New sculpture graces Wasilla memorial garden for lost youth

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 6:07 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A new piece of art is helping to remember the lives of young people who died too early. The 22-foot high aluminum sculpture sits in front of MyHouse, a drop-in center for homeless youth in Wasilla. It’s the latest addition to a memorial garden that honors MyHouse clients who have died.

“In 2016, in the midst of the opioid epidemic, we had a year where we lost 11 kids, which is about one a month,” said MyHouse Director Michelle Overstreet. She said the young people died by suicide, drug overdoses and even murder.

“And it was very, very difficult for the staff and the clients, so we started brainstorming on the idea of a memorial garden,” Overstreet said.

In 2019, a young man volunteered to put in the garden for his Eagle Scout project. In the summer of 2020, people started leaving plants.

“And it just filled up with the most beautiful things,” Overstreet said. “We would come to work in the morning and there would be plants sitting on the ground waiting to be planted and we would plant them in memory of someone. Sometimes we knew who they were and sometimes they didn’t.”

Around that time, local artist and former board member Holly Gittlein suggested a sculpture to complete the garden.

“The idea went to the next level with a sculpture in the middle of the memorial garden that would really be a community art piece that would help other people see those youth that were lost, and the value we saw in them,” Overstreet said.

Gittlein was able to get a grant from the Alaska Council for the Arts to complete the sculpture. Another grant from the Rasmuson Foundation paid for a summer camp, where MyHouse clients helped created the mosaic birds suspended from the sculpture.

The piece, called The Path to Liberation, was installed on Wednesday. Overstreet said she sees the work as a beacon of hope, but also a cautionary tale for the clients they serve now.

“Where they look at that and go ‘I don’t have to do that, I don’t have to go down the road that those birds represent, going to heaven or however you think about it, I can pick a different path,’” she said.

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