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.”