April evening for our youth. Nothing says “welcome back, summer!” quite like sticky barbecue sauce smeared across a smiling face.
As temperatures climbed higher, so did we, with a hike up Turnagain Arm! Our volunteers guided our youth up all of the 1538 feet of elevation gain on this 5.4-mile trail. While the views were fantastic, it was edged out by the looks of accomplishment and awe in the eyes of our young mountaineers.
And since April’s barbecue was such a smash hit, we kept the party going with another barbecue in May! Our grillmaster mentors again fired up the grills and piled plates high, this time right on the grounds of our Passage House facility. While prized leftovers only lingered for a couple of days, the shared memories of such a treat will last a lifetime.
With summer in full swing, our volunteers made sure our young people got the chance to visit a true Anchorage institution: the Alaska Zoo. Our youth encountered leopards, tigers and bears (oh my!) as they trekked through the wooded zoo trails.
For a more low-key activity, our volunteers helped our young people explore their creative sides with an afternoon of rock painting. Colors danced from brush tip to igneous canvas as our youth connected with both nature and art. The bedazzling final products now adorn Passage House, bringing a little more brightness to its rooms and hallways for our moms and babies.
There is perhaps no time better than a long July day to play a few holes at Peters Creek Disc Golf Course! Our mentors took our youth up to the Chugiak course where they let drives fly like they were taking off from Ted Stevens Airport. Through 18 holes of fun, our volunteers showed our young people a great day on the links.
Our volunteers also arranged a truly special evening for our young people: dinner at the Alaska Botanical Gardens. Our youth dined on locally-grown food while learning about its history from some of the foremost experts on Alaskan botany. The evening was a unique blend of culture and cuisine that no one involved will forget.
It wouldn’t be an Alaskan August without a trip to the State Fair! Thanks to a generous ticket donation from our longtime partner GCI, we were able to treat our young people to a day of wild rides, live shows and food on a stick. With the help of our volunteers and GCI, our youth were able to partake in this cherished state tradition.
One of our staff watched this trip become a bonding experience among a group of young women. After one of our young women ran into her old skating coach, she shared that she grew up competing in horseback riding events and figure skating. The group then continued to open up to one another, allowing them to settle into each other’s company and the joy of the day.
“I’m so happy she is happy,” one young woman remarked about one of her peers. “I haven’t seen her happy in a long time!”
We also partnered with the Anchorage Police Department for what we called a “Hike With a Cop!” A bit of rain could not deter Officer Brenden Lee, who led our young people down the iconic, 11-mile Powerline Pass trail. A special thanks to Officer Lee and the APD for giving our youth such a wonderful and informative afternoon!
Lastly, before the summer closed out, our volunteers had to make sure our youth could pay another visit to our furry friends at the Alaska Zoo. Say what you will, but laying eyes on a Bactrian camel never gets old!
End-of-Summer Camping Trip
For our last hurrah of the summer, we took our young people on a camping and fishing trip on the Kenai Peninsula. This multi-day adventure let our youth enjoy the natural wonders of our state and would not have been possible without the talents and treasure of our mentors and multiple community partners.
Our youth and mentors stayed in comfortable cabins and yurts provided by the Alaska Huts Association at a generously discounted rate and the cabin of our wonderful donor Christie Hudson, all nestled in the shadow of the Kenai Mountains.
Alaska Pacific University was kind enough to give us a sizable discount on our rentals of camping necessities, including backpacks, sleeping bags and the all-important bear spray.
After a 5:00 A.M. wake-up call, our campers embarked on the Kenai River to fish for silver salmon. The good folks at Trophy Drifters and Alaska Boat Rental each provided us with boats and expert guides for our trip. Thanks to them, it seemed like our youth couldn’t stop pulling fish out of the water!
Thanks to Southcentral Foundation, with the support of the SAMSHA GLS grant, we were able to purchase fishing licenses and gear for our youth. Our young people were able to engage and learn healthy coping skills with our message of hope, resilience and connection to culture.
With our fresh catches in hand, Tanner Berube of Jolly Wally’s Seafood then cleaned, filleted and vacuum-sealed our salmon for us. Even though you could see through the wrapping, these fillets were no less of a present for our youth.
Finally, the foundation of this entire trip was our mentors Kristen, Lance and Andrew. These three spent most or the entirety of their weekends to give our youth a weekend unlike any other.
Once again, we would like to give a massive thanks to all of our community partners and mentors who worked together to give our youth a weekend that most people in the lower 48 would be willing to travel to Alaska for. We, and our young people, will never forget your generosity.
The leaves may be changing, but one thing certainly will remain the same: Covenant House Alaska, in partnership with our volunteers and donors, will continue to organize invigorating outings for our youth that connect them with our state and local community.
Our volunteers and community partners have always been essential in enabling us to provide our youth the adventures they deserve. If you would like more information about being a mentor at Covenant House Alaska, please click here. If you are interested in forging a community partnership with us, please contact us.