At 17, Jordan Lind-Charliaga could have become a statistic, and he certainly counts among the wounded. But he’s also a renaissance man in the making.
Jordan is a graduate of the Back on Track Class of 2021. Back on Track is the five-year-old initiative of United Way of Anchorage, the Anchorage School District, and Covenant House Alaska to help struggling students earn their high school diplomas with help tailored to their needs, both in and out of the classroom.
“Struggling” in the case of many Back on Track students, means tougher challenges than a thorny pre-calc problem. Many deal with homelessness, hunger, family dysfunction, and mental and physical problems that could overwhelm anyone.
Jordan knows about that first-hand. He talked about it in a way that is matter of fact and without detail, but not at all dismissive. The pain is plain between the lines, even if hard to fathom for those of us spared the experience.
“Addiction runs strong in my family,” he said. “A lot of issues arose as I was growing up.” He grew up in Karluk, on Kodiak Island, and has two brothers and two sisters in a blended family.
“It’s affected basically everyone I know,” he said. “Tore families apart, ruined lives and took ‘em.”
One family member persuaded them to move to Whittier into what Jordan called an “abusive and toxic” situation.
“I believe it was my mom who called for help,” Jordan said. The state Office of Children’s Services brought them to Anchorage. Here they began more than a year of homelessness “in and out of different places,” including a stint with an aunt and uncle that didn’t work, Safe Harbor, and “a lot of hotels.” Homelessness ended about two months ago when the family finally settled into an apartment.
Jordan was at first bound for West High in 2020, but the credits he had from school in Karluk didn’t align with West’s graduation requirements, so just before the pandemic shutdown he was enrolled in Back on Track, meeting at Covenant House. A week later, school was online, and Jordan’s education was on the bubble.
“My personal life got in the way of school so much there was a point in time when I wanted to drop out,” he said. His mom didn’t want Jordan and his siblings to go out, no matter where they were sheltered. “I haven’t been able to do much else but twiddle my thumbs and watch non-existent paint dry.”
Back on Track became his connection to the world in the present, where the “paint” was for real and came with canvas, brushes and expectations – along with the resources to meet them.
“It’s a program that helped me get through high school when I felt like giving up,” he said. “It’s not one size fits all.”
At Back on Track, Jordan could count this message being heard: “I need you to understand that I’m in a different situation and may not have the mental capacity to do this all the time.”
From Back on Track, Jordan could also count on this message: “We have things you need to do.”
In that combination of rigor and flexibility, Jordan was able to explore some of his wide range of interests. His favorite subject is music, with varying degrees of skill on “trumpet, violin, piano, snare – and just a little guitar.” His tastes have range too.
“I could go from pop to rap to alternative to country to classical to rock. If I like it, I like it.”
“My dream job is to become a professional singer,” he said.
He’s written several songs. One he called “The Pawn,” about a girl “constantly breaking up” with the singer. “I’m not your pawn, you can’t play me like a game.”
“There’s another song. I never put a title to it.” It’s about the party life. “But the person singing is saying they want something more.”
Jordan’s interests span math, writing, art, photography, embroidery and sewing, and beyond.
“I recently got the opportunity to do welding. I find that difficult but fun.”
“I’m not fit,” Jordan said. “But I want to do sports. I really loved archery.”
Welder, musician, archer. Reads like a well-rounded Alaskan. Jordan has a path to college as a UA scholar and with a SchoolHouse Connection scholarship, but his plans are to take some time off rather than continue immediately with school. “The idea is to start working somewhere and save as much as I can,” he said. There’s a girlfriend in the picture and also a desire to break from school for a while.
“School has just beaten me up,” he said. “OK, I have relief but what now? There’s relief, there’s fear, there’s confusion.” There’s also a high school diploma, and that means there’s a choice and a chance to write his own future. That’s why, even with his honest take of what he’s feeling in the moment, he gives Back on Track a no-doubts endorsement from the heart.
“I feel like if I didn’t have Back on Track, I wouldn’t be here right now.”