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On December 16th, we were given the opportunity for a unique training on the topic of internal stimuli. The morning started with a DVD lecture of someone who specializes in auditory stimuli, and has auditory hallucinations herself. She was able to describe her experience from a unique standpoint, backing up her experiences with data and research on the subject.

For the past 4 weeks we have been diligently preparing our students for Christmas. We have been reminding ourselves that the Advent season – the season of waiting – prepares our hearts for the miracle that is about to occur.

From the National Anthem, to the crowded concession lines, to the on-ice action, to the zombie trivia at intermission (which our students knew most of the answers to), to cheering for the home team, to telling stories of playing broomball with the Aces last year, our group from AK Child & Family had a great experience.

This summer, the Oliver program participated in a 6 week equine program co-facilitated by Laurie Linsley, MS, MFT-A the unit clinician, Lynn Paterna, LPC, Angela Schumacher, MSW, LCSW, Associate Director of Residential Services and Dr. Bruce Smith, PhD, Psychologist.

I am super excited to welcome our new Treatment Foster Home to our family here at AK Child & Family.
They are Bart & Julie Goode and here is a little insight into them:

Holidays can be a difficult time for some of the children and families we serve. For some, there are opportunities to visit one another; however for others, and the reasons vary, this may not be possible.

What an honor and a privilege to do the work we do. For the past 125 years, young people have come to this place of refuge and healing – this place that honors their whole being – this place that knows to Whom we belong. For approximately 45,690 continuous days now we have been caring for young people in need. It is an amazing team effort that takes each and every one of us. I am so very grateful for all the dedicated, hard-working and caring people who have been, are, and will be a part of this agency and mission – a part of the healing stories that happen here. For all of this, I give thanks.

It is with mixed emotions that I begin my last week with AK Child & Family. Eight and a half years feels like forever and not long enough, all at the same time. As I walk through the halls, I see evidence of myself and the influences I have had in different areas and in different capacities.

Our Community Role Model for the month of August was none other than the beautiful, gifted, inspiring Janie Lidey! Inspiring doesn’t even begin to describe the ministry of this Emmy award winning singer-songwriter. Words really can’t express the impact she’s had and continues to have on hundreds and thousands of lives throughout her career. Whether teaching, directing, composing, book writing, recording or speaking, her ministry has literally touched lives all over the world. She is especially impactful to the younger generation.

I dropped my desk phone the other day and a piece of it popped off and I couldn’t figure out where it came from or how to put it back on. I carried it over to the Gilbert Center lobby where I was due to attend our regularly scheduled social media meeting. I was fretting over how to fix the phone when our maintenance supervisor Andy motioned for me to hand it to him- and in 2 seconds flat he had it fixed! Since that’s how Andy rolls, I shouted out 1-800-call-ANDY! Because we can always count on him to rise to every occasion, big or small with ease and grace.

Introduction: At AK Child & Family, we recognize the impact physical movement has on the mind and body, and how therapeutic recreation can lead to improved mental health. Key elements within our therapeutic recreation program are the development of self confidence, teamwork, healthy sportsmanship and strengthening body and spirit. Our goal is to expose youth to many different activities and provide them with opportunities to develop habits for lifelong healthy living. Recently our Recreation Department has incorporated a new therapeutic activity (live action role playing) that our students are enjoying.

Marge Monschke, a lifelong member from the Buena Baptist Church in Yakima Valley, Zillah, Washington recently died at the age of 93. She had faithfully made quilts for American Baptist Missions for many years. She passed on the project to her friend Rosemarie LaClair, who mentioned it to Dorothy Gruginski, 92, at the Raymond First Baptist Church.

The Oliver Cottage Fantasy Football league may best be described as “Old School.” The league exists completely off line in this digital age. The draft is held with participants sitting in a circle making picks and doing their best to keep track of the remaining players available. Rosters are kept on the living room wall with slips of paper with player’s names on them. Line ups are submitted by hand and the scoring is done by hand by an Oliver Cottage staff member. Players are added and dropped in the usual fashion.

On September 26, I got ready to go to the symphony. I had been anxiously waiting for Saturday to come all week, and now Saturday had finally come. I put on my tie and put my shoes on, and met my friend and mentor in the garage.

Twice a year our Spiritual Life Department hosts a Talent Show for our residential students. Our hope is that each student who chooses to do so can be a star and have the chance to be the center of positive attention – some for the first time in their lives. Following are excerpts from several students regarding their experiences of the night of our Fall Talent Show & Banquet.

There are countless families every year that have stories of overcoming odds. Unfortunately, many of these stories never get past the walls where they were made. The triumph of each individual and their family are what motivates many mental health professionals to get up every day.

What better way to celebrate 125 years of service to Alaska’s children than to worship the God of love who brings us all together. Yes, there have been various incarnations and mergers over time, that have joined us in ministry with one goal of caring for Alaska’s young people in need.

Almost a year of planning and attending special events culminated today in our final public event- AK Child & Family's 125th birthday celebration! The actual birthday was September 16, 2015, but we celebrated it on Saturday September 19, 2015. Even though the event was fantastic (I'll write more about that later), everything that went into this momentous year is really what impacted me the most. To consistently witness the level of commitment, passion and heartfelt sincerity demonstrated by AK Child & Family's staff was an awesome experience. Many extra hours, including evenings and weekends were sacrificed in order to make this year a successful one and I believe it exceeded all expectations! I want to sincerely thank all of you for everything you do

We are winding down the outdoor gardening portion of this group gradually for the year, but things aren’t slowing down! We have a lot of harvesting, food processing and storing techniques to practice, and fall clean up/putting away the garden to bed for the winter is around the corner

Following the 9/11 attacks there were thousands of airplanes needing to be landed, many of them at airports they were not destined for, and with very tight timelines due to fuel consumption. And yet all planes were successfully grounded without any losses.

Most of the buildings on the campuses of AK Child & Family are named after people who were a part of our history. Below is a story of one of those individuals.

We recently had the privilege of André Horton coming to speak to our youth as September’s Community Role Model. He shared many pearls of wisdom with our youth as well as anecdotal stories that we all thoroughly enjoyed. We hope to share more with you on his visit in a later Blog.

Thanks to the generosity of the instructors and the Turnagain Community Arts Alliance (TCAA), we had the opportunity again this year for our students to attend voice lessons in the community. For the past two years the TCAA has put on a Cabaret to raise funds for our music and art programs.

In a crowded lecture hall, a professional marketer comes up to share his story of being in foster care. He starts by sharing a story of a love relationship in college. He shared how they met on campus and how long they’ve been together. He shared how he participated with her family during family socials and holiday parties. Being asked why he never took their daughter over to meet his family during the holidays, he shared his story of being in foster care and not having a family to go to during the holidays. He continues sharing, “The next day my girlfriend broke up with me. Her mother told her she wasn’t going to date someone without a good family to return to.”

Many of you may be familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son. In brief, in case you aren’t, the story goes that a man gives his two sons his inheritance before he dies. The younger son, after wasting his fortune, becomes hungry and homeless and returns home with the intention of asking his father’s forgiveness and to beg to be welcomed home and given employment. His father finds him on the road and immediately welcomes him back as his son and holds a feast to celebrate his return.

Over the coming months our staff, our students and their families, our volunteers and board members will be learning about the Sanctuary Model of Care. Sanctuary is an evidence informed practice that is recognized by the federal government’s mental health organization (SAMSHA). The model represents a trauma informed method for creating or transforming organizational culture in order to more effectively provide an environment within which healing from psychological and social traumatic experiences can be addressed.

Every year, the Sunday before school starts; we do a school blessing chapel with our students. Placing this time of new beginnings into God’s care can help ease the anxiety surrounding change and amplify the excitement for new possibilities. While here in treatment, many of our students do not attend their “home” schools. It always touches my heart when our students pray for their “new” school in the same breath as their “old” school and in that moment relinquish all thoughts of school rivalry. Some students have even gone as far as saying, “I was taught to hate our rival school – but now I’m a part of it -and so I just pray blessings for everyone at every school.”

The boys at Oliver continue on with the summer challenge climbing a few more peaks: The Ramp, Flattop, Peak 2 and Peak 3. The longest bike ride to date is 65.14 miles

Recently after sessions, the girls of Maplewood III had been leaving small works of art behind. This has been a delightful little treat and always makes me smile and think of the uniqueness and creativity of our girls whenever I looked at the works. It also gave me an idea , “What if we were to have a little art show?” I ran it by our cottage’s girls to see if there was interest, and indeed there was!

We here in Oliver cottage picked veggies that we grew in the Jesse Lee garden this summer. All of us along with Alberta decided to make a homemade soup that was made from the veggies in the garden and a few spices. All the kids in the cottage really enjoyed the soup besides a couple. It was something we could eat a lot and enjoy making again in the future it was also very healthy with all the veggies that we put in the soup base. Most of us requested the recipe so we decided to share it with everyone.

Is your horse shoe up, down or in the middle? As we stood in a circle we passed around a horse shoe, each group member checking in with the group. “My horse shoe is pointing up because I am excited to be here” one student reported. “My horse show is pointing down because my grandmother died and I am sad.” “My horse shoe is in the middle because my allergies are acting up but I am excited to be here.”

During Alaska Flag Day, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra Glacier Brass Quintet played the National Anthem while the Service High School ROTC performed the color guard. They also played the Alaska Flag Song. Sadly, I wasn’t there to see it or be there, because my mom wasn’t feeling too great, and if one of your parents aren’t feeling too great, you know it would be kind of hard for the other parent to take seven kids somewhere with a big crowd.

Happy Alaska Flag Day! My daughter, Luci and I had such a great time at the Alaska Flag Day festival on the Jesse Lee Campus of AK Child & Family, that we wanted to share with you some of our adventures that day.

I love serendipitous moments. It is in these that my faith is affirmed and grows especially strong. At our annual Alaska Flag Day celebration last Thursday, July 9th, I was blessed to witness such a moment. While the main focus of this community-wide gathering is to celebrate past resident Benny Benson’s accomplishment in designing our state flag – it is also a celebration of all the accomplishments big and small that the young people we serve and have served achieve. These achievements often occur despite great odds.

The students arrived and had more confidence today, getting a feel for the routine and expectations. The horses were loose and grazing.

Students explored trust and attachment by participating in group discussions and activities that fostered insight and self-awareness.

The Oliver cottage summer challenge is on! The boys are going for all the records to make this, the 10th year, an epic summer.

The heat provided a calming effect on the animals and the students as we began Week 2 of our Equine Therapy Program. The horses were tied loosely to the railing so they could graze on the grass as we introduced the activities for the day. The themes for the day were “boundaries and trust.”

It had been a long week of high temperatures paired with a general lack of air conditioning. However, it was surprisingly cool in our training room for this time of year. I was conducting a training to certify some new staff and some seasoned staff in the Mandt System. The Mandt System is a person-centered, values-based process that encourages intentional and positive interaction with others. We learn and use the Mandt System in our work because the purpose of the program is to provide human services agencies with a system that teaches skills and strategies for de-escalating, resolving, and preventing conflict, aggression and violence between people within agencies and their programs.

June brings safety awareness month, which makes sense as we kick off the summer. For most of us, particularly in Alaska, summer means trying to maximize our daylight hours by hiking, fishing, biking, camping, or just playing in the backyard or our neighborhood until the late evening hours. As our activity levels go up, so do the opportunities to injure ourselves if we do not take precautions. It is important to pause and make sure you, as well as your children or the children you care for, remember how to stay safe in order to make sure summer is spent having fun, not laid up and injured, watching your summer months drift away.

His thundering hooves could be heard from the distance as Charlie darted from here to there. He is the “Sheriff,” the boys named him. The two horses seemed to be polar opposites, one running around on high alert, the other calm and grazing.

Last month, I spent some time doing some spring cleaning which involved delving deep into the recesses of my storage space. As with any good cleaning project, I found myself sifting through boxes and getting caught up in the nostalgia that comes with finding the hidden treasures from your past. “Why did I keep this awful poem I wrote in High School?”, “Did I really think I would ever wear overalls again? Why did I store this?” and “We look so young in these pictures from college. I wonder where these people are now?”

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) will be offered to students in one of our residential cottages weekly for 8 weeks. EAP is experiential in nature, which means that participants learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the horses, and then processing (or discussing) feelings, behaviors, and patterns. This approach has been compared to the ropes courses used by therapists, treatment facilities, and human development courses around the world. But EAP has the added advantage of utilizing horses; dynamic and powerful living beings.

During our quasquicentennial (125th) year we have heard from a number of people who were involved with the merger of the three original organizations that became Alaska Children’s Services (ACS) in the early 70s. Before having these conversations I had imagined what might have taken place to bring the merger about. What I didn’t know was that my imagination didn’t take me far enough.

At our June 2015 All Staff meeting, Licensing Coordinator Fannie Richardson received the Spirit award. The recipient of this award is determined by nominations from any member of staff below the supervisory level, with the final monthly winner chosen by the three-member Spirit Award Committee. Nominees are chosen based on their support of the core values of AK Child & Family, known as SPIRIT.

In the President’s proposed FY 2016 budget related to Child Welfare improvements, the President states: “Provide specialized training and salaries for foster parents who provide a therapeutic environment for a child. A therapeutic foster home is one with specially trained foster families that can provide support and treatment to a child with behavioral and / or mental health challenges.”

What a blessing to be part of an agency that has cared for young people for 125 continuous years without ceasing. Throughout the years and through all the changes that come with location moves, shifts in paradigms, differing needs for those we serve, a constant thread has remained. We were born in the church and our Spiritual Life program continues to live thanks to our church supports.

On Thursday, May 14, 2015, our Jesse Lee campus lit up with fun games, great food, and a collection of wonderful people sharing one goal of nurturing young lives into their future selves. May is National Foster Care Month and we wanted to have an enjoyable evening to show our appreciation to our Foster Families and let them kick back, relax, and enjoy their time among like-minded individuals.

For the past ten years, in partnership with the Department of Fish and Game, we raise Coho Salmon from the egg stage to the fry stage. We received our eggs back in September and have had them in a fish tank in our classroom where each day a student is responsible for checking the temperature of the water.

I just got back from spending a week with my three and a half month old granddaughter, little Abby. What I noticed about being a grandparent, for the first time, is this child development stuff is even more fascinating the second time around. I mean, as a grandparent, you have time to slow down and watch. I don’t know about you, but when I was a young parent, slowing down was something other people got to do.

As I was looking out my window the other day and enjoying the spring weather, I saw the gentleman who, for years, I have been watching clean the windows outside my office every spring. I’ve always stopped to chat with him but never thought to ask him how long he has been providing janitorial services for AK Child & Family. We would like to thank Bob for helping support our mission for so many years.

The staff working at AK Child & Family are not only compassionate but creative. Each year in the run up to Alaska Flag Day, July 9th, where we celebrate the agency’s past, present, and future, staff and students alike submit artistic designs for our annual T-shirt design competition. This year didn’t disappoint!

Last month, long time AK Child & Family supporter and Board member, Kerry Madden, asked, “Would you accept a vehicle as a donation?” I answered it with an even simpler answer, “YES!” This started a very simple transaction.

Oh, what a night, indeed. As the ACES touch back down in Alaska, having been on a road trip since St. Patrick's Day weekend, I could not help but reflect on what a great night March 14th was. The scene had been perfectly set for excitement and energy. The ACES were fighting for a playoff spot, wearing their St. Patrick’s Day inspired green jerseys, a crowd of over 5,200 people and amazing seats provided to our students, families and staff.

Recently I have had the distinct pleasure of interacting with junior high and high school students in a couple of different settings. The first was at a job fair in Fairbanks about a month ago. One of the local high schools had brought some students to the job fair in order to ask questions and learn more about agencies within their fields of interest.

“My friend and I, who has taken me to several of the symphonies, went to the most recent one. We really enjoy classical music. It was nice and calming. I loved it, and it was so peaceful I want to go again. Thank you so much. We are so grateful, thanks!”

What a blessing when God’s children share their gifts with one another! We are incredibly blessed to have so many congregations and individuals who support our Spiritual Life Department! Without their constant prayers and in-kind and financial gifts, we would not have an abundant and thriving spiritual life program.

In celebration of AK Child & Family’s quasquicentennial, a group of youth dove in to tie dying and balloon sculpting to create a colorful float for the 2015 Fur Rendezvous Winter Festival. The group learned about the beginnings of Fur Rondy as well as the rich history of AK Child & Family. They reflected on what they had learned through being clients at this agency and on their strengths that would carry them into the future.

I got into the field of Social Work to fulfill my passion to advocate for children with complex trauma and / or those who come into this world with challenges such as FASD and mental illnesses. I feel AK Child & Family is unique in the fact that, as a Case Manager, not only am I able to go into the family homes, Treatment Foster Care [TFC] homes, schools and community, I am able to work with the entire family system for each individual youth.

We occasionally hold staff retreats as a way to bring staff together that would normally be too busy to constructively discuss the work we're doing and come up with new ideas, plan goals and solve problems. Our Community Programs staff recently participated in a department-wide retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Reconnecting to the Work and to Each Other”, and was held St. John’s United Methodist Church.

In the world of winters, this Alaskan winter has been what we would call ‘mild.’ Very limited snow fall and temperature averages in the mid to upper 20’s. Common activities such as sledding, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing are all less accessible during a winter such as this. However, one area has thrived this winter, the ice!

For the past number of years, the training department here at AK Child & Family has been fortunate to be the recipient of a State of Alaska Division of Behavioral Health grant to provide training and technical assistance to a provider group of Children’s residential care, known collectively as “RCCY” (Residential Care for Children & Youth) agencies.

Now is a great time for those who are interested in changing jobs, getting into a new career field, or, if you are a college student, breaking into your career field. The spring season draws many different potential employers to job fairs conducted at different venues; several of which AK Child & Family will be attending.

I am just going to get it out of my system ……… I am a grandfather.

I am writing this article a few days after returning from spending a week with my first granddaughter, little Abigail Kay McCarville, and it is hard to think of anything else.

I went to my sixth symphony, five of them with the adult symphony in the Atwood Hall and one of them with the youth symphony in the Discovery Hall. I was excited to go. It was one of the symphonies I have been looking forward to.

On a slightly overcast afternoon in early December the owners of StrattNat Productions visited AK Child & Family to work on a video production we aim to share early next year in time for our Quasquicentennial celebration (125th Birthday).

Our Treatment Foster Parent Recruitment Specialist, Breanna Porter, interviewed some of our Treatment Foster Parents to help readers understand why people choose to open their homes to children in our care, the experiences they have and how it impacts them. Below are a few questions and answers from our licensed Treatment Parents, Dennis & Marilyn Moore.

“The Lake has frozen over again,” wrote Clara Cook on March 14, 1914, “and the wind is blowing awful hard.” But from her window she could see the boys had made themselves sails and were flying across the ice on skates. “The children all love the wind,” she wrote, “and we have lots of snow now.”

Children arrived at the Methodist Jess Lee Home under traumatic circumstances. Often one or both of their parents had died or the family was destitute from illness or misfortune. To greater or lesser extents, the children must have been bewildered, they were frightened and alone. Then, with the resiliency of youth they adapted; they built themselves sails. They flew across the icy lake … (From Volume 1 of Family After All)

I was having such a good time getting to know my new school, Hanshew, (that I first went to on the ninth) when I heard I was going to another symphony, for the fifth time. I got even more excited, and I had thought I had had enough excitement from my first week of school. Apparently, I was wrong about that.

Now that the Holidays have drawn to a close and the tree, decorations and lights have been taken down and stored, we would like to take a moment to reflect on all the great acts of generosity and kindness that went into making the season as special as possible for all of the children here at AK Child & Family.

Interview with the photographer of this photo, also an AK Child & Family Youth. Continue...

It is a powerful thing to put a face to a prayer. As a board member at AK Child & Family, I have received the emails of student prayers for a number of years. They are powerful prayers of students who note everything from small joys (I got a new journal) to big hurts (I’m worried my dad won’t forgive me). The prayers are real, heart-felt and unflinchingly honest. But I’m busy, so I typically do what I typically do with email: skim it, think about it (sometimes) and delete it. Continue...

A familiar tradition was held last month. The AK Child & Family Holiday Banquet and Pageant. Our Spiritual Life Department organizes the event each year in which our students may invite their families to watch the performances by their peers and enjoy a traditional holiday meal. Thank you to South Anchorage Dental Center for the generous donation towards the banquet. This year there were 25 performances on the stage and we had special guests in attendance. One of our favorite bloggers wrote about his experience. Continue...

We've reached out to our Therapeutic Foster Parents asking them to share their stories, experiences, and reasons for opening their homes to the children of AK Child & Family. This first testimonial is from Mama Sisay, currently a Therapeutic Foster Parent and former staff of AK Child & Family's Community Programs. Continue...