A Year of Joy and Connection: 2021 in Photos

By Dj Tyson, Digital Engagement Manager

2021 might have been a more difficult year than many of us had anticipated, but our team still found endless opportunities to share joy and connection with clients and each other. As VOA Alaska’s Digital Engagement Manager, part of my role (and to be honest, my favorite part!) is capturing these moments and telling the story.

Below I’ve gathered some of my favorite photos of the year. I’m excited to give you a look behind-the-scenes and share what makes these photos so meaningful to me in the greater story of VOA Alaska’s impact.

One thing I strive for when taking photos of staff and clients is capturing a true smile. Sure, they might be posing for the camera most of the time, but there’s always that smile in-between the smiles. With Arlen, his posed smile came with peace signs and silly faces. But I kept my camera on him until he turned his attention way from me to the group. I can’t remember what was said, but his face burst into a huge grin and he kicked his feet up, just fully enjoying the moment.

There are very real, very difficult moments on the way to healing and recovery. But along that journey, there are moments like these, when it’s just a kid being a kid, getting fresh air, having fun, laughing with others, being present, being sober, and being happy.

Here’s another image of pure joy. Zita was graduating Day Treatment. In the card she’s holding are messages from the team and on the cake it says “We’re Proud of You.” Another photo I took this day was of Zita holding up her certificate of completion. She was so proud of it that she asked me to print out a copy for her so she could hang it on her wall. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into reaching this moment, and for me, this photo captures the celebration better than any words I could write.

When I learned the Supportive Housing team was planning weekly outings with the clients, I knew I had to join one! I missed their hike up Flat Top, so when I heard they were headed to Potter Marsh and my afternoon was clear, I wasted no time getting there! When I arrived, Case Manager Esther Chu and Hayley were out on the boardwalk looking for birds. If I didn’t know any better, they could have just been two friends enjoying an afternoon of bird watching. To me, this photo is a perfect representation of the connection our staff make with their clients and the innovative ways they create opportunities for open conversation.

The first time I joined staff on an outing with their clients was this one with the Kinship Family Program and their families. A key part of the Kinship program is creating opportunities for caregivers and their families to connect. It was so much fun to see both adults and kids have so much fun feeding moose and petting baby reindeer. This day showed me just how special VOA Alaska’s programs really are!

Lonnie Ridgeway, Coalition Director, is a powerful speaker, especially when discussing prevention and wellness with a crowd of high schoolers. In this moment, Lonnie is asking who will write a thank you card to someone that has made a difference in their life. I loved watching the engagement between speaker and audience, and it was so much fun to roam around the edges searching for the best angle to get the most impactful shot.

A goal of our Community Relations team is to find opportunities for our staff to get out into the community and share their stories and expertise. So we’re excited to have developed a connection with Out North and Mental Health Mosaics, which, among other projects, includes a podcast featuring conversations on mental health and wellness. School-based clinician Parinita Shetty joined the first episode, but in this photo, we see Supportive Housing Clinician Cory Farrow with program participant Zack. They sat down with Anne Hillman for a conversation on houselessness and mental health. I loved sitting in on the conversation and hearing Zack’s story, seeing the relationship between him and Cory, and learning how VOA Alaska has supported him on his journey.

This is Felicia Tungul, Family Wellness Coordinator, during a Back-to-School event for Kinship and Trailside families. Whether it’s meals, Christmas gifts, or backpacks full of supplies, our team is always excited to provide much need items for their families, and you can see it Felicia’s smile, even behind the mask! I also love this photo because of the giant V logo on her shirt, making this a great addition to any of our materials.

One of the great success stories of 2021 was the expansion of our school-based program. During parent-teacher conferences this fall, all of the clinicians were setting up tables and wanted materials to pass out to parents. I visited Katie Ogin at West High School where she was joined by Morgan Yaskus of our Kinship Family Program. I had this image planned before I arrived, knowing I needed an engaging photo to represent that schools program. So I asked Morgan to pose as a parent for an over-the-shoulder shot. I know Katie felt a little awkward, but we all agreed the end-result was worth it!

This is probably the only photo you’ll find in our materials with me in it (I’m the one cross-legged in the center front). I had waited months to get a group photo and I was absolutely giddy when I ran out into the field to set up the ladder. I ducked-taped my camera and tripod to the ladder and called everyone over. After about five minutes or so of directing everyone into frame I set the 12-second timer and hurried down to take my place.

To learn more about the joy and connection felt throughout a year at VOA Alaska, keep an eye out in early 2022 for the release of our Community Impact Report! You can find previous editions on our About Us page. If you want to be notified of its release, along with other exciting updates and meaningful stories, sign up for our newsletter.

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