It is almost cliché to say at this point, but there’s no getting around it: 2020 was a year like no other. A year in which the world together experienced fear, anger, tragedy, and sadness. In which our nation faced political polarization, ugly and necessary truths around historical and current systemic oppression, and surges of crisis response were needed longer than anyone expected. This year presented both the need and the opportunity to be fearless, facing the depth of unknown. During this time, we sought clarity over certainty, centering on our “why” in a year that tested us.
Continue reading below a reflection of our impact in 2020 from our President & CEO, or click here to read the full Community Impact Report, including stories of impact from each of our programs.
Centering on Our “Why” in a Year That Tested Us
VOA Alaska exists to eliminate suffering for youth, and this role has never been more critical than in this historic moment. Through it all, we have kept our focus on Alaska’s youth and families. Our employees have been on the front lines, delivering services to youth and families in person without interruption, while going through many of the same struggles as those we are serving.
VOA Alaska’s teams rose to the challenge. We shifted services to telehealth in a matter of days, allowing us to continue providing critical behavioral health services and support. We launched same-day assessments and free behavioral health consultations to make it easier to access our behavioral health professionals. We expanded our school-based mental health services, allowing us to connect directly with youth across Anchorage. Our supportive housing team was there at the mass shelters, working side-by-side with our community partners to help youth experiencing houselessness quickly find safe housing. Our residential services team continued to provide 24/7 care throughout the year as more youth experienced crisis and a need for a safe place to work on their recovery. We’ve expanded support for families raising relative children, including opening a pantry so our families have better access to food, cleaning supplies, and other necessities.
Our services are now more integrated than ever, allowing our team to provide a continuum of care from family support to life skills development to individualized counseling. When a youth comes to VOA Alaska, they are connecting with more than just one person or one service. We have an entire team working together to meet the needs of young Alaskans and their families through holistic mental, emotional, and behavioral healthcare and support.
With the year now past, the long national election cycle over, and a vaccine quickly rolling out, the hard part is not over. There are no promises 2021 will be any easier. The long-term social, economic, and cultural impacts of the pandemic are still coming to light. National screening data during COVID indicates mental health is a growing crisis. Youth are struggling the most with their mental health, with rates of suicidal ideation highest among youth. Alaska data around youth suicide was already alarming pre-COVID, with almost 20% of youth in 2019 reporting attempting suicide during the past year.
We hear and see the very real concerns that pandemic-related stress and isolation is worsening a problem that already existed. We expect to see a continued increase in the need for the very services we provide. But I am humbled daily by the dedicated employees, volunteers, donors, and clients who show up fully, every day, doing the hard work. In a year that tested us, we leaned on each other and our why. We’ve learned how to change quickly, focus on what matters, and keep moving forward. Meeting the needs of our community in 2020 was made possible because of the generous support of our partners and donors.
The challenge and opportunity in front of us is to come back collectively stronger. Whatever this next year holds for us, whatever youth need from us, we will continue showing up for them, continue our resilience and innovation, and continue our pursuit of excellence. It’s going to take all of us to eliminate suffering for youth in Alaska.
Thank you for standing with us through this past year and thank you for your continued support of Alaskan youth and families.
Sherrie Wilson Hinshaw
President & CEO