This month we celebrate our schools opening for a new year, and students returning to those great institutions. Young people in our community are such an amazing resource and our agency and community are truly committed to nurturing our youth and providing a safe and healthy environment for them to thrive. One program at Catholic Social Services that really speaks to dedication to youth is Charlie Elder House.
Charlie Elder House is a residential home for homeless, teenage boys. In the home boys learn to live independently, achieve academic success, maintain positive relationships and contribute to the community. The house provides a therapeutic environment, case management services and counseling services in cooperation with AK Child & Family.
There are so many great stories from Charlie Elder House. This one is about a young man who came to us when he was 17 years old. Before arriving at Charlie Elder House, he was in Office of Children’s Services custody and had experienced multiple placements in foster care and emergency shelters. He was feeling that he was at the end of his rope. When he arrived, this young man did not immediately feel safe at Charlie Elder because he was not sure how long this placement was going to last, based on his past experiences. Eventually he gave his trust to Charlie Elder House staff and allowed them to support him in his goals. He graduated from high school, learned how to drive and learned to budget the money he earned from his job. All of these accomplishments are things other young people would experience in homes with their families. Charlie Elder House provided a home and family for this young man to reach those same goals.
As he neared his discharge from Charlie Elder House, before he turned 18, he moved into the college dorms. This young man graduated from college and then decided to give back. He was hired by the Office of Children’s Services to work with youth in foster care — youth trying to succeed like he did. He still keeps in touch with the staff at Charlie Elder House and often reflects — in his own words — on the difference Charlie Elder House made in his life.
Every young person deserves a chance to succeed and we as a community should work to provide teens with the type of support provided every day at Charlie Elder House, which was started through the donation of a caring family who desired to provide a residential home for young men. Through their vision and the commitment of people in the community we are creating pathways to success.
There are many ways to contribute to the success of young people going back to school this year. One easy way is through HUGSS (Help Us Give School Supplies). This annual event supported by a group of nonprofits in Anchorage and the Anchorage School District, gives to children in need a new backpack and supplies needed to be successful throughout the school year. Volunteers are needed to help fill backpacks with school supplies on Monday, August 15, or distribute backpacks on Tuesday, August 16. School supplies are also still in need. Find out more about this event on our website at cssalaska.org.
A new school year is a reminder of hope. It is the beginning of a new year of opportunities for the future of our community. Thank you to everyone supporting and teaching young people, and a special thank you to all of the youth in Anchorage working hard and building a bright tomorrow.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 222-7300 or visit cssalaska.org.