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Alaska Children's Services Marks 120th Anniversary

Alaska Children's Services, an Anchorage-based ecumenical facility with Methodist roots, is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year.

A formal anniversary observance was held on July 9, Alaska Flag Day, because the designer of the state flag, Benny Benson, grew up in the Jesse Lee Home, one of the predecessors of the current Alaska Children's Services. The multi-campus facility is a National Mission Institution related to the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries through the Women's Division. Global Ministries is the mission agency of the denomination.

"We rejoice at the value Alaska Children's Services has brought and continues to bring to children and families in Alaska," Thomas Kemper, the general secretary of Global Ministries, said in a letter of greeting to Children Services' president Jim Maley.

"United Methodist Women are proud to have been supporters of this work since its inception in Unalaska 120 years ago," said Harriett Olson, deputy general secretary of the Women's Division. "The history of Jesse Lee Home and Alaska Children's Services is the history of responding to the needs of children and society over a long period of time. We congratulate you for all the work and dedication you have shown over this long period of time. God bless you as you look ahead to continuing service and continuing flexibility."

Today, Alaska Children's Services is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and The United Methodist Church. It also continues a link with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) through an Anchorage congregation. The ecumenical sponsorship began 40 years ago, and Alaska Children's Services operates under its own incorporation and board of director.

"We join you in celebrating your 40-year ecumenical affiliations and outreach," Kemper said in his letter. "The General Board of Global Ministries welcomes and encourages collaboration among Christian denominations to provide hospitality and services to all of God's children."

The facility serves young people from across the state between the ages of six and 18. Some services are residential (there are seven cottages), and some are community-based, including case management and therapeutic foster treatment. A spiritual life program is part of the residential experience. A special partnership program assists students and families who need economic assistance in paying for services.

The earliest branch of the ministry was established by Methodists in Unalaska in 1890 as the Jesse Lee Home. An online history states that "Dr. Albert and Mrs. Agnes Newhall taught school, led church services, and provided medical care" to hundreds of children. The work was extended to Nome, and in 1925 the home itself was moved to the city of Seward, where it continued until a 1964 earthquake and tsunami rendered the property unusable for residential purposes.

The Women's Division of what is today the General Board of Global Ministries purchased property in Anchorage for a new facility, which opened in 1966. Four years later, Jesse Lee merged with the local Lutheran Youth Center and the Anchorage Children's Christian Home to form Alaska Children's Services. The new location afforded better access to services and allowed an expansion of educational and training resources.

The Alaska Missionary Conference today holds the title to the property purchased by the Women's Division in 1964. The Seward site of the Jesse Lee home belongs to that city, and private efforts are under way to restore parts of it because of its long association with the state of Alaska.

Last Updated: 10/24/2012

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