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Monthly Wellness Focus Encourages Children’s Services in Alaska

Joel Kiekintveld and Jessica Louwerse at the Office of Children's Services’ first Wellness Wednesday event.
(Submitted photo.)

Working at the Office of Children's Services in Anchorage, Alaska, can be a stressful and difficult job, but since 2019, staff there have had the support and care of volunteer chaplain Joel Kiekintveld in the midst of that work. Last year Kiekintveld and ministry partner Jessica Louwerse expanded that support with a series of workshops and engagement opportunities thanks to a Resonate Global Mission innovation grant. Kiekintveld is a commissioned pastor of the Christian Reformed Church pastoring Reclaim, an emerging Christian spiritual community in Anchorage. He and Louwerse, a leader at Reclaim, codirect the Anchorage Urban Training Collective.

In applying for an innovation grant, Kiekintveld and Louwerse had originally planned to focus on training events for staff but realized what was needed, and often requested, was encouragement. Out of this, they partnered with Beacon Hill, another agency that supports Alaskan children and families, and developed Wellness Wednesdays. The monthly events included lunch for OCS staff with a focus on a different aspect of wellbeing. The first event, looking at healthy relationships and social support, was July 12, 2023, and the final one, focused on stress-free family holidays, was Dec. 13, just before the office relocated in the new year.

The monthly events made staff more aware of the weekly chaplain work Kiekintveld did on site. During those visits, Kiekintveld would check in on staff individually. “It’s a bit like a doctor making rounds,” Kiekintveld said. He was also on call for anything the office needed, like a listening ear for those in hard times, or to lead a memorial service. Whether it's “conversations about life, work, health, and spirituality, I just try to be helpful in any way,” Kiekintveld said. Monthly Louwerse would join Kiekintveld for HUSH, an hour-long mindfulness and meditation space designed for staff to relax, recenter, and refresh.

Kiekintveld has been in Anchorage since 1995, when he moved there to be a youth pastor at Trinity CRC. He went on to found and run Parachutes, a drop-in center for high-risk and street-involved youth. Kiekintveld was originally a commissioned pastor for that work through Crosspoint Community Church (now Reclaim). He worked for Parachutes, which has now closed, for 17 years and began pastoring Crosspoint/Reclaim in 2016, taking up the part time chaplain work with children's services three years later.

Participants in the Wellness Wednesday events expressed appreciation through survey responses at the end of the project. One respondent wrote, “I love the HUSH sessions and Wellness Wednesdays. It's nice to have permission to be healthy for a bit! Slowing down to check in with myself—HUSH—and to check in with my peers—Wellness Wednesdays—does make a big difference in my daily wellness! Thank you.” Another responded, “I appreciate all of your efforts so much—it feels good when the hardship we experience in this work is acknowledged and effort is made to show staff that people care.”

The office relocation at the beginning of 2024 caused a brief disruption to the regular chaplaincy schedule, but Kiekintveld has now returned to his weekly visits. Asked often when Wellness Wednesday and HUSH might resume, Kiekintveld said the partners from last year, including Reclaim, are excited to continue encouraging the staff at OCS through these ventures very soon. He and Louwerse “are looking forward to continuing to support the workers there and deepen our relationships with staff,” Kiekintveld said.

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