The New Hope Counseling Center (NHCC) has been part of the Alaskan Christian College (ACC), founded in 2001, since 2003. NHCC Executive Director Debbie Hamilton discussed the idea behind the center at last week’s “Harvest of Hope” fundraising dinner.
“When we were called to start the college, we felt there would probably be a need for a counseling service on campus but we didn’t know to what magnitude or level when we started,” Hamilton said. “We quickly found that having counseling as part of the paradigm at ACC would greatly benefit the students that came here.”
While ACC students are primarily from Alaska Native villages, the campus also attracts Native American students from other states including Arizona and Oklahoma.
“We hope all ACC students will take advantage of the free counseling services on their campus. It’s very challenging for people who grow up in homes with domestic violence, are told to not talk and not feel and to keep everything within themselves,” Hamilton said. “So it’s pretty daunting and very courageous for a student to walk across the boardwalk to the counseling center and to open up their story to another person for the first time. But when they begin to break down those walls and share there’s a lot of relief and healing that takes place. It’s amazing what happens when truth is spoken into their life and a lot of the lies they have been believing can be dispelled and replaced with peace and hope in their hearts.”
In 2006, the NHCC opened their services to whole community.
“We wanted to extend the opportunity to all the communities of the Kenai Peninsula as well, so we brought on another counselor Peggy Barkman, and she has been serving with us since then, and in 2009 Ted Mole joined us and we just hired Joli Lewis,” Hamilton said. “So right now, NHCC has four licensed professional counselors and we offer individuals, couples and family counseling here on the Kenai Peninsula and we’ve been able to serve people as far south as Seldovia and west to Cooper Landing and even done some face time counseling in rural Alaska.”
Over 200 enthusiastic supporters turned out for the annual fundraising dinner and auction that featured entertainment by the ACC Native Dance Group and stories of hope from ACC alumni and students. Overcoming the stigma of the need for counseling remains a challenge to the individual.
“That’s why we make it a part of the ACC program, so that the majority of our students participate and that helps break the stigma,” Hamilton said. “For any individual who might be thinking of counseling, we would say we know it takes a lot of courage to pick a phone and say ‘I need some help’. But we have found when people cross over that bridge of courage and call to come in and have a conversation, they will find a safe place, a respectful place and a place where they can share their story for the first time. Our motto is ‘heal, restore, equip’.”