Almost 25 years ago, we called together a group of partners and funders for the very first time. Our challenge was how to support an innovative program for young women who struggled with alcohol, a way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome. Our endowment at that time was small, so we only had $25,000 to give. But through convening other interested donors, we helped raise $2 million for Southcentral Foundation to build a proper home for Dena A Coy, which means The People’s Grandchildren in the Dena’ina language.
Since then we’ve hosted hundreds of convenings big and small. People usually think of foundations strictly as grantmakers. Convening can be even more important than providing money. Our nonpartisan structure and long view as an institution built to last position us to lead on complex, persistent issues. We have convened housing experts to address homelessness and community representatives to build charitable funds in their local communities. We’ve gathered faith leaders to encourage social engagement and a broad cross section of the business and nonprofit areas to speak out against racism. We bring in subject matter experts, funders and advocates, map new strategies, and tackle projects too big for anyone to do alone. Our grantmaking philosophy is to be a catalyst for change. One of the best ways to do that is to bring Alaskans together, in conversation.
Sometimes we just want to learn more about our community or raise awareness. We’ve hosted Korean American community members and housing providers, former governors and philanthropy colleagues, just some among many varied backgrounds. In 2016, when the seriousness of the state budget shortfall was emerging, we met with Alaskans from Bethel to Fairbanks to Ketchikan to encourage a path to a sustainable future for our state. Three years later, the work continues. Discussions may help decision-makers down the road.
In this year’s letter to Alaska, read about some of our convenings, on homelessness, the arts, and even earthquake response. And what of Dena A Coy, that unique treatment program? It moved in 2001 to a new building funded by many and inspired by the Athabascan story of Raven bringing light. Since the program began, more than 1,900 women and 500 children have been served. As program leaders tell us, women leave with new skills to manage the ups and downs of daily life, a renewed sense of their personal strength and restored hope that long-term recovery is possible.
It starts with coming together.