News and Updates

Mental Illness Awareness Week – October 11 Outreach Event

“He has adjusted so much better than almost any person who worked on his case ever hoped.“

When D. first came to live with Karen R. and her husband, he was almost five years old and he had been seriously abused. D.’s care team from the Office of Children’s Services helped connect his new family with services to begin the long road to recovering from that history.  That included therapy through the Alaska Child Trauma Center at ACMHS.

For about two years, D. met with therapist Kristin Mortenson weekly: their primary concern was helping D. feel safe. Karen says those visits were stabilizing, as the family went through the ups and downs of the custody process. A month before his adoption was finalized, it became clear that D. and his family were strong and secure enough together to end the weekly therapy sessions.

ACMHS therapist Kristin Mortenson with D. R.

Karen has kept in touch with many of people who worked to make D. a permanent member of her family and help him recover, sharing photos of family trips and basketball practice, updates about school and piano lessons.  She recently sent a letter to the group, which includes Kristin.

D. has come such a long way in these past eight years!  When he first came to live with John and me, he could not remain in a room without one of us there.  He could not go near a window – too afraid that she would suddenly pop into view.  After several months with us, he could venture out onto our front step, but I had to be standing right there watching, and he turned often to verify that I was still there.  Later on, he ventured further out into our small front yard, but always looking back to make sure I was there by the window.

A few years down the road, he was venturing into our big field with friends and a walkie-talkie on his belt to communicate with me in the house.  Then he discovered a love for the woods and began exploring our five acres with and without friends, never looking back to see if I was at the window and rarely remembering to take along the walkie-talkie.  Now he is such a confident almost 13-year-old. 

You would be so proud to see D. now.  He is so smart and talented.  He plays the piano and clarinet, has a love for science and nature and the Bible, has developed a passion and talent for nature and wildlife photography, and is still the sweetest, most courteous, most gentle boy there ever was.

 So I just wanted to write and say “thank you” again for all you did to free our precious boy from the tortured life he had before June 30, 2010.  He is so confident and loved and cared for, not just by his family, but by all others who come to know him.   Each of you played a very big part in that.

Kristin recalls that working with the family had a significant impact on her path as a therapist, and at the time, a new mother. The foundation of D.’s recovery was through the relationships he developed, with his adoptive parents, providers, and his protectors. His scars came to be understood not just as a symbol of pain but as a symbol of his ability to heal.

In telling her family’s story, Karen emphasized often how much D.’s entire team came to feel like part of the family, with his best interests always in mind.  She thinks people who consider foster-parenting may worry it will be difficult to work with the Office of Children’s Services. But all the staff she worked with were kind and helpful.  Karen and her husband tried to cooperate with whatever they were asked to do, always taking the attitude that D.’s safety and happiness were the primary concern.

Judging by that smile, Karen and John have achieved their goal!

D. is now a budding photographer who hopes to be a photojournalist. He won two Honorable Mentions at the Alaska State Fair.

A younger D. on a family trip to Washington DC to visit with family (and Abe Lincoln’s statue.)

ACMHS/FCMHS Quarterly Update

Read our June 2018 ACMHS/FCMHS Quarterly newsletter here:


Improving Care by Improving Morale

Improving Care by Improving Morale

Residential Team helps clients work toward independent living

Lunch with the Residential Team
By Stephanie Rhoades, ACMHS Board Member

There’s a little place in Anchorage where lunch is served every Wednesday and Friday in a setting so intimate and secure that one diner spoke openly of feeling depressed from being so far away from his family and the positive steps he took to address that feeling, steps outlined in his personal safety plan.  The day I visited, the doors to this dining room were open and fresh air streamed through them, sending the aromas of home-cooked food whirling throughout.

The chefs were at their stations – Kevin’s rice was already finished and keeping warm, Michael (with a G) was expertly sautéing chicken. And Leland hand fried sweet potato fries and seasoned them to perfection – his secret is the cayenne he adds to the salt and black pepper.  We laughed and talked as we waited for lunch preparations to conclude so we could tear into those culinary offerings!

When all was ready, Kevin said Grace for the table.  He is working toward his GED at the moment, as well as improving his skill set to living independently. The food was served family-style. And it really felt like family, even though I’d never met most of these people before.  The table was surrounded by clients and staff of the ACMHS Residential Team.

Residential Team clients live in Assisted Living Facilities and want to expand their potential to live independently by learning the important skills that are not taught to any of us in school: budgeting, nutrition, cooking, cleaning, shopping and working as part of a team, among others. Residential Team consumers also work on their Wellness Recovery Action Plans (or WRAP), safety plans, mindfulness, exercise, learning and using community resources to support them in their own housing and patience. Leland noted that the Mindfulness group most helped him to be aware of other people, what they were doing and what he was doing and not lose patience from what was going on around him. You have to have patience with other people and pay attention to what they are doing to be part of a group that works together.

When Residential Team clients graduate to independent housing from an Assisted Living Facility, they receive ongoing support from staff in their own homes and continue to develop their independent living skills through continued attendance at Residential Team groups and activities.

These lunches show the culmination and demonstration of all the planning, shopping, budgeting, cooking, cleaning and teamwork skills required to live independently. Team members use community resources available to them, like the Food Banks, to acquire nutritious foods, prepare, cook and store them.  During lunch preparation, and throughout the day, team members refine social skills, share their day-to-day life experiences and learn coping strategies for the stressors of the independent living they will ultimately manage without the assistance provided by Assisted Living Facility staff.

Michael is scheduled to move tomorrow into a Neighborworks property.  He has an 811 HUD housing voucher to help with the rent, so he can manage the price of the unit.  Now, thanks to his hard work and the Residential Team staff and programming, he will also manage the day-to-day domestic engineering of a place all his own.  There is no substitute for the look of anticipation and satisfaction on that man’s face! He is ready to take on the challenges of independent living with the ongoing supports he will receive in this far less restrictive housing environment.

The work of the Residential Team results in people realizing their desire to live independently with support when they are able.  The result of the Residential Team programming also benefits the State of Alaska, as it can reduce the expense of Assisted Living in cases where, with some good teamwork, it is no longer necessary.

I am going to see if I can hook a second lunch invitation.  I won’t be able to stop thinking about Michael and how he does in his new place, Kevin and his GED progress and Leland and those sweet potato fries, with their nice, slow, satisfying burn….Yeah, that last part especially.


ACMHS Leadership Update, June 2018

Leadership Changes at ACMHS, June 2018 Update

By Jessica Cochran, Executive Coordinator

CEO Jim Myers has been at ACMHS for 6 months now, and CEO for 5 of them.  Leadership consultant Don Tebbe calls this the “Post-Hire-Taking -Charge phase”, and says it lasts for 6 to 12 months, often through a complete annual budget cycle. But he goes on to say that “taking charge is a two-way street that involves the board and senior management team adjusting to the new leader’s style and outlook”.

There’s definitely been a lot of adjusting for ACMHS staff these past 6 months!

In addition to Jim, we have a new Chief Financial Officer, Mladen Begojevic. Originally from Serbia, Mladen arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2006 to play basketball at the University of Alaska Fairbanks after receiving an athletic scholarship. Upon graduation, Mladen decided to move to Anchorage where he began his career as a financial auditor with a local CPA firm. During his audit years, he traveled all across Alaska and worked with many not-for-profit and healthcare organizations in the state. In 2015, Mladen left auditing to start his own financial accounting and consulting business before deciding to join ACMHS on February 1.

Chief Operating Officer Dave Reeves retired in April, ready for some well-earned relaxation after his third stint at ACMHS.  Joshua Arvidson now heads all Child & Family programs for ACMHS, while Victor Spence runs Adult Services. Kandy Alley remains Director of Clinical Services for Fairbanks Community Mental Health Services.

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joshua Sonkiss, will be leaving ACMHS as of August 15.  Dr. Sonkiss has re-built the medical department with a focus on providing quality care, meeting the accepted Standard of Care regarding lab-work and informed consent for patients receiving medications, timely documentation and reducing inappropriate prescribing.  We’re excited to announce that Dr. Jenna Hiestand will be our new CMO. She comes to us from Bartlett Hospital in Juneau, where she was Medical Director of Behavioral Health, and she and her husband are in the process of moving to Anchorage within the next month.

Change can be scary, but I think most staff would agree that it is also energizing.  The “style and outlook” of our new leadership team has given staff an opportunity to look at old problems in new ways, and we are excited about the possibilities.

ACMHS Announces new CEO Jim Myers, MBA

Military Family Child Program


Resources for parents when talking to children about trauma

Below are some links to papers released by the National Child Trauam Institute in the wake of recent events.  Included are tips on how to talk to children about trauma and resources for parents.  Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.

Tip Sheet for Youth Talking to Journalists about the Shooting

Talking to Children about the Shooting

Psychological Impact of the Recent Shooting

Parent Guidelines for Helping Youth after the Recent Shooting

Recent Public Service Announcements