All Youth Deserve A Safe and Supportive Place for Healing

Being a safe and supportive environment for all youth regardless of identity means that all young Alaskans can always find a safety net of support at VOA Alaska.
People walking under a large Pride flag
People walking under a large Pride flag

VOA Alaska’s June 2021 Newsletter. To receive this newsletter and other updates directly to your inbox, sign up here.

What’s in a name? To a person who is transgender, it can be an entire identity. A deadname is the name you were born with or that people use to think of you as. “That person doesn’t exist, and technically, they never did,” says Zack, a youth in VOA Alaska services who shared his story with us in a video for Pride Month. He explains that it makes people feel safe to be called by their chosen name, “because that’s who they are.”

Through Pride Month, a particular quote has stuck with us from Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the state of California. He said that “all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” This closely aligns with our own vision, which is to create a community that supports the hope, health, and healing of every Alaskan.

Over three-quarters of LGBTQ+ youth report being harassed or assaulted at school, and they are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. Many LGBTQ+ youth, especially trans youth, avoid seeking care out of worry they will be discriminated against—calling them by their deadname alone can create a significant barrier to their behavioral health treatment.

It’s estimated that LGBTQ+ youth and young adults have a 120% higher risk of experiencing houselessness. And in fact, one-third of youth in our Permanent Supportive Housing program identify as gender or sexually diverse.

Being a safe and supportive environment for all youth regardless of identity means that all young Alaskans can always find a safety net of support at VOA Alaska. In a time when 80% of youth with mental health diagnoses have unmet mental health needs, it is vital that services are available and offered openly to all young people, free of judgement and bias, and focused on helping children, teen, and young adults achieve their full potential.

Zack and Alex are two youth in VOA Alaska services. To celebrate Pride Month, they offered to share their story and provide advice to other LGBTQ+ youth and allies.

The Stand Proud Society: An Innovative Clinical Group for LGBTQ+ Youth

To meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth in our community, VOA Alaska began a gender and sexually diverse psychotherapy group this past Spring. Mental health clinicians Katie Ogin and Parinita Shetty worked together to create an empirically supported service to help youth increase their levels of hope and coping.

In the inaugural session, the group members chose the name “The Stand Proud Society” to represent who they are and the hope they have in themselves and the LGBTQ+ community. The first six-week group recently wrapped up with a new one beginning shortly. Based on feedback from members, an additional group is being planned to provide more direct support and create a space to share individual coming out stories and other important life moments.

Day Treatment: Providing A Safe and Supportive Environment for Continued Healing

A number of youth who successfully complete a treatment program may re-engage with substance use and other risk behaviors after returning to their homes and schools. Youth are resilient, but they need safe and supportive environments for their continued recovery and opportunities to continue to learn and practice new skills.

In our organization’s efforts to better meet the needs of youth in our community, VOA Alaska will begin offering Day Treatment this summer for youth ages 14 to 18. The new program will provide them with a safe, supportive, and structured environment to help them overcome barriers or challenges.

Combined into a school setting, Day Treatment will provide intensive, clinician-facilitated supports to empower youth in their development and practice of interpersonal and group skills, strengthening recovery skills, and remaining integrated (or reintegrate) into their community, family, and school relationships.

Announcing the 2021 Firefly Awardee: Paul Landes

The Firefly Award was created in spring of 2021 by VOA Alaska to present annually to an outstanding community member who champions causes around youth wellness. The name for this award was inspired by the hope and power of the firefly, who shines a light in the darkest of places. Individuals receiving the Firefly Award have a demonstrated history of being a shining light of hope for youth in Alaska. Through their public leadership and service, activation of resources, and dedication to youth-serving causes, Firefly Awardees are community champions who are making significant strides in eliminating suffering for youth.

The VOA Board and staff are pleased to provide the inaugural award to Paul Landes, who exemplifies these characteristics. Paul, thank you so much for your leadership as VOA Board Chair, all that you have done on behalf of the mission, and being a champion for youth.

After being invited to join VOA Alaska’s board and help steer the agency into a new chapter, Paul says he ultimately joined because he “found out just how wonderful and what an important role VOA plays in our community. Helping youth become successful is really our responsibility, and VOA is one of the conduits to doing that. The agency focuses on long-term health and well-being solutions, and it’s a trendsetter and a game changer.”

As the first recipient of the VOA Firefly Award, it is our pleasure to honor Paul Landes and his dedication to eliminating suffering for young Alaskans.

This Month’s Sponsor Spotlight: Premera

In September of 2020, Premera awarded funds to VOA Alaska to help youth experiencing houselessness. This was even more critical during a time of COVID to address the growing rates of youth in need of housing. With these funds, we’ve been able to help youth secure safe housing and provide them with additional wellness services through our Permanent Supportive Housing and Transitions programs. Homelessness and behavioral health are high needs in our community right now. With Premera’s support, we’ve grown our programs to better meet the needs of youth in our community. Thank you, Premera!

Click to watch a personal “Thank You” to Premera from PSH and Transitions staff and clients

Are you passionate about the wellbeing of youth in Alaska? Do you want to be a part of providing help and hope? Do you enjoy advocating for others and making connections to support the community? Are you ready to join us in giving youth safe spaces to grow and reach their potential?

If you answered yes, consider applying to join the VOA Alaska Board of Directors today. Through your service, you will become part of a 40+ year legacy of helping Alaskans in need.  We are seeking applications from individuals who reflect the diverse populations our services reach. This diversity of perspectives, experiences, and access to resources will ensure VOA continues to reflect the community of those we serve. Visit our website to learn more about our current Board of Directors and complete your application today.