Meet Sauniga Gogo.
He’s a big guy, and he hugs often: you feel his warmth the minute you meet him. His staff call him “Gogo” and respond with smiles to his shouts of greeting down the hallways. Sauniga Gogo has been general manager at this midtown Anchorage hotel for about a month. A year-and-a half ago, he was homeless.
Gogo says he came to Alaska from Pago Pago when he was 17 to finish school. But he had a falling out with his adopted brother and ended up homeless. At that point, he was young enough to find shelter and support at Covenant House Alaska, where he first spoke to an ACMHS clinician. He completed an-online high school program, got a job and an apartment and lived on his own for a while. When he tried to enroll in nursing school, he found out that his high-school diploma was from an unaccredited program, and when his boss learned that, he lost his job. That’s how he ended up homeless again, this time for several months. He knew he’d aged out of Covenant House and wasn’t sure where to go.
But he’s resourceful. So he followed a guest into a hotel, found the business center, and googled “homeless youth Anchorage”. That’s how he found Alaska Youth Advocates, a program of ACMHS. He started messaging through facebook, and Serena Nesteby, who was AYA’s program manager at the time, recommended Shiloh Community Housing. When he needed a deposit and rent, she helped connect him with funding through an Alaska State Department of Labor program that has since been discontinued. His contact there was Mary Marsh, who now works as an employment specialist for ACMHS.
Marsh says Gogo was highly motivated; “He had goals, and he worked hard to achieve them. He made my job easy because he had a plan and he stuck to it.”
Gogo still hopes to go to nursing school when he can manage it. He’s a musician and a member of Anchorage’s Youth Task Force on homelessness. He performed in a video that made the finals for the Chan Zuckerberg Thrive Initiative Challenge in August 2018, and which probably helped Covenant House score a $1 million grant from Premera Blue Cross. He thinks his experiences with homelessness make him a better manager: he believes in giving people chances that might help them, and says you’d be amazed how motivated those staff are to do well.
Recently, he reached out to AYA, again via facebook, to say thanks for the help he received. “I’m just laying on my bed, and I’m thankful for everything. You direct me to the right program that can help me out with my life,” he wrote. “…I hope I can meet you someday because you have no idea how much you done for my life. Thank you, Alaska Youth Advocates.”