Category Archives: 2012 Julie Cozzetto (Alaska)

Thank you Alaska! You have taught me well!

Saturday, July 21, 2012



Thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and supported me these past 2 months! Thank you to all the people I met, worked with, and chatted with. You all have taught me some amazing life lessons and reminded me of other important ideals. I cannot express my gratitude enough for this opportunity and I am so blessed to have received the chance to spend my summer in such a breathtaking place. Thank you to the Alumni Association, CILSA, and Daybreak for helping support this opportunity! Alaska you have taught me well and I am ever so grateful!

Lessons learned in Alaska-


Hiking by yourself can be a therapeutic endeavor, but you need to know the trail and have the right precautions (hello bear bell!).


Hiking in the rain and mud is not fun by yourself.


The views are always worth the hike and the longer and harder the hike, the better the view, usually.


Time is relative here. The extended sunlight throws off your internal clock so you’re eating dinner at 9 pm. It truly helps you appreciate the amount of sunshine they get and when the days become shorter, it is a visible and quick change.


While they don’t have rattlesnakes or huge spiders up here, there are moose and bears to contend with and the bears and moose usually win, be vigilant and loud so you don’t surprise a wild animal by accident.


All people do not have equal opportunity and therefore are unable to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. Sometimes they don’t even have boots, and because of this, they require assistance from their fellow human beings.


When you get to the top of hike, you feel like you’re on top of the world and that is the most amazing feeling ever.


Working with clients requires patience and a touch of grace-something that the case managers have excess of. They’re able to work with clients who need the most help without being condescending.


The word “hospitality” is taken literally here and people go above and beyond expectations. Not only friends that I have met, but friends of friends’ parents, the waitress in the diner in Juneau, the other Washingtonians who were looking for a bite to eat, the random barista at a coffee shop. They all took the time to ask me about myself and then share their own story. They offered advice and tips on places to eat or go. They opened their homes and tables to me even if they had never met me before that night. It’s a true spirit of generosity that has a “pay it forward attitude”, giving back to newcomers just as they were welcomed.


Alaska has beauty that transcends anything I have ever seen before. It goes past any man made structure, no matter the history behind it, because of the naturalness and wildness of the state. As the peaks disappear into the usual cloud cover or on a rare clear day, as they loom over you, you realize the greatness and vastness of this place. It reminds us of the awesomeness of creation and how we fit into that creation.


Alaska taught me an approach to love-of oneself, others, and the world. It is an authentic kind of love that stems from not only recognizing and accepting each other, but embracing each and every one of us for our flaws, attributes, and potential. It involves seeing the human connection we all share and wholly embracing that and what it means for our relationships with each other.


Alaska has taught me to be thankful-for my personal blessings in life, physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally-for the world I get to explore, the trails, oceans, and valleys-for others and the impact they can play in my life, teaching lessons and giving their personal gifts.


I was reminded of the beauty of humanity and nature and the importance of living a life that reflects that beauty as best I can.


In Alaska, talking to strangers (with some precaution) is how you make friends. You will see the same people hiking on various trails and start to build a community with them.


My hope in the good of humanity has been rejuvenated. Sometimes we lose that ideal in the fast paced society and forget the connections we have with other people. Here I have seen people wholly welcome me into their home for dinner after knowing me a matter of hours. I have witnessed the honesty and determination of the employees of Daybreak. I have heard the kind words spoken to others on the street or people that they know. It is an authentic and wholesome environment that reminded me that people are good and they crave the relationship with others that is so often starved in our individualized world.


Be Someone’s Sunshine

Thursday, July 19, 2012

“Don’t let the world change your smile, let your smile change the world.”

                I’m all packed up and definitely not ready to go. It’s amazing how much harder packing is when you’re not quite ready to say goodbye. But all good things must come to an end and it is on to the next step. It’s weird to think that 2 months have passed; I feel like I just arrived last week. But, as I sit here writing at 1:15 am and am looking outside, all I see is darkness. The days and nights of sunlight has slowly but surely faded into darkness-literally. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting darker, maybe it will help me adjust to having an actual nighttime. Either way, I leave for Anchorage tomorrow and board a flight early Saturday morning. My time has come to an end.

I am very proud of how I spent my last full day at work though. I worked directly with a client who is going through a difficult time. I took them to get signed up for services at a local agency because their case manager is out for the week. We went in and started filling out paperwork, and the lady at the front desk asked for my relation and if I had been to this agency before. I answered that I was the intern and no I hadn’t so she had me sign a confidentiality statement (notice the vague references) and helped us through the process. At the end of the paperwork, once we had the appointment set for the next week, we thanked the receptionist for fitting us in on such short notice and working with us so diligently. She then turned to me and said “I have a piece of mind to call over to Daybreak and tell them what a wonderful job their intern did”. I was flattered and very appreciative, and really proud actually. I talked with Polly later about this (I don’t know if the woman ever called) and I told Polly that the biggest change that occurred during these 2 months has been my approach to the population.

I remember when I started I was so nervous that I was going to screw up the services, anger or insult a client, or have to deal with a crisis I was not qualified to deal with. Now, I was dealing with a very upset client and I didn’t even blink when Polly asked me to take them to the appointment. I grew in my understanding of the population of people and myself. I am starting to understand the idea of the individual care that Daybreak focuses on. It’s the idea that working with people at the human level allows them the best treatment and success rate. I saw that today-the client was distraught when I picked them up, but as we talked in the car and worked through the paperwork, they became calmer and even started joking and smiling. There is something to be said about someone listening to you. Most people are just craving companionship and hope. That’s what this client got today. I am there to listen (I avoid offering advice since I don’t really know what I’m doing) so the client was able to talk to someone and receive responses that wasn’t a therapy session. They also were able to take the first serious steps to working on their treatment plan and this offers hope. It is empowering to make those first steps (more like leaps if you ask me) and by the end of the appointment there was a noticeable difference in the client-definitely more hope filled.

So yes, the compliment was nice and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the best part was dropping off my client in a better state then when I picked them up. That was very rewarding and I am so glad I was able to finish off my internship on that note. I have been reminded many times that all people crave is recognition of their humanity and today, because of the pure joy in another human being’s face, I was reminded that we each can make a difference simply by being present and authentic.


“Be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

“The only time you can really be happy, is right now. There is no other moment that exists that is more important than this one. Do not sacrifice this moment in the hopes of a better one. It is easy to remember all these things when they are being said; it is much harder to remember them when you are stuck in traffic or lying in bed worrying about the next day. If you want to move people, simply tell them the truth. Today, it is rarer than it’s ever been.” –I Wrote This For You

It’s easy to get caught up in life-what is happening, what isn’t, what we wish was happening- and forget what we do have. It’s the beauty in the moment, the little things in life that we forget about and look for the greener grass on the other side. The moments of nonstop laughter , the smile on someone else’s face, when someone shows you a kindness you know you’ll never be able to return, or when you help someone out that will never be able to repay you. These are the moments of life-the ones that are happening every day. We spend a lot of time looking forward to the next thing, the next event, or the next step that we forget to live the life we have right now, in this moment. We spend so much time looking forward that we don’t look around us; it all becomes a blur and we never truly live. Life is embracing these moments and truly being present in them for yourself and for those around you.

Alaska has helped remind me of this. It seems to be a slower lifestyle up here; people aren’t so worried with where to be or where to go. You can spend a weekend hiking or camping and there is less pressure on fulfilling all these obligations that you think you have. It seems to embrace the events of life as just that-part of our life. Yes, there are moments of complaint-like the average temperature for the month of July has been 54 degrees (brrr!)-and moments when the grass is a whole lot greener. But this last week has hit me square in the face with saying goodbye and trying to transition back into home life. Some of these people welcomed me into their homes for a day, a night, a weekend, or weeks on end. They showed me their way of life and introduced me into a different way of seeing the world. The clients, the employees of Daybreak, the friends I’ve made, and the people that have invited me to their volleyball games have all reminded me of the importance of just being. I get so caught up in looking ahead or planning the next phase in my life that I forget to let God work through me.

Some people would call it fate, karma, etc. but whatever we label it, it transcends us. There is something greater out there than just this one person or being and we all have our role to play in it. The beauty in that is that our role is determined by the gifts and talents we possess and how we choose to use them. We’re our harshest critics so sometimes we don’t see the gifts we have but if we listen to those around us, we’ll hear about them. I have been reminded that one of the most important steps is being open. If we’re open to the world around us and God working through us we might just find ourselves in a situation that we could have never dreamed of. The capabilities we have are fantastic and all we have to do is be open to those possibilities. Seeing ourselves and the things around us-and I mean really seeing them with all their flaws, beauty, and potential-is living and once we step out of the fog, we can find happiness. Happiness doesn’t come from the best job title or biggest paycheck. Peace of mind doesn’t come from an easy lifestyle. Change doesn’t happen overnight. These all happen when we start to live our lives as we are meant to instead of attempting to force ourselves into the mold the world expects of us.

Living authentically and modeling the behavior and ideas we wish to see in the world is what calls others to do the same. We are able to create change by living it. Bill and Polly and many others I have met over these 8 weeks have reminded me that there is no quick fix. The beauty in living in these moments is celebrating the small accomplishments-watching someone graduate from CRP court, helping a client complete a step on their treatment plan, or observing their ability to grow and change as their work through their treatment plan. These small accomplishments should be celebrated even as you look ahead to that long road in front of you. There will be bumps and set backs on this journey but by enjoying the time you have and the small moments of victory, happiness is realized and change is celebrated.


After a rainy and cold July, I’ve spent this week in sunshine and 70 degree weather. Appreciating the view on one of my runs.


“We don’t use the word ‘crazy’ around here”

Friday, July 13, 2012


                I came here to Alaska not really knowing what to expect. I had never worked with this population of people before, mainly because I was scared of the “crazy folk”. That’s all they were to me, a label, a stigma, and I can thankfully say that these eight weeks have truly changed my perspective. I not only worked with mentally ill clients, but lived with them, and interacted with them in a variety of situations. And guess what, they’re people-just like you and me.

                In court on Wednesday, one of the case managers said the word “crazy”, I don’t even remember the context but it didn’t have to do directly with a client, but the judge and court administrator both gently reminded her that we don’t use that word. It wasn’t until I came to Alaska and worked with the various agencies that I realized the bad label that goes along with mental health. I have never had personal exposure to any therapy or work like this before so I have never realized the way society’s stigma can affect the clients. I have met clients that refuse to admit they have any illness, and therefore refuse treatment, because they don’t want to be labeled. I have met clients that have stopped taking their medication thinking they’re fine only to realize that this is not something that just goes away. This is something that I think a lot of us forget, these are illnesses. The clients aren’t actively waking up in the morning choosing to be sick, they don’t get a choice in the matter, but they do have a choice to seek treatment. A lot of them are scared to, though, because they don’t want to be labeled and shoved to the margins of society. I have chatted with many people who have been to the dark stages and corners of their illness only to find their way to the light and I have met those who are still searching for the end of the tunnel. The ones who have fought the dark places have told me that they don’t want others to let them use their mental illness as an excuse. They all say, “We’re sick, but we still have a conscience”, and while this doesn’t work for every client who hasn’t quite come to understand themselves as thoroughly, I think it stands as a good reminder. They’re still people and should be treated as such.

                The best example I can give, is to give them a smile. So many of us are caught up in our individual worlds and forget to interact with others. If you’re walking down the sidewalk and see someone walking towards you, look up, make eye contact, and smile or nod, some form of recognition. And this goes for anyone you meet. I’ve learned a lot about talking with people, both those who are stable and unstable. The case managers have the patience of saints, that’s for sure. It’s about communicating in a way that is personable but not condescending. The human connection that I am advocating reminds us that the labels are what are holding us back from truly embracing and understanding each other.

                I’ve been so worried about what I’m bringing back from Alaska, what I have to show, but what I have learned isn’t really tangible. It’s a reminder that labels and judgments build the walls back up around us so we’re able to hide away from others.  And so I share with you this song, reminding us that change begins with one person and as we set the example for others, it turns into a movement. We have to model the behavior first.

 Man in the Mirror

The best part of it is that I have been reminded of the beauty of being different. Being a cookie cutter rendition of others has never changed the world and the best place to start is with yourself.




The True Meaning of Hospitality

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” –Blessed Mother Teresa


                Only one more week to go, so mind-blowing how fast the time has gone. Everything about this place is amazing; the lifestyle, the environment, and the people. Coming up here was scary-I was alone and lacked the support I am so used to having at home or school. What I have learned about people up here is that everyone treats you like family. They offer a roof over your head, a warm bed to sleep in, and food in your stomach. They tell you about places to visit or sites to see, some even take you there. They ask you questions and engage in conversation with you. They’re authentic and genuine. I have seen this same mentality in other places, yes, but I have never experienced it to the extent that I have here. The way people have welcomed me into their homes and lives is a beautiful thing. And, I have seen it from people I know up here, to people I’ve just met, to people I barely know. One of the clients who I worked with briefly but likes to get to know the interns every summer invited me to his birthday dinner next week. Other people have offered me a place to stay for when I return to Alaska in the future. Still others have invited me into their families while I’m here; giving me not only adventures but also offering support and friendship. I am truly amazed at the hospitality I have received here in Alaska.

                I spent a good chunk of time last week writing and debriefing for myself. I had been here for six weeks and I was so worried that I didn’t know what to bring back. I didn’t know how to wrap my eight weeks of experience into a neat little package to show off when I got home. This is something that needs to be lived to be understood, as most experiences are. How can I explain to people that have never seen the places I went, met the people I met, or lived the same situations I did? As I struggled with that over the last week, I worried that I couldn’t communicate the many ideas I’ve seen in action, that many of them were blending into one repetitive monologue. On Wednesday I went down to Seward, AK (about 4 hours from Palmer) to watch Mountain Marathon (a race up a mountain that involves mud, blood, and running down a mountain at full speed) with two people I met this summer. One I had known for 6 weeks, the other for 6 days. This past weekend, I went camping with a few friends I’ve known for a few years, their family, and some other friends I’ve met this summer in Homer. I spent almost 4 days with these people, sharing stories, ideas, jokes, and laughter. It was like I had lived here my whole life and this was completely normal to be camping with them.  It is so beyond basic hospitality that these people have welcomed me with. And as I considered these situations and people, I realized that what I was going to bring back is not a concrete lesson or package, it’s an idea-an idea of finding love in each other.

                Mother Teresa’s quote above is one that I believe embodies this idea. We are not going to cause earth shattering change right away, and the point isn’t to look for the biggest and brightest idea, it is to love wholly and completely. It is to welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned, offer food for the hungry. Doing everyday activities with the utmost recognition of a person’s humanity is the greatest gift we can give each other. We are all human, and transcending that, as a believer, we are all created in the image of the divine. We find in each other something that goes beyond our flesh and bones that calls us to care for each other because we all share in this unique reality. This is the idea that Mother Teresa hit on; every act we do, must be done in love of our neighbor. The selflessness of this act is what is so amazing-there is nothing to gain from caring for the sick or injured-it is done only because we care about our fellow human beings.

                This element of love and compassion is what I have be witness to here in Alaska. I have seen this in the clients that have opened up to me, trusting me, and sharing their stories and lives with me. The people that have opened their homes and hearts to me, asking questions, offering stories, laughter, joy, and yes, food, have shown me the action of love by treating me like family. The Case managers and employees of Daybreak have embodied this idea of love in the truest way. They are true advocates for the voiceless and marginalized. They offer help and service coordination, but it goes beyond that. So many of them act as supporters, cheerleaders, and yes confidants. The case managers are there to not only offer the clients the choice and power to find treatment; they also hold the clients accountable for sticking by their treatment plans. It is in the small acts-a weekly phone call, driving them to a therapy session, or working with them to maneuver the system-but when done with love, the clients find in their case managers an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and a voice to offer advice and encouragement. By acting through love, the small act becomes that much greater.

                This is what I am bringing back from Alaska. I have a greater sense of what it means to open your arms and your heart to someone and welcome them. They all put a great deal of trust in me, by welcoming me, and it was done without any selfish expectations, and I wish I could give back half of what I have received here. I know, as an outsider, what it was like to come in and feel welcomed by so many people. I wish I could help those who welcomed me, understand how much it means to me to have experienced that. I know I can’t ever truly repay those I have met up here, but I can pay it forward. I have a lot of opinions and ideas that I have experienced, questioned, and concluded while up here and yes, I will most likely be voicing those from time to time, but the most important lesson I’ve learned up here is that the focus is on the people. It is not a dog eat dog world where you need to step on your mother to climb to the top, instead, people are able to see and respond to each other’s humanity. It is about loving each other through our actions and words. Mother Teresa said it best, no matter what we are doing in life; the action becomes that much greater when it is done with love.


                           Hope: just down the road, but no worries, there is help along the way.


Daybreak’s New Website!

Here is Daybreak’s new website that we got started yesterday! It was a spontaneous decision, but it was something they needed, especially after almost 25 years of being in business!

I know I have been on hiatus this past week but do not fear, there is a blog coming tomorrow! Thank you for your patience and thank you for following!


Do we want to be the Lost Generation?

Thursday, June 28, 2012 and Friday, June 29, 2012

Being alone on a mountain is invigorating and terrifying all at once. I hiked halfway up Lazy Mountain yesterday with my phone turned off and only the sound of the rain and my breathing filling my ears. It was a new experience. I was alone, except for a few hikers I ran into going the opposite direction, on rainy trail (super slick on the way back down), and it was absolutely amazing. I had time to think, no noise to drown out my thoughts, and a chance to look around at the misty mountainside and the valley below. And then you start to freak yourself out-hearing animals moving, or not hearing anything at all, slipping down the muddy slopes. What happens if you get hurt? What happens if you run into a bear? Or a moose? What happens if you get lost or kidnapped? Paranoia at its best, yet these are legitimate concerns. You learn a lot about yourself in both those situations, how you react to them, and how you view them and yourself. Sitting an hour up the mountain on a picnic bench overlooking the valley, I started considering my own life-the blessings I have, the support system, and the opportunities that have come from those. Yes, I am one of the lucky ones.

But what about those who aren’t so lucky? What about the people that are completely alone and trying to navigate our society? Once I made it safely down the mountain, I started thinking about this idea of being alone in context to the clients of Daybreak. I’ve seen a lot of Case Management these past few weeks. I’ve worked with a client myself in trying to navigate the Social Security process. I have witnessed the court system and some of the District Attorneys and Advocates at work. It is not easy to navigate this system in any way, shape, or form whether you have a mental disability or not.

Let me recap my week: Monday and Tuesday were devoted to our big state audit, making sure all our files were in check and that we are fulfilling our mission. Our auditor sat down with Polly and Bill (I got to sit in too!) and chatted about the work of Daybreak and where they were in fulfilling the requirements. He was impressed by the ability Daybreak has had to maintain small caseloads for all the Case Managers. Each Case Manager is capped at 15 clients making it easier on them to give each client the full attention they need to thrive. Our auditor mentioned that he wished more agencies were able to do this and stick by their mission more closely. Daybreak is able to give each client the choice and responsibility of their own personal treatment. It is not the Case Manger telling them what to do and how to do it; each client has full say in their appointments, medications, and skill building. The majority of clients are very cognizant of their disability and they want to treat it; they don’t want to live in the fog that is created by their illness and they are aware of the consequences of leaving it untreated. Most will tell you “don’t let me use my illness as an excuse.” So many of them want to be healthy and well, but they just don’t know how to do it. They just need a little help finding the resources or options that are available for them and then they’re more than willing to utilize them.

Wednesday I actually had the chance to work one on one with a client I’ve worked with before. We are working on getting her back on Social Security disability. Let me tell you; that is one very difficult process to navigate. I was asking the other Case Managers as well as Bill and Polly for help over the last few weeks so I didn’t go into this situation blind. I looked up the necessary documents and information and emailed it to her so she was prepared. I looked over the applications of the various services so I knew what she qualified for and what she didn’t. If I wasn’t sitting in an office full of other people that did this for their job, I would have been at a loss. You have to know specific dates, names, addresses, and medication names. Sounds pretty simple right? Well if you have been seeing various doctors-state ordered and otherwise- for the last 10 years, gathering all that information, most of which is not written down, is near impossible. And for someone that might be paranoid or OCD or anxious, this is a stressful process. I was asking questions and for clarification from my supervisors as I helped my client and then at the end I called the Social Security office to ask a random question and the automated voice machine is so frustrating, so I waited for the operator only to hear this, “the approximate wait time for assistance is 10 minutes”. I can see how clients get fed up and never fill out their information to receive their benefits. The role of an advocate is obviously vital in situations like these where the system itself is not friendly to the clients.

That same afternoon I went to pre-meet for CRP court. I went to pre-meet last week but this week we had a full case load and some pretty intense cases. A lot of them were following their treatment plans so their cases went pretty smoothly. But one client in particular is having some difficulty and because of this, some people are not happy with their performance in CRP. The advocates jumped right in; working to keep this person in the system in the hopes they can restart and graduate later this year. The speed with which the advocates stepped in was absolutely amazing; they recognize the need of this person and the ability this person has to thrive with a good treatment plan. This client would probably not thrive in a regular probation or court system and the treatment would be inadequate. The advocates stepped in to explain the situation to the client and to urge the client and court to consider a revised treatment plan. One of the administrators gave me some sound advice, “Never be done with a client-they always have the ability to turn around-they’re never a lost cause.”

I’ve started to understand the importance of case management, not only for the mentally ill, but for all those who are marginalized. It allows the clients to take ownership of their future and make the choices and actions necessary to thrive. Being alone can be good for the soul, but it is not always the best option. I’ve learned that a lot of clients have an element of shame in admitting their disease. It’s a taboo subject in society and so many people assume the worst. I’ve seen so many amazing people who have spent years fighting their illness-they’ve had some very dark days, yes-but where they are now is so inspiring. They’ve faced the worst and they are very in tune with themselves and their own needs. I believe that supporting these people and working towards their health is vital and they can’t do it alone. In truth, none of us can thrive while we’re alone-we’re interdependent, not independent-and this means we have an obligation to help out. Some of us are the lucky ones, some of us have beat the odds and risen from the ashes, and some of us don’t have the opportunity or ability. For those of us that do, why not reach out a helping hand and give back a fraction of what we’ve been given?

The Lost Generation