Home for the Holidays

The Gagnon family went from “hopeless and homeless” to together and thriving

With assistance from CITC, Melissa Imboden, center, and her husband, Jeremy Gagnon, Sr., got sober, gained employment, and found a home for their six children just in time for Christmas 2022.

Last Christmas, the Gagnons had more than a holiday to celebrate. For the first time, Melissa Imboden and her husband, Jeremy Gagnon, Sr., had custody of all six of their children, and they had found a home large enough for the entire family.

“That was our biggest Christmas present,” Melissa said. “Being together in our new home.”

Celebrating the holiday together was the culmination of a lot of hard work: After years of struggling with addiction, a period of homelessness, and watching the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) take custody of her kids, Melissa dedicated herself to getting sober and worked with CITC to reunite with her children.

Melissa Imboden

Envisioning a Better Life

“I’m here to break the generational curses the lie within my family,” Melissa declared. She envisioned a life in which her children wouldn’t experience the same hardships she has.

But breaking that curse hasn’t happened easily.

Originally from Juneau, Melissa came from a “long line of alcohol, abuse, and addiction.” At 11, while living in Juneau with her mother, she was taken by OCS. When no placement could be found for her, Melissa ended up “bouncing around place to place” until she was 15, when she became emancipated.

She was in treatment for substance misuse at the Adolescent Residential Center for Help in Eagle River when she met her husband, and she was sober for the birth of her first three children.

“Something’s Gotta Change”

But six months after she had her fourth child, Melissa was using drugs and alcohol again.

“We were homeless, with four kids, living in our car,” she recalled of that time. “I didn’t know where to reach out. I knew about CITC—but I was too ashamed to say, I’m struggling, I need help.”

It took getting a DUI in 2021 for Melissa to begin turning things around this time. At first, she spiraled: With her children back in OCS custody, she was “miserable.”

“I was waking up crying,” she recalled. “I was having nightmares. My niece stopped my suicide attempt—but I was still trying to numb my pain. Whatever I was feeling, I didn’t want to feel anymore.”

Then, an epiphany: After binge-drinking and losing three days, Melissa realized, “My life sucks without my children. I decided something’s gotta change.”

Overcoming Obstacles—with Support

Change started with Melissa advocating for herself as she worked her way up waiting lists to get into a treatment facility. Completing residential treatment was a major step toward regaining custody of her children. Next up, Melissa needed to find transitional housing.

That’s when she connected with CITC.

Substance Use Counselor Deb Flowerdew helped Melissa and her husband get a Grant for the Benefit of Homeless Individuals to secure housing. She also managed to get approval for Melissa’s children to stay with her.

“That was the biggest blessing,” Melissa said. “I didn’t have to wait to find permanent housing; I could start doing weekend visits with my kids right away. CITC helped knock down all the obstacles that had been in my way.”

Many CITC programs offer case management that support families with resources that help them reach their goals.

Putting Recovery First

Thanks to the wide variety of interdependent programs CITC offers, Melissa found more support than she ever expected. In addition to completing CITC’s Recovery Services Outpatient Program, she worked with an Employment and Training Services case manager to secure transportation and referrals for education and job training.

“Melissa put her recovery first, because doing that, everything else falls into place. And then we hooked her up with the full range of what CITC offers,” said Adam Allard, a case manager with CITC Recovery Services.

“Melissa and her husband were willing to put in the work,” he added. “Seeing them grow and their family come back together was awesome. They went from hopeless and homeless to being a family again.”

Together Again

Getting her kids back meant learning how to be a family, together, Melissa said.

“It was hard to figure out how to parent again. My kids had been gone for a year, and I had to relearn who they were.”

CITC Child and Family Services provided support through its Family Preservation services. Sandee Cole, a CITC Family Services worker, paid regular visits to the Gagnons to help them establish a stable home and apply the parenting skills they had developed through additional programming.

“Melissa really took the skills we gave her and used them, and she took her sobriety very seriously,” Sandee recalled. “The thing that impressed me was that, with six kids, she gets pulled in every direction—but Melissa was able to contain herself and respond to each child. She was just hungry to help her family, so she pulled it all together.”

Sandee also set the Gagnons up with the Salvation Army’s Adopt-a-Family program, which provided Christmas gifts to the Gagnon children this past holiday.

CITC’s Child and Family Services department offers parenting classes, help with navigating the OCS system, and social activities that encourage families to connect with each other and with their culture.

Keeping Connected

Today, the Gagnons are thriving. With encouragement from CITC’s Peer Support team, Melissa completed her Peer Specialist Certification and hopes to join CITC’s new Peer Support Apprenticeship program. Child and Family Services, meanwhile, was able to help Melissa transition from the Family Preservation program to Luqu Kenu, which provides social connections with other families and cultural activities. The move is a signal that the family has accomplished many of their goals.

A closed case doesn’t mean Melissa and Jeremy are on their own, though.

“We offer ongoing support,” Adam said. “We keep checking in; even when someone is discharged from services, we make sure things are going good.”

Knowing that CITC is always there, in case she needs support, marks a huge change for Melissa: “I just know that I’ll be able to walk in these doors if I needed help or if I just needed somebody to talk to. CITC was once somewhere I was scared to come before. But now, I don’t think without help from the case managers here I would’ve gotten this far, this quickly.

“I’m just really grateful for this place,” she added. “The wraparound services that are provided through CITC are great. There’s everything in one building—and if there’s something CITC doesn’t have, somebody in this building’s going find where you can get that help.”

Explore CITC’s wraparound services at citci.org. With one click, you can get help with your recovery journey or find parenting support. Or visit our new Welcome Center, where Navigators will ensure you find the programs and services that can empower you to reach your potential.