Feature story of VOA Alaska’s June 2022 Newsletter. To receive this newsletter and other updates directly to your inbox, sign up here.
VOA Alaska’s vision is a community that supports the hope, health, and healing of every Alaskan. It’s a vision closely aligned with the words of Harvey Milk, who declared that “all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
But what does this look like? What does it really mean to truly be a “safe and supportive environment” for every Alaskan? Sounds like some clever jargon we might pepper into progress notes, but HOW do we do this? Let’s start with a story…
Morgen entered our Supportive Housing Program in 2017 and recently shared with us what it was like to experience VOA’s safe and supportive environment for the first time. When Morgen began meeting with Chris, her VOA clinician, she says he “helped me embrace accepting and learning more about myself. He didn’t just say, ‘hey go with it, whatever you are you are.’”
Her prior experience was that therapists who were “paid to care” would just “throw pills” at her. But, Morgen says, “all of a sudden he’s actually talking to me, actually looking at me like I’m a person.” It took a few weeks to get used to it, but she eventually realized he wasn’t going anywhere, and that if she wanted to address the trauma in her life, she’d have to start taking him seriously. “And the second I did, progress after progress after progress.”
Morgen’s experience with Chris and the team is but one example of the many ways our staff support youth identifying as LGBTQ+, many who are still very much in the process of discovering or defining their identity.
Here’s how VOA Alaska is showing up every day for the youth and young adults in our care:
- We are advocates for them in the community, helping to take on the burden of ensuring they are addressed by their name and pronouns, or simply connecting them with supportive resources.
- We share in their excitement as they discover how to express themselves and encourage them as they explore those expressions.
- We are honest, humble, and curious as we learn about the individual experience of each client, asking questions, but also educating ourselves and each other—we understand the burden is not on our clients to teach us everything about their experience. We understand just because we say we offer a “safe and supportive environment” it requires us to back that up with meaningful actions in how we show up and hold space for others.
- We meet with our youth, their families, share resources, destigmatize, and facilitate connection to what is most important to them to help strengthen relationships and improve the quality of their lives.
- But most importantly, we put people first.
Our team strives every day to not only create but BE the safe and supportive environment many of the youth and young adults do not have elsewhere.
Thank YOU for joining us in celebrating young Alaskans this Pride Month and supporting our work to celebrate pride every day.