From the time they arrived in Yakutat at the turn of the 19th century with a calling to help, my grandparents Jenny Olson and E.A. Rasmuson stayed true to their core beliefs. Jenny, who came as a missionary, and E.A., at first a teacher, believed in the power of doing for others, of living with purpose and focusing on good. They saw the resilience and ingenuity of the people in this wild land. They knew how a simple boost could lift others toward their best selves.
My grandmother Jenny joined with my father Elmer in 1955 to create Rasmuson Foundation with a singular mission: to promote a better life for Alaskans. We often do this through our support of the arts and culture. During the 1967 groundbreaking of the Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, my father relayed a message that still resonates: “What education might be to the human mind so culture is to the soul.”
To this day, I hold tight to their beliefs and vision. Our family’s blessings are rooted in values that radiate throughout the Foundation’s work and decisions. Our faith materializes in our small grants, what we call Tier 1s. Small doses of charitable giving allow us to help many, all over Alaska. We see the benefits of a van for elders and youth in Tetlin near the Canada border, equipment for barista training in Saxman, and cross country skis for children in Western Alaska, just three examples among more than 170 small grants given in 2017.
We also recognize how to help one another in bigger ways, building a new wing at the Anchorage museum, training dental therapists through an innovative oral health program, and supporting home-grown Alaska Native engineers.
This year we are putting fresh energy into addressing one of Anchorage’s most persistent problems: homelessness. We are working with landlords and an impressive group of 22 funding partners that includes all 12 Alaska Native corporations to help 40 families and individuals get off the streets. I hope that is just the start of putting our best effort into helping some of the most vulnerable among us.
It is clear that if we stick to what we believe, if we stay true to who we are, we will continue on a path to success, as a family and a Foundation.