Apr. 20, 2022
By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer
With this month’s Volunteer Spotlight falling within National Volunteer Week, we want to celebrate our volunteer Hayley Cronkhite, who was Covenant House Alaska’s honoree at Anchorage’s Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.
For over two years, Hayley has opened up the Art Room at our Youth Engagement Center for our youth every Wednesday. Her dedication to connecting with and improving the mental health of our young people through art earned her recognition from the Municipality of Anchorage and multiple community service organizations at the 2022 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.
For Hayley, the joys of sharing art’s healing nature with our youth have kept her coming back week after week.
“That’s always a happy moment for me, taking a break,” said Hayley. “To be able to give the youth that sense of normalcy, or just a moment of it, when they might not have that otherwise is all I can ask for.”
We are so thankful for Hayley and her restorative work with our youth. She is beyond deserving of the recognition she’s earned from our community and is a beloved member of our Covenant House Alaska family.
Silver lining of a pandemic-sized cloud.
Like so many others, the COVID-19 pandemic made big changes to Hayley’s life. However, it was also what led her to volunteer at Covenant House Alaska.
Originally from North Pole, Hayley had been living in Anchorage since 2006 and working for Orthopedic Physicians Alaska when the pandemic hit.
Her organization paused its surgeries to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, they began working with the city to run COVID-19 screening across town at sites like the Sullivan Arena and Covenant House Alaska.
Hayley said that the first time she stepped into our downtown Youth Engagement Center to work a day of testing, she was awestruck by the painted-door murals we have on display.
“They were just so gorgeous,” she said, “and I was like, ‘I wanna be a part of that!’”
On her way out, she stopped at our front desk and filled out a volunteer interest form on the spot. And as soon as the pandemic allowed it, Hayley was back in the YEC and running the Art Room.
Making room for art.
As a volunteer, Hayley organizes activities in our Art Room for our youth every Wednesday. Be it through a guided project or an afternoon of open painting, her volunteering always gives our young people a chance to have fun and express themselves through art.
“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it doesn’t have to be a Picasso,” said Hayley, “but sometimes I get one, and I’m like, ‘Woah, where did that come from?!’”
Many of Hayley’s guided activities let our young people try a technique or medium that they have never attempted before, like experimenting with different oil paints or using tiles for a canvas.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity to see a young person be really excited to try something new,” said Hayley.
Whatever the specific project, Hayley’s activities always give our youth a healthy outlet for their emotions.
“Some people can’t always express in words how they’re feeling,” said Hayley. “Whether it be through mixed media or painting or photography, sometimes it’s easier for people to express themselves through art.”
For many of our young people, these activities in the Art Room have been an important source of healing as they transition out of homelessness. Their creations are further proof to Hayley of the therapeutic power of art.
“They might not even be able to explain what it means, but if they’re able to put it down on paper, sometimes it helps,” said Hayley. “I think that in itself is a really great way of helping and learning and growing.”
Hayley said that she did not expect to form such a strong bond between her and our young people through her volunteering.
“I can guarantee you that the youth will surprise you,” said Hayley. “They surprise me every time I come in, whether it is opening the door for me, or asking how I’m doing, or asking how the project last week turned out — you know, little things.”
One youth with whom Hayley has been drawing and painting for over two years recently moved out of our YEC and into our Rights of Passage transitional housing program. Hayley described this departure with the same emotion that a parent might describe their child leaving for college.
“I found out last Wednesday,” said Hayley, “and I was crying because I was so happy but also so sad!”
To Hayley, all of these relationships are what give volunteering at Covenant House Alaska a feeling like no other.
“Just to have a connection with everybody has been a great experience, to walk into a place and just feel happy and safe — it’s just a good vibe.”
From paints to plates.
In recognition of her incredible volunteer career, Hayley was Covenant House Alaska’s honoree at the 2022 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, an annual celebration of Anchorage’s volunteers thrown by the Municipality of Anchorage, Bridge Builders, Serve Alaska and JustServe.
The organizers awarded volunteers who give their time to the Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Alaska, the Special Olympics, Covenant House Alaska and similar organizations for their altruism and contributions to our community.
Hayley said that being included as a member of such an impressive cohort was a true honor.
“It was great to see the different organizations that are giving back to Anchorage and this community, making a difference that is really needed!” she said.
For us at Covenant House Alaska, we could not be happier that Hayley received such recognition. Her restless work has changed the lives of so many of our young people, bringing color and light into a place of darkness.
Covenant House Alaska is always looking for new volunteers to join our team! Whatever your passions or interests, there is certainly a way that they can uplift our youth.
Hayley said that anyone on the fence about volunteering should consider not just how you will impact our youth, but how our youth will impact you!
“I think coming in and spending a little time with them will make your day so much brighter,” said Hayley, “because it makes my Wednesday great every week!”
If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here.