A video message from
A few years ago, my husband Craig and I decided we had space to join others in a new initiative of Love Alaska called Chosen. The goal was to provide much needed, consistent, stable relationship to at-risk youth. We were matched with a 15-year-old girl who was doing well in a local treatment facility. On paper, she was a very hurt young girl and we initially were intimidated; but then we met her and were instantly drawn to her huge smile and winsome personality.
We realized at that moment that our hearts were long gone and that would be an “honest” answer.
Our mentee (granddaughter) is soon to be 17. We have been with her during great difficulty and transition, including four different foster placements in two years. But we are always just a phone call away and available for a run to Starbucks to sort through a boyfriend crisis.
She inspires us and is defying the odds and statistics every day. She demonstrates healthy relationship in ways that should be impossible for someone with her history. You may label it “mentorship,” but it’s really just relationship, plain and simple—and powerful. When Craig and I stepped into mentorship, lives changed—hers and ours. She has our heart and we have hers.
At that time, I worked at The UPS Store, and one day an amazing gentleman came in. I helped him like I’d normally help everyone, giving him my time and attention and always smiling, no matter if it was a good or bad day. That day the store was pretty slow, so he and I were sharing about how good God has been, even though my true intentions were to give up. Then he started telling me about Chosen. I went ahead and did a little bit of research. But in the back of my mind I kept replaying how I was never ever chosen to do anything. And actually, I know that I have always chosen people, especially family, over what I know and believe in. So, the idea of me being chosen had never crossed my mind. My family would say that ‘tough love’ is best. Sadly, as I thought back, I had no memories of feeling like I was chosen in any way. All that came to mind was how I wanted to follow my dreams and live life my own way, but if I did that then my family would dislike me; so, it felt like there was no way that I would get their support. I could do a million things right, but if I didn’t give them something small that they need at that very moment, I became the bad guy.
Even though I was drowning, rowing a boat that had holes in it, I thought I still could survive. To please my family, I’d go out of my way for everyone else but not take one step for myself. No matter what I’d do, the only love shown was none other than tough love.
My research: ‘Chosen’ means to be selected, picked, or elected. The courage to fight battles others never would. The heart that has enough love for everyone you meet. Outshining others without trying. Shining the light in others’ dark path. Helping others strive for excellence always. All these meanings I came across and yet here I am: suffering and suffocating because I can’t really pinpoint a memory--or a day--I felt that I was chosen. As I cried myself to sleep, God revealed that I was hand pick and handmade by Him. How did I not think of this? I’m special to Him no matter what. So, He picked me to go through with the program.
So I did... with my mind still thinking, “hold back a little, maybe they want something. Maybe this and maybe that...” is what I kept thinking. Or maybe they wanted to take away my sister because at the time I had my 17- and 13-year-old sisters living with me. So, I felt like I had to be very careful with what I said. I met with the Program Director who helped me understand a little bit more about how Chosen worked. As I was filling out the papers, the fear crept in again. “Back out, they won’t understand you, ever.” But as my mind was holding back, my heart agreed to get help because I knew I needed help and support. Me and the Program Director had a great conversation about my life and then she said, “It’s funny how our whole conversation I have been asking about you and all your answers were about your family, your siblings. What do YOU want to do?” Again, my answer was that I wanted my siblings to have the life I couldn’t have and for them not to worry or stress.
A few days later I was introduced to the couple of the year, my mentors, who helped me be the person I am today. All along the way, I kept asking myself if this was really possible: to all of a sudden have this kind support, where they me guide me but most of all, laugh and cry with me. After meeting them and being able to trust them, I finally felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t even know exactly what the weight was. Maybe the weight of always second-guessing myself. But all of a sudden, those doubts were no longer there because I had people that wanted to hear about my day. If it was bad or good, they were always there to listen. No one had ever said this to me before, but my mentors say, "Whatever decisions you make, you have our support.” Best of all, they don’t tell me what to do, but instead they support me through it all. This boosts my confidence like a rocket that just took off. I now know I have people that support me, even if I get off mission or fail. I know that they are going to be there with me, encouraging me to start again. When I think about this, I cry happy tears and smile non- stop.
I’m proud to say that ever since I joined Chosen, I have become a better version of myself. Not once did I ever think or worry about them giving up on me, and that is the best thing about it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t thank them enough, but again I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for being patient with me. Chosen team, it honestly feels like yesterday that I was at the edge of giving up, but today I say giving up will not be an option in any circumstance. I’d say, “If right does not look right, then left is always available. No one can stop you but yourself.” Like Nemo says, “Keep on swimming.” Today I, Mona, am the best version of myself with the help of Chosen. And remember, you too are chosen to do great things.
By Leslie Stickland, Former Chosen Program Director
The transition from village life to "city life" was one that we had come to know well over the years. For many of the youth we worked with, getting help meant having to leave their families and everything they had ever known. Oftentimes, their first visit to Anchorage began at a psych hospital or emergency room. While they might be exhibiting dangerous and unhealthy behaviors (that surely needed to be addressed), it never escaped me that they were also just kids. Scared, overwhelmed, hurting kids.
And she did.
Into the cold, rainy, dusk evening.
Youth running from treatment is a common occurrence, and "AWOL procedures" are pretty straightforward. Getting in your car and trying to track them down is not included in said procedures. However, my colleague and I decided in the moment that Ayla's life transcended a policy and procedure manual. Her depression had reached a dangerous tipping point, and we weren't about to just stand by to see how it all played out. Going completely off script and following our gut, we decided to divide and conquer. I would try to find Ayla, and my colleague would try to arrange for Ayla's mother to get to Anchorage as soon as possible.
It's now been over four years, and I still can't take a certain exit in town without remembering Ayla and the events of that day. By the grace of God, I was able to find her and eventually coax her into getting into my car. We sat in a parking lot for over an hour as she continued to cry. She eventually quieted from shear exhaustion. She was so fragile, and my nerves were shot. We finally received word that her mother would be boarding the next available flight and with that, we headed back to the cottage to await her arrival.
It was decided the next day, with her mom by her side, that Ayla would transfer to a higher level of care where her rapidly deteriorating mental state could be stabilized. Her mom, a beautiful soul whose life had also been punctured by trauma, mental illness, and substances, wept and pleaded with Ayla to take hold of the help being offered, so that she could end the cycle of suffering that permeated their family. While she didn't like the idea of being away from her mom again, in that moment, she understood that being alive and safe took priority over temporary comfort. By the end of the meeting, they both let out a sigh of relief and began packing her belongings.
I would love to tell you that Ayla's story had a happy ending. That she got the help she needed, was reunited with her family and is now working hard to fulfill her goals and dreams. But life is not a fairytale and the effects of trauma and mental illness can be relentless. Many months later, we were heartbroken to hear through the grapevine that Ayla's battle with depression had ended in suicide.
When we choose to enter the lives of the broken and hurting, we will inevitably be changed. Our faith will be challenged, our character will be refined, and the reality of our human limits will bring us to our knees. You cannot encounter a teen like Ayla (and there are many in our state) and not be impacted. It can be scary and uncomfortable and overwhelming. As a seasoned social worker who has dealt with many precarious circumstances over the years, I still get anxious and question what in the world to say or do in certain situations. And I definitely don't always get it right.
And then, with an encouraged heart and empowered spirit, He invites me to join Him back on the front lines. To fight for the Ayla's of the world.
By Niccole Van Peursem, Chosen Mentor
I didn’t grow up going to church. My family fits the demographics of the, “a rabbi, a priest and a minister all walk into a bar...” joke. My very immediate family consists of Jews, Catholics, Mennonites, Christians, agnostics, and atheists. The first time I was taken to church on any sort of a regular basis was after my parents told me they thought they had “messed me up” so I should go to church. Though their motive may have been flawed, I thankfully found that I actually was messed up, and I needed Jesus. He became the One I could rely on despite my failings and circumstances. Even after I’d gone to college and walked very far away from Him, He still called me back, loved and accepted me. One night I cried out, “Jesus, am I too messed up for you? Can I come back to you?” I turned to Psalm 46:5, which was written on a bookmark I had.
God is within her, she will not fail." -Psalm 46:5
This is why I mentor. I can’t be, and don’t want to be, anyone’s Jesus. What I can be is someone who has Jesus within myself, and who prays for, encourages, and even challenges other young women as God places them in my life. I can pray for them to someday know Jesus within themselves and that they’ll too come to see that their circumstances don’t define them. I can demonstrate that truth for them in the ways that I respond to and treat them. Specifically, for the at-risk population we work with in Chosen, I can be a consistent friend that loves them through the good and hard parts of life.
Showing up, extending grace, and expressing encouragement isn't rocket science, but it sure is impactful. And what a blessing it is to my faith to see firsthand where Jesus is moving and join Him in His work. I never had a mentor growing up, so I don’t have a personal experience that I’ve lived through or learned from. What I do have is an amazing, dedicated, and Jesus-loving mentor partner and a great support system in our leaders and fellow mentors. And, I’ve got Jesus. Together, we will work to show Alaska's hurting youth that they matter, they are not forgotten, they are Chosen.
By Lauren Humphries, Chosen Volunteer
Perfect love casts out fear.
1 John 4:18
Many years ago, we had a five-year-old foster child whose name was Georgie. He had come to us from a home with a lot of drinking and anger. His parents really loved him, but they also go out of control at times. He was the oldest of three, and his siblings were very young and needy. Much of their care actually fell to him. He had the sweetest heart. He would get up in the morning to change his sibling’s diapers, make them bottles, and prepare cereal for breakfast. He knew how to make them happy and tried his best to care for them well. That’s a lot of responsibility for a child who hasn’t even gone to kindergarten.
One night at bedtime, after a small correction, Georgie had a major meltdown. It was over something so inconsequential that I don’t even remember the exact catalyst. To anyone else, it wouldn’t have even seemed like a big deal, but for him, it was the end of the world. He was crying and screaming and threw everything out of his bed. He got so worked up he literally chewed on the wooden bedposts. We tried to calm him down—tried turning on the lullabies, tried talking, praying, even holding him—but he was inconsolable
Wow. My brain had no concept that this little, sweet, independent boy could be so afraid of being in trouble tomorrow, and then it finally clicked. He had come from an environment where there wasn’t a guarantee of the end of trouble. He didn’t know what would happen when someone would get home from work; he didn’t know how long the anger would last. His fits were fear-based; he would escalate so quickly because of the fear of what he had previously experienced.
As soon as we understood that, we were able to change our ways to help him see that the trouble would end, and he was able to sit in timeout without any issues and get up and go play. Once he knew we would help him through that fear, the behaviors dropped away.
This story has stuck in my mind and guided me ever since. It doesn’t matter if you are 5 or 25, fear changes us and our behaviors. Until there is relationship, fear dictates behavior. The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” As mentors, we have the opportunity to be a part of young people’s lives, to walk with them and build trust that can help calm their fears.
So what does this look like practically speaking?
By Kerri Howell, Chosen Mentor
In fact, I could compare myself all day long to people more "put together" than I, or come up with a million insecurities as excuses not to serve as a mentor. So why have I chosen to be a mentor anyway?
At the end of the day, when I look back at my own mentors, the number one, most impactful thing they all have in common is simply their presence in my life. I can put them on a pedestal in my mind, but in reality, they never had "all the answers" when I had tough questions or decisions to make. They simply showed up and kept showing up. They walked with me and stood by me.
We don't have to make mentorship complicated. A lot can be said for wisdom and knowledge, but at the end of the day, sometimes you just need someone to sit with you and BE. The ministry of presence is powerful, especially for someone who has experienced loss, abandonment, or isolation. And if a mentor doesn't show up first, they can't speak wisdom or celebrate successes when the opportunities arise.
As much as we want to see her succeed, we know that we aren't the answers to her finding success in life. Instead, we are cheerleaders who will be in her corner when life throws its curveballs. We are praying for her, even though she doesn't believe what we believe. We will share our lives openly with her. We will text and call, and even when she doesn't respond at times, we will still be there on the other end of the line. When she does reach out, we'll respond. We'll make time and space in our lives for her. We are going to show up for our side of relationship, and we are excited for every time she decides to show up, too.
FEAR. The possibilities are endless. You can fear heights, you can fear failure, you can even fear fear itself. And as we already noted, there are unending theories, Bible verses, and 10-step plans available to help us understand and overcome our fears. I'll leave all of that up to the experts; but what I DO want to camp out on for a minute, is the simple fact that every. single. human. being. has. fears. Now, that may seem like an overly obvious thing to state, but I think far too often we forget the commonalities that tie us all together. We all know what it feels like to be scared about something. And yet, for some reason, as we grow up it becomes less and less socially acceptable to admit these things; and before we know it, we are presenting only a shell of ourselves to those around us.
When people hear that I work with children, teens, and families that have experienced all kinds of abuse, neglect, and loss, I often hear things like, "Oh, I could never do that. I could never listen to those stories. I would just cry all the time;" or, "That would be so scary, you're so brave."
Well, here's a little secret: I DO CRY and IT IS SCARY because as it turns out, I can't actually fix anyone and I need the Lord just as much as the next person. I don't always say the right thing, and oftentimes I drive myself nuts wishing I had done something differently; but I have learned that honesty, transparency, and humility go a long way. An adult being willing to admit their weaknesses and mistakes makes an enormous impression on a hurting child or teenager.
My point? Our fears, our frailties, our sins... these are the things that remind us that we are all in the same boat. Maybe we're on different decks and perhaps we’re all dressed differently, but we all experience the storms. So just remember, you are not alone; we’re all in this together. Don't let fear be the thing that keeps you from stepping out in faith and serving. Rather, let it be the thing that keeps us on our knees and in community with one another as we look to become more like Christ each day.
By Leslie Stickland, Chosen Program Director
One afternoon, Luke leisurely walked in my office and sat down in the chair across from my desk. Residential treatment life is hard and kids will come in to talk about anything, from weather to math, if it means getting a reprieve from their current reality... so I didn't think anything of it. But when I looked up from my computer screen, I knew instantly that something was off. Before I could even ask, the tears started flowing and for the next hour, Luke sat there slumped over, recalling and retelling story after story from his life.
I believe that God is always speaking, I just don't always do an awesome job of listening. However, in that moment with Luke, I heard the Lord loud and clear. So I simply asked, "Would you rather I give you my therapist answer, or can I just pray for you?" Without hesitating, Luke bowed his head and said, "Please pray"... so I did. When we were through, Luke opened his eyes and sat up straight. The heaviness and weariness in his body was gone. Were all of his problems fixed? No. Did he leave treatment and cease to struggle? No. But he did walk away from my office that day with a peace and taste of freedom that he had never before encountered.
I tell you all of this as an invitation. We feel that the most important thing we can do as program leaders, volunteers, and mentors is pray, so we want to do just that. Join our monthly Team Meetings as a time for us to gather, pray, laugh, and dream all things Chosen. We hope you will join us!