Holding Onto Hope in the Cold

Covenant House Youth Ambassador Ryna Lealai at Covenant House Alaska candlelight vigil

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Every community where Covenant House works faces unique challenges from its environment. In Anchorage, Alaska, winters are the hardest time for young people experiencing homelessness because of the potentially deadly cold they’re exposed to. Just being outside, they risk hypothermia, debilitating frostbite, and other effects of extreme cold. Covenant House Alaska stands as a place of safety, healing, and warmth, where youth can rebuild their lives and pursue the great promise of their future. Their doors are open 24/7, just like every other Covenant House.

Ryna Lealai, a youth advocate at Covenant House Alaska, told her story at a candlelight vigil in downtown Anchorage. In her words, “I’m sitting there in my almost dry spot. My shorts getting wet. I’m getting even more cold, because my feet are already cold,” Ryna said. “I’m just like, I could die from hypothermia.”

Ryna said she hugged herself against the tree.

“And I was praying. I was praying real hard. I don’t know what I need right now, but I need something,” she said.

That something turned out to be an elderly Native man. But when he first approached her, she wasn’t so sure. Although he had a nice black leather coat with a fur on the hood, she could tell he was homeless. His hands and face looked rough and red, like he had been out in the cold for hours.

He offered to take her to Covenant House. It was a place she hadn’t heard of before, but she decided to follow him anyway.

“Somehow, that walk, it was like hope was there. And that was enough for me, to keep me following this sketchy man, wherever he’s going,” Lealai said.

When they arrived at Covenant House, the man shooed her through the door with a wave of his hands. Later, when she turned around to look for him, he was gone.


To read the rest of Ryna’s journey at Covenant House, go to

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