May 20, 2022
By Sam Buisman – Covenant House Alaska Staff Writer
One of the greatest perks of Covenant House Alaska is getting to see exceptional people rise up to do exceptional things. But when the husband-and-wife duo Heidi and Mike Valantas come in to volunteer, we get to see not just one, but two of such people!
While Heidi and Mike have a long history of volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, they currently serve as the house mentors for MACK House, our transitional living program for minors. Their teamwork, resourcefulness and boundless compassion have ingrained them in the hearts of the young people who reside there.
Heidi said that the simple act of just being there for these young Alaskans can sometimes be the most meaningful.
“For some of these young people,” said Heidi, “to have a person in their life that’s not being paid to be there and genuinely cares about them, I think that that’s a huge thing that people can do.”
It is a blessing to have Heidi and Mike as part of our Covey family. Their work at MACK House exemplifies our principle of unconditional love and brings joy to some of Alaska’s most deserving young people.
Retired from work, but not from service.
After the two of them coincidentally moved to Alaska as teenagers, Heidi and Mike met while attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The college sweethearts tied the knot and built a life in the great state of Alaska, with Heidi working as a teacher and Mike as a physician.
According to Heidi, her favorite parts of teaching foreshadowed her involvement at Covenant House Alaska.
“There were a lot of things that I liked about being a teacher, especially working with young people and helping them find their way and being involved with their growth,” said Heidi. “It was just a natural progression to Covenant House.”
One fateful winter, they received an invitation to Covenant House Alaska’s Fire & Ice Ball. Impelled by our mission and the community’s need, they decided to get involved at Covey.
Heidi joined the Fire & Ice committee to organize the same event that inspired her and joined our mentor program. Mike started volunteering to do odd jobs around our various facilities.
When the duo was able to retire in 2020, they decided to use their newfound free time to increase their involvement at Covenant House Alaska.
Mike said that while they may have retired, they still felt the same drive to serve others that motivated them in their careers.
“I still felt the need to help people and take care of people,” said Mike. “I felt like this was the perfect way to continue to serve and give back.”
Mainstays of MACK House.
Now, the couple serves as the official house mentors at MACK House. At least once a week, Heidi and Mike spend hours visiting with the young people staying there or working on projects to spruce up the building.
Together, the two have organized volleyball, cornhole and other games with our youth, led cooking nights, decorated for Christmas and Easter, and worked on other various projects and forms of upkeep to make the house feel, as Mike puts it, “more homey.”
“We just started poking around and finding different ways that we could help out!” said Heidi.
Mike said that enjoys how the role encourages the two of them to work as a team and lean into their individual talents to succeed at such a variety of tasks.
“She’s better with people,” said Mike, “and I’m more of a worker.”
Through these activities, Heidi and Mike have built meaningful relationships and shared tender moments with our youth. In an instance that Mike said was “hard to put into words,” the pair and a young woman decorated a Christmas tree using ornaments that belonged to Mike’s mother.
“The young lady we decorated the tree with, she really got into it,” said Heidi. “It was neat to have that moment with her — I thought that was a really special moment.”
For the duo, these indelible experiences are part of what makes their volunteer work at MACK House such a fulfilling experience.
“I think you get way more out of it than what you put into it,” said Mike.
Closer to the community and each other.
By spending time at MACK House, Heidi and Mike have felt their connection to their community mature like a fine wine.
The pair said that they catch tiny glimpses of the effect their volunteering has on our youth. Be it in a quiet word of encouragement from a young person, or how another emerges from a sulk when they’re invited to help cook a meal, these small clues to the difference they’re making keep Heidi and Mike riveted to our mission.
“Even though you don’t feel like you’re doing much,” said Mike, “I think it does make more of an impact than you can appreciate at times.”
On a more personal level, the couple said that volunteering together has been a meaningful bonding experience as husband and wife.
“It brings us closer together because we have a common goal to help others,” said Mike, “and we’re supporting that by volunteering.”
We are so thankful for Heidi and Mike’s incredible contributions to MACK House and our mission of ending the experience of youth homelessness in Alaska. This goal is only achievable with the support of volunteers like them, and we are always looking for Alaskans who want to get involved!
Heidi strongly recommended mentoring at Covenant House Alaska but stressed that the organization can find an opportunity for anyone interested in volunteering.
“There are so many different things that you can do, whatever your time or talents,” said Heidi. If you would like more information about volunteering at Covenant House Alaska, visit the Volunteer page on our website here.