Helping the helpers on the Kenai

Feb 13, 2020

For someone struggling with employment — or housing, health care or recovery — they’re generally facing several challenges at once. Finding help for even one of these issues can be difficult, much less navigating the web of service providers spread out across the community.

To make that process easier for people needing assistance, service providers met this week to learn the ropes themselves so they can better direct clients.

Connecting the Kenai, a one-stop resource academy, was held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

“We all have our different programs. Sometimes we can blend and braid together services for an individual so that we can really help them in a holistic manner. From our standpoint, an individual is not going to be successful in their life, as far as employment is concerned, if they don’t have their housing needs met, if they don’t have their health care needs met if, if that is something that is getting in their way of being successful," said Rachel O’Brien, with the Alaska Department of Labor, who organized the event.

Panel discussions were held on various topics over the two days, including health care, recovery, social services, employment, youth, disability and education. Service providers within those areas spoke about who they are, where they are and what they do.

“We offer outpatient services for youth and adults. Right now, we’re offering nine different therapeutic groups a week," said Charlie Simons, a chemical dependency clinical supervisor at Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Addiction. "… So we’re really trying to spend a lot of effort creating an environment that is bound through relationship. And the big statement they said over and over again, I think is really profound. They said, ‘The opposite of addiction is not abstinence, it is connection.’ I think it’s a really profound statement where healing and change happens is in relationship.”

The event was open to the public but most in attendance were organization representatives, learning how they can better connect and coordinate with the rest of the service web.

“There’s so many different entities and, so, trying to remember what every group offers is sometimes a challenge for all of these folks that are in the room. Plus, staff turnover being what it is. So it’s an opportunity for a new staff member for an agency to understand all of the masses of resources that we have here,” O'Brien said.

The more providers know, the better they can advise people in need.

“Because the folks that are needing services, nine times out of 10, they’re overwhelmed with life. And so as they’re working with work services or as they’re working with Department of Labor or vocational rehabilitation or PCHS or CPH or the school district, being able to be navigated by the individuals that they’re working with, for a common good,” she said.

This isn’t the first Connecting the Kenai event but state budget cuts forced a hiatus. Going forward, O’Brien hopes to make this a yearly occurrence. In the meantime, she says anyone needing help navigating services in the community can contact the Alaska Job Center in Kenai at 335-3010.