A Year of Joy and Connection: Favorite Moments of 2023

VOA's Director of Communications shares his favorite moments from the past 12 months.
Up close image of an adult holding a dandelion while a child looks at it through a small magnifying glass. Only hands are seen.
Up close image of an adult holding a dandelion while a child looks at it through a small magnifying glass. Only hands are seen.

Hi there, it’s Dj Tyson, VOA’s Director of Communications. Usually, I’m writing and publishing as VOA Alaska, the organization. But for this blog, I’m writing as myself to share (some of) my favorite moments from the past 12 months.

Let’s begin with the feature photo! This moment was captured during a plant walk organized by our Family Services team in collaboration with Dr. Ali Marvin, Psychologist and Behavioral Health Aide Program Supervisor at Aleutian Pribilof Island Association. If you were here in Anchorage at all this summer, you know it was rainy, and this day was no exception. The walk was cut short, but Dr. Marvin was incredible at keeping the kids engaged while she shared her knowledge of local plants and helped them reflect on what nature can teach us.

In this particular image, a child is looking closely at a dandelion through a magnifying glass. I love this one so much that it’s my desktop wallpaper!

Joining Mental Health Roundtables with the U.S. Surgeon General

Four of VOA's team standing with the US Surgeon General and Senator Dan Sullivan.

At the invite of Senator Dan Sullivan, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy visited Anchorage on June 26, 2023, to learn about the mental health challenges facing young Alaskans. Throughout the day, they met with dozens of behavioral health providers, public officials, caregivers, youth, and other community stakeholders.

Julia Luey, VOA Alaska’s CEO, spoke during a morning roundtable with providers, while two residents of ARCH (third and fifth from left) participated in a youth roundtable. Witnessing the once-in-a-lifetime experience of two of VOA’s youth residents meeting America’s top doctor is a moment I’ll never forget. (Though I will say, I do regret not taking a quick moment to get a photo of myself with Dr. Murthy!)

Showing Love at Go Blue Day

Child giving a kiss to their caregiver while decorating a picture frame

In the spring, VOA Alaska joined Alaska Children’s Trust and a few dozen other community partners to launch National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. The Go Blue Day event saw a massive turnout of families, who all enjoyed free pizza, engaging activities, and learning about local resources. At the VOA table, our staff hosted a photo booth with blue props and a frame-making activity. While working together on a frame, this child learned over and gave his mom a kiss on the cheek. I spent the entire event walking in circles, snapping photos, and just happened to be at the right place at the right time to capture this show of love!

Anchorage-area Policymakers Meet Youth Residents

During the fall, we hosted several Anchorage Assembly members and Anchorage-area State Legislators at ARCH, our youth residential treatment center. The youth residents led tours, and afterward, we sat down in the Great Hall to discuss the impact of VOA’s work in Alaska and the challenges facing our state’s behavioral health providers. The key moments I’ll remember and that I know our elected officials will remember are the stories from the youth. No matter how many I listen to, I’ll never not be moved by the incredible resilience of Alaska’s youth.

This photo is taken in front of the ARCH mural, designed by artist Sara Davies, and painted together with staff and residents in 2017. Left to right, Senator Matt Claman, a staff member for Representative Schrage, and ARCH Program Director Bre Cason listen to two residents share their stories.

Hundreds of Burgers, Hot Dogs, and Backpacks!

In the foreground, a person stands at a smoky grill flipping burgers. In the background, a line of people prepare plates while more people wait behind them.

During our Back-to-School Community Barbecue, we served 324 hotdogs and 320 burgers, gave out 200 bags with school supplies, cooked over 150 s’mores, and made 100 glitter bottles with kids. I think the photo here speaks for itself, and that’s fortunate since this is already a bit wordy for a photoblog.

Family Night at Begich Middle School Summer Camp

VOA’s School-Based Services team led a summer youth camp for rising sixth graders at Begich Middle School. Their objective was to introduce the students and families to the new school and start the year with joy and positivity. The kids built new friendships and connected with supportive adults while families learned about the resources available to them.

I stopped by during Family Night for photos. In a marshmallow tower building competition this family was focused from start to finish! I loved seeing how well they worked together, shoulder to shoulder, to construct their tower.

Celebrating Pride with Our Community

8 VOA staff, wearing rainbow colored V-logos on black t-shirts, pose behind the VOA table

As the Director of Communications, it’s always a goal to get large group photos of staff. But with over 100 employees spread out between three main sites, a dozen schools, and staff engaged daily in the community, it’s not an easy task! This is the largest group photo we captured this year, but what makes it even more special, in my humble opinion, is that I’m in it (sixth from left). A huge shoutout to Ella, Julia’s daughter, for capturing our collective joy at Anchorage’s Pride Month event in June!

Raising a Ride for Youth

Woman holding giant scissors behind a blue ribbon

Our development team worked for two years to secure funding to purchase vehicles for our Day Treatment program. Efforts were launched with a generous grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. Then came another generous donation from GCI and several individual donations through our online Raise-a-Ride for Youth campaign during the summer. Finally, in August, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate removing transportation as a barrier to care with the purchase of two vans! In the photo, Tiffany Vasser, Contributions & Events Senior Manager at GCI, prepares to cut the giant ribbon.

Alaska Airlines Lands at VOA Alaska

Person smiling at camera while adding books to a shelf.

Alaska Airlines landed at VOA Alaska during their annual “Week of Care,” with two dozen employees visiting three programs to support the youth and young adults in VOA’s services. I visited ARCH while they were revamping the activity room. KC Hostetler, Strategic Account Manager at Alaska Airlines and member of VOA Alaska’s Board of Directors, was quickly stacking books on the new shelves, and I knew this was the moment to capture the important person in action who helped make this all possible, but I just couldn’t snap it at the right moment! So, I asked her to pause and smile at the camera. Mission accomplished.

Crafts and Connections at VOA’s Fall Festival

I took dozens of photos at our annual Fall Festival, but this one captures the goal of the event in one photo: connection. Similar to the Go Blue Day photo above, it’s a moment between loved ones working together to make something beautiful, this time during an activity at the Alaska Children’s Museum table.

If you don’t want to miss out on the wonderful moments we’ll share in 2024, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram or sign up to receive our monthly community newsletter!