The Awakening and Beautification of Wonderland Park Wasilla, Alaska
I helped found an organization in Wasilla, Alaska way back in 2010 to address the rampant homeless youth problem in the valley where I live. The organization, Mat-Su Youth Housing or MY House https://myhousematsu.org, is revolutionary and integrates a non-profit/for-profit approach to find solutions to our mission of ENDING HOMELESSNESS. Yep, we don’t mess around, we are in it to win. Goodbye homelessness.
Being the voyager that I am, I ebb and flow in and out of Wasilla, but always touch base at the MY House headquarters or what we call the Gathering Grounds. Over the years of involvement, I have worked with numerous youths in the field of the healing arts. We formed a little group and we call ourselves the Awakening and Beautification team. First, we started out by painting the small café located in the headquarters where homeless youth are gainfully employed and learn basic skills, like cooking, how to run a cash register, customer service, cleaning, and self-esteem. The café provides income for the organization and hands-on training. Next, we moved on to painting a two hundred foot graffiti mural for the city of Wasilla located on the pedestrian pathway next to iconic Wasilla lake. This made us a little bit famous. We called our mural “The Portal for Change”.
Portal for Change was created in 2016 by the Beautification and Awakening Team. Read more here: https://www.frontiersman.com/news/youth-pro-artists-make-mural-to-beautify-wasilla/article_47fc9090-55cb-11e6-ab6d-17bfb0987185.html
During the summer of 2020, the team was once again approached by the mayor of Wasilla to dazzle up Wonderland Park. This time our mission was to convert a boring concrete-asphalt pad into fun games and healthy movement opportunities for the community at large. I began to gather the team. What’s great about working with MY House is the success we have with transforming invisible, unrepresented and often abused kids into powerful leaders and beneficial citizens. I have seen this process occur for years. So it was no surprise to me that most of the Beautification team had moved on since the last project. For example, River, once homeless and discarded, had launched off to Washington state where she was running her own business a niche she created selling sheik clothing and importing unique textiles. Two of my core crew were still there Abbey and Ian. Abbey was running the front desk of the Gathering Grounds and was also a personal assistant to the CEO. Ian, I call him the Garden of Ian, cause he’s so precious, was now the manager of Steamdriven Boutique the other MY House business run by youth which flips donated items for a profit as well as training youth in all avenues of customer service, cleaning, marketing, and the ins and outs of a retail business. I called a meeting and before we knew it we had several other youths on the team, sketches of games to paint on the pavement, and a plan to execute.
The beginning stages of hopscotch at Wonderland park
We hit the ground running and cranked out the painting in a three-day session with mother nature’s encouragement and supportive clear, rainless, 80-degree days. One of the most rewarding experiences for me is to take these kids, who are often stigmatized and treated as inferior, and fan their artistic expression and confidence. It is therapeutic for a young adult who is not recognized as a valued part of a community to give back to that very community. To witness these kids take part in the transformation of a lifeless area and breath their essence into the space is to be part of an alchemical experience; transforming led to gold. And that’s what we did. We painted twister, hopscotch, and created fun little games out of thin air.
The community walked by and applauded throughout the entire process giving cheers or encouragement and songs of gratitude and appreciation which made our team and their creations soar. The homeless youth left their imprint, their vibration, and a piece of their soul on the ground. They gave back and it made them proud and provided a sense of being part of the community. They wanted nothing in return. Every single one of them was appreciative of the opportunity to create for their community and help.
To learn more about the Awakening and Beautification of Wonderland Park you are welcome to read this short interview from the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. https://www.frontiersman.com/arts_entertainment/q-a-with-myhouse-founding-member-and-traveling-artist-holly-gittlein/article_80273c6a-e42c-11ea-82ec-ebe24a2f74a3.html
I encourage you, as a fellow human being, to widen your perspective regarding homelessness, the stigmas, and the taboos. These kids are just like you and me. They need a home, some food, and love and then…they can soar. Check out the MY House website https://myhousematsu.org and read about the success and change that can happen when you give youth “a hand up and not a hand out”….that's one of our mantras.
Read more about the Portal For Change in this article called "Good Graffiti":