Contributed by Anne Dennis-Choi, President & CEO & Kelli Williams, Director of Spiritual Life of AK Child & Family, A UMW National Mission Institution in the Alaska United Methodist Conference
AK Child & Family counts on the great cloud of witnesses that surround, support and uplift our students, families, staff and mission! Our work would not be possible without the prayers, gifts, service and financial contributions of our greater community.
Throughout the history of AK Child & Family, caring and the power of community has been front and center. Our mission was originally founded as the Jesse Lee Home in 1890 in Unalaska to care for and provide a home to children. In 1925, the Home moved to Seward until the 1964 earthquake caused another move due to extensive damage and cost prohibitive repairs. Through the power of community, determination and social responsibility, the United Methodist Women purchased 25 acres in south Anchorage to relocate the facility. Fast forward to 1970 when the directors of the Jesse Lee Home, the Lutheran Youth Center and the Anchorage Christian Children’s Home got together to problem solve challenges they were all facing and it was agreed that they could accomplish more together than apart. Building upon the vision of shared resources and the power of community, they merged missions to become Alaska Children’s Services. To this day, we are an ecumenical mission of the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Disciples of Christ and American Baptist Churches USA. In 2013, our agency renamed to become AK Child & Family. Our founders and those who came before us understood that when a community comes together around something they deeply care about it creates synergy and action. This still holds true today as we offer a full continuum of behavioral health services from Residential, to Home-based to Therapeutic Foster Care.
Every single day we witness how the power of community continues to shape and influence individuals, families, our agency, and our world. The individuals and families served at AK Child & Family are encouraged to discover what they most care about and to identify steps to achieve those goals. For our youth this may mean setting a long term goal like finishing high school or it could mean healing from complex childhood trauma. Or learning safe ways to express emotions rather than through self harming or suicidal ideation. For most it also means recognition of their worth as a human being and improved self esteem. For our families it may mean working to improve communication, conflict resolution skills or strengthening family bonds. Each youth and family brings their own unique story and wishes for treatment but regardless of what each brings to the table, the power of community is a vital piece in achieving their dreams. Caring and support from the community helps those dreams come true.
Imagine being a young person, away from your family, friends and home; troubled, hurting and lost; abused or neglected; traumatized, forgotten or shunned, and you are offered hope through countless gifts of kindness that come from supporters of the AK Child & Family community.
You feel God’s warmth and love when you receive a homemade blanket or quilt full of goodies on your first day in treatment. You see that God’s love can come from afar, when a mission team from another state helps build a chapel for you to pray in. Your prayers are answered when hundreds of voices are lifted heavenward through our e-mail prayer chain. You feel God’s blessings when a congregation raises generous amounts of money to support our Spiritual Life Program that helps you hear God’s call. You know that God is good when you smell warm chocolate chip cookies that are given to you before being read a story while lying in the sunshine.
All of these things are possible because caring, generous, willing people have created a caring community that insures that AK Child & Family has an abundant flow of prayers, gifts, help, and financial resources to share God’s Good News. A community that works tirelessly to let the students who come to us know that they are precious, worthy, loved and that they are never alone. They are surrounded by an entire village cheering them onward and upward.
When a community discovers what it cares about and galvanizes around it, change is possible. We’re seeing that with Mental Health Awareness campaigns that help reduce the stigma of mental health issues. We’re watching this as the movement towards trauma informed care best practices continues to unfold. We’re seeing church denominations come together to address physical safety in places of worship. We’ve seen causes gain momentum through social media such as Go Blue Day, when thousands of people wear blue to show their support for children and awareness of child abuse prevention.
Sometimes in the non-profit behavioral health services world that AK Child & Family is a part of, we are on occasion left wondering what the community at large cares about particularly when facing funding challenges. In Alaska, despite an increased demand for services, we’re gearing up for a 5% reduction in Medicaid rates and a decrease in behavioral health grants. Hearing about cuts is disheartening. It requires us to reconnect to the power of community and to recommit to what we all care about.
We are reminded that all of us are the advocates, all of us are called upon to be the voice for those who haven’t yet found their voices, all of us are the agents for change and all of us have the power to positively influence our community.
Every act of caring; every act of community matters. We are stronger together. Together we can meet the needs of Alaska’s children and families; one child, one family at a time. Thank you to all of our supporters who advocate, donate and volunteer. We need you. Our children and families need you. Every single one of you makes a difference in sharing God’s abundant love and grace.
Anne Dennis-Choi, President & CEO
Kelli Williams, Director of Spiritual Life