On May 22nd, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor in recognition of Michael Carson, of Palmer, an avid community volunteer and the co-founder of MY House, a resource center for homeless youth in the Mat-Su Valley. Carson was recognized as part of Senator Sullivan’s series, Alaskan of the Week.
The following is the statement submitted to the Congressional Record:
Tribute To Michael Carson
“Mr. President, every week I have been coming to the Senate floor to talk about someone in my great state of Alaska who makes Alaska a better place for all of us - for the community, for everybody living there. I call this person our Alaskan of the Week. To be honest, it is one of the most fulfilling things I get to do as a senator, recognizing back home and across the country special people in my state.
There is no doubt that many here in the Chamber and the people who are watching from home have seen pictures and television shows about Alaska. We are a little biased - I know one of our pages is an Alaskan - that we have the most beautiful state, not only in the country but in the world. So we want to encourage everybody watching to come visit Alaska. It will be the trip of a lifetime, absolutely guaranteed. It is truly the people of Alaska who make our state so special, people with big hearts who band together to solve challenges. Like all places, we have challenges.
This week I would like to recognize Michael Carson for his work to help people in Alaska who are struggling with addiction. We know this is a problem that is impacting every single state in our great nation. Michael lives in Palmer, AK, a picturesque town about 45 miles from Anchorage in Alaska's vast Matanuska Susitna Valley - what we just call the Valley or the Mat-Su. It is about the size of West Virginia, so don't get me going on the size of Alaska. It will embarrass most of my- actually all of my colleagues here, unfortunately for them. Palmer is flanked by the rolling Talkeetna Mountains to the north and the saw-toothed Chugach Mountains to the south. It is a close-knit community where most people know each other.
Many people in Palmer and the Mat-Su across the state know Michael Carson's name. Like many Alaskans, Michael's story is one full of adventure. Originally from California, he received his undergraduate in early childhood development from the University of Texas. After hitchhiking through Africa and spending a summer in Mexico, he took a job teaching in Nome, AK in 1974. A few years later, he moved to the Mat-Su to teach and taught our students for many years.
He retired from teaching, but his yearning to help people, particularly our youth, did not leave him. He got a job at Covenant House in Anchorage, which is a homeless youth shelter. It is a wonderful place, by the way. I am a little biased on this one; my wife, Julie, happens to work at Covenant House. Michael's shift started at 8 p.m. and ended at 8 a.m. That is what he was doing at Covenant House. He spent those hours walking through the city, reaching out to kids on the streets, sharing his own story and inspiring our youth because his story also involves recovery. It is a privilege to say here on the Senate floor that Mike has been sober for 29 years.
Eventually realizing that kids in the Mat-Su Valley also needed a place to go when they were in trouble and needed help, Michael and another incredible constituent of mine, Michelle Overstreet, founded MY House in Wasilla, a place that provides services like job assistance, access to healthcare, clothing, food and showers for homeless youth.
Michael still sits on the board, still remains a champion for all youth, particularly those in recovery and the homeless or disadvantaged. He leads recovery groups on-site weekly, as well as meetings with clients who are struggling. He has also volunteered to host recovery groups at the Mat-Su youth detention facility for the past 13 years. Michael has helped many young people get sober and stay sober.
In Michelle Overstreet's words, “It is not uncommon for youth to come into the drop-in center, homeless and just out of juvenile detention, and ask specifically for Michael, to come in and say that he helped them somewhere along their journey through life to sobriety, just to come in and say: Thank you, Michael.”
Most of us know that our country is in the midst of an opioid crisis, one that has become an epidemic in many places across the country. In 2015, more people in America died from overdoses - over 52,000 and most were linked to opioids and heroin - than car crashes or gun violence.
On Wednesday morning, Alaskans awoke to a disturbing headline in the Alaska Dispatch News: “Anchorage is seeing a dramatic surge in heroin overdoses.” Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska. It is my hometown. The article said that since May 1st, there have been more than two overdoses a day in Anchorage - 34 overdoses in just a little more than two weeks.
Like almost every state in this great nation of ours, Alaska is being hit hard by the opioid crisis, and we are trying to focus as much attention as we can in a bipartisan fashion on addressing this crisis, whether in Alaska, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Indiana or Vermont.
We need people like Michael. Every state does. He started the Mat-Su grassroots Opioid Task Force and continues to chair that effort to this day. He knows too well how the abuse of opioids, other drugs and alcohol robs our citizens - but particularly our youth - of their lives, promise and future. He also understands how very important it is to have resources for those who need the support and recovery. Those resources come in many forms. We have been trying in the Congress in the last year or year and a half, to bring significant resources to our state and local communities. We are doing that.
State support is also important across the country. Perhaps most important is the community support and having people like Michael on the frontlines who understand that addiction is not a moral failure and that people who are suffering need help. They need help, not moral judgments from us.
Because of Michael's involvement and the involvement of so many others in Alaska and particularly in the Mat-Su, there are places for people who are suffering to call and get help. There are places to go and heal, and places where our youth can have leaders who listen to them, like Michael.
Michael says it is vital for his own recovery to continue to help people who are suffering from addiction. He calls it “survivor obligation”. I call it the work of angels.
Michael, thanks for all you do, and congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.”