Palmer, AK 🙂
Thursday, May 31, 2012
I’m almost done with my first week here in Alaska and this week has been so overwhelming with information and yet so amazing. I started Tuesday morning at Turn-A-Leaf thrift store in Wasilla, a town about 15 miles from Palmer. I’ll cover what exactly Turn-A-Leaf does in just a bit, but Wasilla is the complete opposite of Palmer. Palmer is a one street town pretty much with a Fred Meyer and a Safeway (they call it Carrs up here). Wasilla, where Sarah Palin used to be mayor, is much more developed with a Taco Bell, Red Robin, McDonalds, Target, Walgreens, etc. It obviously has a lot more traffic and people in general. Coming from Palmer on Tuesday, you can imagine my surprise to see the development of Wasilla. I learned later on that Palmer had been very adamant to keep their town quiet and away from big business while Wasilla welcomed development. The feel of the two towns obviously differed because of this.
Wasilla and Palmer are relatively close so the coalition of charities that falls under the Valley Christian Conference span across the two towns. There are four charities that fit under this umbrella, Daybreak, Inc., Valley Charities (which runs Turn-A-Leaf), Valley Residential Services, and the Wasilla Food Pantry. There are 11 churches of different, mainstream, Christian denominations that run the Valley Christian Conference. They do not offer monetary support, just support in general for the work and missions of the various charities.
Bill has been giving me not only a general overview of the conference, but he has also had me tag along to various business meetings so I could see what some of the work of an Executive Director consists of. He has also taken the time to make sure I understand the information given to me and also offer advice and personal experiences. His main point of advice is to stay in contact with what the population needs. This consists of staying in the trenches with one’s clients in order to stay in touch with their needs. He advocates meeting the basic needs of the clients before attempting to treat them. This is a belief echoed by the other directors as well. It’s the idea that a person cannot be stable or function correctly within society if one does not have their basic, human needs met-such as housing, food, and clothing. Bill is obviously influential in the community and very knowledgeable, and better yet, he is very passionate about the work he does. His idealism reminds me to not give up hope-if he isn’t burnt out after 30 years of working in the non-profit world then there is no reason for me to ever grow out of my idealism. His excitement has only excited me more for the work I will be witnessing and experiencing over the next 7 weeks.
I’ll start my explanation with Turn-A-Leaf: Valley Charities runs this thrift store, but it is not just any thrift store. Turn-A-Leaf is completely self-sustaining and any profit that is made in the store goes right back into it. There are two very special programs that Turn-A-Leaf runs-the medical supply rental and the voucher system. Turn-A-Leaf rents out medical supplies, everything from walkers and canes to hospital beds and shower benches, for a six month time span. This is a valley exclusive program so it benefits the residents of the Mat-Su valley, where the most need is. The biggest population served is the 50-80 year old clients with the majority of clients being female. In total, since January 1, 2012 to May 31, 2012 this rental system has saved the residents of the valley $89,775. I was able to help check in and check out equipment as people came in. Since most people are only renting for a short period of time, it is beneficial for them to only have to rent the items instead of buying them at full price. Most referrals come from health care professionals and since the population cannot usually afford medical equipment, Turn-A-Leaf has been able to provide for a much needed service in the valley. Most of their medical equipment is bought off line or from medical supply providers so the profits from the store help to buy this equipment.
Their voucher system also benefits from the profits of the store. This program is for anyone of any age, providing clothing for those who cannot afford it-usually coats in the winter, clothes for recently released prisoners or fire victims, and house-ware supplies for families. This year to date the voucher system has provided $13,300 worth of clothes to 400 people. The biggest redeemers of the voucher system are a local church and the Mat-Su school district. The biggest population that benefits from this is the 6-17 year old age range, so a lot of the students in the area. The donations are given in kind and each person is able to get up $40 worth of clothing at a time.
Valley Residential Services works very closely with Daybreak, Inc. to provide housing for low-income and mentally ill clients. There are 30 building complexes with 168 units that house about 250 people. The units are everything from single bedroom apartments to full family homes. Each complex houses either low-income, behavioral disabilities, or developmental disabilities. The amount of each apartment is set by the Fair Market Rent Documentation and then tenants pay based on their income level or if behavioral or developmental disabled, they pay 30% of their income and the rest is covered by subsides. This makes the cost more affordable for the tenants, which allows them to move into a more stable home. I have heard from many of the directors that a lot of people live in shacks or trailers in the hills and mountains surrounding town. They don’t have running water or electricity, making their lifestyle very unstable. By providing affordable housing, it allows for the person to have more stability in their lives, therefore making their treatment more effective. A phrase that has been reiterated a lot is “take care of their basic needs first”. This means that people are able to stabilize better if they have a warm home to go back to. Treatment is not as effective if they are returning to a hovel or shack at the end of the day. Basic needs become the foundation for an effective treatment.
This leads me to Daybreak, Inc. and the work they are doing. Daybreak acts as advocates for mentally ill clients, usually people with illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, etc. They are here to empower the client, which means the clients are treated as strong individuals so they are not forced to take medication or go to treatment. Rather, they are responsible to make decisions for themselves and then the social workers at Daybreak help provide them with the resources. The clients are watched closely by their case worker and are in constant communication as they begin to stabilize. As they ask for help, the people at Daybreak go out with them into the community to help them find the resources they need. Daybreak is about empowering the individual to get the life skills they need to become high functioning. It is a very individualistic and hands-on approach to treatment. I’ve met with Polly, who manages the case workers at Daybreak and I will begin shadowing her next week. As the summer progresses, her and Bill want me to start to work with some of the more high functioning clients in daily tasks like making a list or going to the store-actions we all take for granted. I’m really excited to see all this in action.
First Solo Hike!
So after a few days of running around and exploring Palmer, I was running out of places to run within the town so after asking some locals and doing my own research, I decided to check out some local hiking spots. I decided to take an easy today so I didn’t get lost or eaten by a bear (just kidding!!). I found an easy 2 miler about 21 miles south of Wasilla and Palmer. It was a well-known trail with houses lining the right hand side part of the way up. It cost me $5 to park (ridiculous!) but I made my first contribution to Alaska’s State Parks. I hiked in knowing I would end at a waterfall so when the path forked and the top one pointed to the falls I decided to start with that one. Whelp, it ended at an overlook point-nowhere near the action, so, disappointed, I went back to take the other path. This led down to the creek and where the main trail ended, I saw a rocky ledge that took me closer to the falls that were peeking out from the bend. So I thought, “what’s life without a little adventure?”, so I skirted up the rocky, muddy path and inched around the corner until you could see the falls and feel the spray as it hit the river. Gold! Since I hiked in, I decided to run out and then head home. I also found the National Geographic website that rates trails and hikes by difficulty so I now have a to-do list while I’m here with a couple of pretty amazing ones coming up, now all I need is some good hiking partners. Stay tuned for some pictures of my upcoming adventures!
The far-away, uneventful view.