The following was written by one of our Chosen youth. She has given us permission to share her story, and all names and identifying details have been changed to preserve confidentiality.
Hello, my name is Mona. I am 21 years old but was 20 when I became a part of Chosen. I am originally from America Samoa but came to Alaska to live and work to help support my family. Before I was introduced to the program, I was at the edge of giving up on life, my dreams, and especially had no hope for tomorrow.
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, Chosen Program Director
The following is a true story. All names and identifying details have been changed to preserve the confidentiality of all parties involved.
Ayla had only been in our program a few weeks. She was shy, attentive, and unquestionably kind- with a soft smile that drew you in and made you want to hug her. She had come to Anchorage for the first time from a small Native Alaskan village up north. At just 15 years old, a lifetime of trauma, grief, and inner turmoil that she couldn't escape had finally caught up with her. Self-harm, depression, and thoughts of ending it all had become familiar companions. And although coming to treatment was meant to help, it seemed to leave her feeling more alone and hopeless than ever.
So was the case with Ayla. To say that her circumstances and family life were broken would be an understatement. Nevertheless, it was the only life she had ever known. One dark, rainy, fall afternoon, Ayla was found crying inconsolably in her room. Between sobs, she would wipe her nose with her shirtsleeve and beg to see her mother who was back home in the village, several flights away. Her grief was palpable and reasoning with her was in vain. As time went on, her tears and cries of desperation seemed to only grow deeper. And then suddenly, she stood up and announced that if she couldn't see her mom, she was leaving.
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.
My story intersected with Ayla's for only a brief moment. Just a blip on the radar. And yet, to this day, I still think about her. I wonder if she counted her time with us as one more failure or if she felt like we had let her down. I wonder if there is something we could have done differently that would have resulted in her still being alive. I wonder why some people are born into lives of abundance while others have the odds stacked against them from day one. I pray for Ayla's family and hope that somehow, someway, they are able to overcome their demons.
But after I've had a rough interaction or heartbreaking day, and I cry, and probably take some of it out on my family, and most likely watch a lot of Netflix and THEN decide I'm ready to talk to God about it, He always shows up and reminds me of truth: that He's proud of me. That He's with me and before me and after me. That He's bigger than ALL of it and that my understanding is limited on purpose. That I can be honest with Him when I don't like the outcomes I see. That the weight of the world is not on my shoulders and that justice belongs to Him.
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 grew up moving a lot. By the time I got married, I'd moved 13 times. So naturally, I married a military man and added five more moves to the list. Moving that much meant that my family was my only constant; but even they felt distant most of the time. I longed to have friends for more than a year or two. One aspect of moving so much, which on the surface seemed like a gift, was that whenever I messed up, it was okay. I’d be moving soon, and then no one would know about my mistakes. And yet, a part of me often wondered what would it be like to be known and accepted through--despite--my mistakes. What I really longed for was someone who would still show up with mercy, compassion, love, acceptance, and grace even when my failings had been exposed--and would still call me a friend.
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
I felt God say that He’d always been there with me, that failure wasn’t my identity (just my current circumstance), and that He would help me change that.
As with any good thing, there have been some challenges in mentoring. Navigating the best way to respond when our mentee has felt distant or when logistics just don’t seem to work out easily. Even so, throughout our journey, our mentee has said things that give us a glimpse into the impact that mentorship is making in her life. One evening after hanging out and having dinner, our mentee mentioned that she noticed that we weren’t pushing with our beliefs or opinions on her and she felt accepted by us. AMAZING!
By Lauren Humphries, Chosen Volunteer
Perfect love casts out fear.
Georgie was a loving, kind, and obedient child. The only thing was, even the smallest of corrections would cause him to become super upset, way more than seemed necessary for the situation at hand. He would cry and scream anytime an adult asked him not to do something minor. He would throw the biggest fits over a one minute time out. We tried to help him through these times, predict the behaviors, and help him see how to fix it, but we couldn’t get to the bottom of why small things could seem so big to him.
Finally, after what seemed like half the night, he was able to talk with us. The first thing he asked, with little fear-filled eyes, was, “Will I still be in trouble tomorrow?”
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.
It looks like going with them to doctors appointments or financial aid meetings. Standing beside them as they navigate new things that are oftentimes scary and overwhelming for young people. It looks like forgiveness when mistakes are made, openness about your own strengths and weaknesses, and understanding and grace when there is pain. Jesus is our best example, which is pretty hard to compare to; but what a gift that God actually wants each of us to be an example of Jesus’ love in someone else’s life! The most amazing part is that when there is fear, we can always point them back to our hope in the “perfect love" that casts out fear.
By Kerri Howell, Chosen Mentor
"MENTOR" is such a grown-up word. I've had mentors throughout my life who have helped shape my thought processes and character. They are steadying forces when I start feeling "wobbly" or have big decisions to make. However, compared to any of the sweet, godly women who have mentored me over the years, I feel like an imposter just pretending to be an adult.
When I reach out in unsteady times, they're there. When I want to celebrate successes, they celebrate with me. When I feel insecure, they are my greatest cheerleaders. They pick up the phone when I call, and they call me when I haven't reached out in a while. They text or send cards in the mail. They meet me for coffee and pray for me. They ask me tough questions and don't judge me when I don't know how to answer. They laugh with me, cry with me, sit with me. They are PRESENT.
So that's where I've decided to start. I'm going to show up. Thankfully, with Chosen I don't have to show up alone. I have an awesome mentoring partner, and together we get to be present for a young woman as she walks into adulthood. We are simply going to be present in whatever ways we can.
We will show up and keep showing up, cause that's what mentors do. It's as simple as that.
By Leslie Stickland, Chosen Program Director
Type "overcoming fear" into your Google search bar and see how long it takes you to comb through all of the suggested quotes, books, blogs, podcasts, and videos. Trust me when I say there are not enough hours in the day to scratch the surface of this topic.
It seems like sometimes we--the world, social services, the Church—carry this idea or mentality that there are those that fix and those that need to be fixed. Those that have answers and those that need answers. And while we know on an intellectual level that everyone is flawed and struggles in some way, our actions and behaviors often say otherwise.
Want to diffuse a tense situation with a ticked off teen? Apologize for letting your stressful day effect the way you talked to them. Want to make an angry kid smile? Tell her about the time you were so scared to give your presentation at work that you sweat through your shirt AND jacket (just an example of course).
By Leslie Stickland, Chosen Program Director
Many years ago, while working at a local residential treatment facility, I worked with a young man who we'll call Luke. Luke was 16, extremely charismatic, a little quite mischievous and smart. Really smart. He was obsessed with body building, girls, being cool, and did I mention body building? He had been brought to Alaska from another country as a boy, illegally, by his mother who later left him with some "friends" and then returned to her home country. In light of his circumstances, Luke grew up quickly and in turn, acquired quite the arsenal of street smarts and coping mechanisms. Overtime he got mixed up with the wrong crowd, started using drugs, and eventually landed himself in DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice) custody. Luke was one of those kids that all the other kids wanted to be like. He was a natural leader and to those unaware of his story, presented simply as a "normal," good looking kid with great potential. He could give all the right answers, was great at telling you what he thought you wanted to hear, and in his mind, did not need treatment of any kind.
Stories of his favorite grandfather and his favorite grandfather's death. Stories of growing up in Costa Rica and stories of getting hurt by people who were supposed to help him. As he talked, I just sat there quietly and listened. It was almost as if he wasn't even talking to me or even himself for that matter. As if all of the hurt and joy and confusion that had been stuffed inside for so long simply couldn’t be contained any longer and just needed to breath. When he finally quieted, he let out a huge sigh and looked up at me quite abashedly, waiting for my response.
The Lord taught me a lot through that afternoon with Luke. He taught me that people have to deal with their "stuff" when they're ready. He taught me that being available and willing to listen are two of the most valuable things we can offer people. But most importantly, He reminded me that He is the healer. That He is forever moving and working in and around all of us and that to do ANYTHING outside of that which He is already doing is in vain.
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!