BETHEL— When officials from the Salvation Army Alaska Division came to visit Bethel last month, they came with the intention to merely explore how they might help.
“We think it’s time to reach out and see what can be done,” said Salvation Army Major George Baker. “We’re hoping after our visit here we can go back and do some brainstorming and crunch some numbers and hopefully in six months or so we can start a program out here. When we come we come to be a part of the community, not to tell the community what to do.”
Over two days, Salvation Army officials held conversations with several key players in town, including the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, ONC members, Tundra Women’s Coalition, Bethel Winter House, the city jail and more. What they came away with was an overwhelming, rabbit hole-like list of problems.
TWC Deputy Director Susan Taylor talked about substance abuse problems and a need for more long term housing for women. Vice Mayor Rick Robb talked about the needs of low-income people and a need for housing for people coming out of jail, people with mental health issues and people with substance abuse issues. The Bethel Winter House board talked about how they needed to create a more sustainable project. ONC spoke about the astronomical prices of food. ONC’s Gloria Simeon said she was worried about the possibility of the senior center shutting down.
“There’s a tremendous need out there. I can go on and on,” said ONC’s Zacharias Brink.
There are things that community members are doing right in the Bethel community. People mentioned the success of TWC, the food bank, Bethel Winter House, the Sobering Center and the senior center, among other programs.
“We have a long way to go but I think as a community and as a region we pull together when we need to,” Simeon said.
Baker was careful to say that he did not want to disrupt anything that was already working.
“I want to say right up front that we have no plans to come in and change the way things are run,” Baker said. “That’s not the way we work. If there’s a food bank, we don’t want to come in and make a food bank. If there’s already a shelter, we don’t want to come in and make a shelter. We don’t want to duplicate anything that’s already here.”
Salvation Army officials also noted their interest in working with the villages in the region, though it may be a while before they can set up a program to do that. Simeon noted the importance of this idea.
“Things that are happening in the villages are going to show up here. Things come to roost in Bethel,” she said.
At the time, Salvation Army officials are being open-minded about what they can do. While the Salvation Army usually starts out in a new area with just a volunteer or a part-time worker, Baker said they may need to think about skipping ahead to creating an outpost, which would have two full-time workers and possibly a facility or an office. He said they want to hopefully start up within six to nine months, or by the end of the year.
“What we want to do is improve the quality of life any way we can. Some things we can’t do. No single organization can, but we want to do what we can,” he said.