The current issue of the Anchorage Press features a cover story on Portraits, a graphic novel depicting five stories of the lives and personal struggles of a diverse group of immigrants living in Alaska.
Portraits is the result of a partnership between the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Leadership Anchorage program, the Alaska Immigration Justice Project and the University of Alaska Anchorage Center for Community Engagement and Learning.
“UAA students and Leadership Anchorage participants paired up into five teams and each participant worked 100 to 150 hours over 10 months planning, interviewing, sketching and writing in order to put the novel together,” reports Anchorage Press features writer Susy Buchanan.
One story recounts the struggles endured by a family who emigrated from El Salvador legally after the El Salvador earthquake. Although the parents are legally in the country and protected under a Temporary Protection Order for victims of the temblor's devastation, some of their children were not able to enter the United States legally, had to be smuggled across the border at great physical and financial cost, and are ineligible for benefits such as Denali KidCare.
Although the family owns a successful cleaning business, they report suffering harassment after a stop by Anchorage police and one of their children has been subjected to repeated bullying at school due to his immigration status.
"[The] family literally swam through alligator infested waters, crossed deserts, and battled gangs to stay together," writes [Leadership Anchorage Class of 2011 graduate] Lara Shogren, a bank manager, and the piece is illustrated by dramatic line drawings of a forlorn woman gazing out a window and a stern police officer, arms folded.
In another touching story, "a Hungarian man and a Chinese toddler meet and find strength neither expected to find. This began his second life in America," [Leadership Anchorage’s Megan] Holliday, director of a children's ministry writes.
"This family became his and his reason to persevere through the challenges of immigration and documentation." And the challenges were lengthy with it taking six years for his working papers to be approved so he could help support his new wife and family.
To read the entire Anchorage Press story, “Out of the Shadows—Graphic novel gives Anchorage immigrants a voice,” click here.
Portraits represents the work of one of four Leadership Anchorage Class of 2011 Community Service Project teams. Portraits team members were Megan Holliday, Moyce Polanco, Dinah Ojwanga, Lee Post and Lara Shogren.
The other 2011 Community Service Projects were covered in the spring issue of The Forum. Those write-ups are republished below.
Spenard Farmer's Market Project
When Kim Wetzel, a volunteer at the fledgling Spenard Farmer's Market, approached the Leadership Anchorage group with an idea on how to make the market more accessible to lower-income residents, the team of Alissa Nagel, Jana Turvey, Leslie Need, Rob Walker, and Jeanne Larsen was immediately inspired to take on a complicated but rewarding project.
Why not make the Market “food assistance friendly” by educating vendors on ways to accept different forms of food assistance in exchange for their produce?
The group's major challenge was in garnering a thorough understanding of the complexities of each of the different food assistance programs. Each program has its own rules, eligible populations, forms (coupon, vouchers, etc) and methods of vendor reimbursement.
Navigating their way through these various systems was key to producing the team’s end product, a food assistance manual for the Market that will explain in simple terms and detail what vendors need to know in order to accept food assistance in lieu of cash.
“It has been an incredible learning experience, and gratifying to see that our time putting together concise, clear information could help both the folks who use food assistance – by supporting a market that really encourages the use of different types of assistance to purchase healthy, locally grown food in their neighborhood – and potentially other markets, too, by sharing what we know,” says Larsen. “It feels like collaboration for something a lot bigger than a neighborhood market.”
McLaughlin Youth Center Project
Seeds of Hope is the title for a compilation of short video interviews with troubled youth who are in, or have been through, McLaughlin Youth Center (MYC). Each of the six to eight-minute segments will address one of three themes; hope, help, and home.
The Hope portion of the video will show the MYC's success stories and explore the process subjects went through to find help, showing the target audience – those who are in the program – ways they can successfully navigate the system. The Help segment will interview MYC graduates and their outside mentors, stressing the important role that mentors play in helping to keep young people from returning to MYC. The final piece, Home, will look at MYC staff, volunteers and graduates of both day and residential programs with the aim of demonstrating that MYC is not just a detention center, but also a school, sanctuary, and even a home for some during crucial formative years.
The project was inspired by team member Christina Petrilla’s husband, who was at MYC as a teen and now works there as a Juvenile Probation Officer. The other team members are Ben Mohr, Josh Wilson, and Kelvin Lee.
Petrilla admits that a project she first thought would be relatively easy turned out to be much more complex. “From brainstorming to creating a strategic plan; making a story board and questionnaire; filming and interviewing; editing etc. Every single step requires better planning, focus, extra time and effort,” she says.
After the film premieres at the Leadership Anchorage commencement ceremony on May 17, the team plans to distribute a Seeds of Hope DVD to Anchorage media, as well as make it available online and through social networks.
Anchorage Volunteer Project
Recognizing the importance of volunteerism in the community – both to those who give their time and the organizations who rely on help from others – Brooke Ivy, Gena Graves, Cherie Northon, and Laura Muller took on an ambitious project that will create an information clearinghouse for organizations and volunteers. They are working to form a central agency offering screening and training to match skills, abilities and interests where community members will be made aware of volunteer opportunities and matched to organizations that both need their help and suit their interests.
The first conducted a needs analysis using surveys created and distributed via the online site Survey Monkey. These results will be presented at the Leadership Anchorage graduation ceremony.
“The benefit of having a resource like this available to people in Anchorage would be immense,” says Northon. “We believe it would help increase volunteerism while making it much easier for those dependent upon volunteers. People who are new to the community could especially use a service like this since they often do not know where to start looking for volunteer opportunities.”