By: Kris Johnson
When her three teenage daughters started to get older and find their own interests, Johanne Harrap says she began “looking for something with meaning.” That’s when she got involved with Covenant House Alaska as a volunteer.
“My daughters are 14, 17 and 20. I have one at college and two at home. I realized I’m really almost past all the phases, and I think the teenage years are the hardest. So I think being part of an organization that serves predominately young adults, it just kind of appealed to me,” says Johanne.
Johanne has lived in several countries and says, “Homelessness is something you can’t escape.” In her experience, it is a universal issue.
She was born in Western Australia and attended university there for a little while before joining the Royal Australian Navy. She served for 19 years as a Maritime Warfare Officer, what would be the equivalent of a deck officer in the United States Navy. Johanne drove and navigated ships, and then specialized in submarines. She was part of the first group of women to become submariners.
“That’s where I met my husband, who progressed to become a submarine captain.” They moved often and work brought the family to England for two years, then back to Australia. After leaving the Navy, a new job led the family to Alaska in 2013 for three years. They then moved to Houston, Texas, then to Brisbane, Australia, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and, finally, back to Alaska in 2021.
“You can’t avoid it,” said Johanne. “We’ve lived in different countries, and we’ve moved around a lot. And no matter where you go, no matter what city, state, country, everywhere has the same problem, and I suppose that the younger group of people facing homelessness just sort of tugs even more at your heart.”
She began volunteering at Covenant House Alaska in November 2022, diving right into the holidays. She describes it as “a really good environment to work in.”
Holly Payne, Volunteer Manager at the site, said Johanne helped the staff manage their holiday registry by uploading youth requests, sorting and organizing gifts as they were received, decorating the youth engagement center for the holidays, and now helps them maintain the clothing room.
“She’s dedicated over 59 hours since she began and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Her organization skills have been a blessing and she is able to successfully accomplish tasks without too much direction,” said Holly.
Johanne said the staff make it easy to want to return to help.
“Everybody’s very friendly, helpful, and the staff that are there will go out of their way to show appreciation for volunteers coming in that day and to say ‘thanks, you’re doing a great job.’ Everybody’s very genuine and appreciative of your time. And I mean, obviously, you don’t do it to get thanks from people. But people coming in and helping out leaves the staff more time to actually focus on what they need to be focusing on, the young people.”
Johanne has made volunteering at the site a family affair by including her daughters.
“I think, especially in the teenage years, our kids become quite insular. And it’s all about me. So I think it’s important to get some volunteer hours in so that they can take the time out to actually go and do something that’s not about them. I think as teenagers, that’s probably the most important time to be able to do that. So when their schedules allow, I get them to come along and they always enjoy having the chance to help out.”
Johanne has also gotten a friend to join her in volunteering, Holly said.
“She has volunteered some time with her family and just recently brought a friend on board as well,” Holly said. “She’s done lots of work behind the scenes that allow our staff to focus on the youth. We are happy to have her on our team!”