These last two months have been nothing short of intense! As we all adjust to this time of coronavirus, we thought you might be interested in recent happenings involving the work of Rasmuson Foundation, nonprofits and other grantees in Alaska.
                      — Diane Kaplan, president and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation

Distinguished and delightful: master carver Wayne Price

Wayne Price is seen in Juneau Feb. 22, 2020. (Photo by Pat Race)

We are pleased to announce that Wayne Price is the 2020 Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist. He is a Tlingit master carver who is renowned for the artistry and precision of his formline work. We hosted a virtual celebration on April 29 that featured beautiful remarks by board members Judy and Cathy Rasmuson; internationally known artist and friend of Price, Preston Singletary; and me; as well as the honoree. We opened with a song by indigenous studies professor and Tlingit musician, Lance Twitchell. We were relieved the technology worked so well! People from across the United States participated. One staff member summed up the emotions with the hashtag #happytears. My takeaway? Nailed it!

Homelessness initiative evolves

On two fronts, the COVID-19 crisis has made efforts to address homelessness more vital than ever. In just weeks, tens of thousands of Alaskans lost their jobs. The summer tourism season may end before it ever gets going. Many people are turning to the safety net of nonprofits for the first time in their lives. We are hearing stories of near-homelessness, and how our nonprofit grantees are stepping up to help. As of April 28, more than $1.5 million had been raised for AK Can Do, the community relief fund we are supporting, including 359 donations by individuals.

 Lutheran Social Services of Alaska handles referrals in Anchorage from the 2-1-1 system for people in need of help with rent, utilities, groceries and other basics to stabilize life and prevent homelessness. In recent weeks, the agency distributed $220,000 in grants to more than 230 families — 800 individuals. Most of the need arises from the COVID-19 crisis. Alan Budahl, Lutheran Social Services executive director, told reporters about some of them at our AK Can Do press conference. One woman had struggled with the complex process of applying for unemployment. At Lutheran Social Services seeking help with rent, “she couldn’t believe she had a $1,000 check for her landlord in less than 20 minutes,” Budahl said. She asked staff to excuse her. “She needed this moment to cry,” he said. A substitute teacher whose income dried up when schools closed “was very happy she didn’t have to go to Plan B, to put everything in storage and live in her car.”

Darryl, a client and volunteer of Bean’s Cafe, leads a tour of cots inside Sullivan Arena.

At the same time, help for those who are experiencing homelessness is changing rapidly. The need for safe social distancing means no more business as usual. Operating homeless shelters out of ice arenas to add space brings challenges and opportunities. A temporary one-stop help center is operational — from a tent in the Sullivan Arena parking lot. Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Catholic Social Services, Anchorage Community Mental Health Services and soon, Southcentral Foundation, are operating there. United Way of Anchorage recently provided four laptops and a printer to help individuals apply for jobs and aid from the parking lot. The tent offers a makeshift preview of what we envision for a Midtown engagement center. One of our recent COVID-response grants is directing $100,000 to Bean’s Café for a navigator to work as a go-between for clients in the arena shelters and the social service agencies in the parking lot. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has just started to fund a second navigator. Services include connecting clients with permanent housing.

In addition, our response includes $313,000 to Catholic Social Services for rapid rehousing, aimed at families and now individuals who are most ready for their own place. Catholic Social Services reports that as of April 24, 116 people were moved into safe housing and another 135 received help that prevented homelessness. For our COVID-related homelessness work, another $10,000 went to Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis for hotel rooms to help isolate and quarantine clients.

These grants are part of the $1.5 million in coronavirus-response spending by the Foundation as of April 30.

New chair of economics advisory board

Our own Board member Curtis McQueen was recently tapped to serve as chairman of the advisory board overseeing the University of Alaska Anchorage Distinguished Rasmuson Chair of Economics.

Curtis McQueen

The Chair of Economics was created in 2002 through an endowment by Elmer Rasmuson. Visiting scholars are brought to UAA through the endowment for a semester or longer. The chair aims to bring UAA distinction in economics and advance research and public policy on topics important to Alaska. Starting with Nobel laureate Vernon Smith, there have been nine Rasmuson chairs. Professor James Murphy, whose specialty is experimental economics, holds the position. Several years ago, Chairman Ed Rasmuson transferred responsibility for this endowment and two others — for rare books at the UAF Rasmuson Library and fisheries research at UAF — to the Foundation. Rebecca Brice Henderson represents the Foundation on the rare books endowment committee and Chairman Ed chairs the fisheries research endowment committee.

Staying clean and safe in Petersburg

In Petersburg, the library, laundromat and Parks and Rec community center are among the places that pre-coronavirus pandemic offered public restrooms — especially important for people experiencing homelessness. Our Board member Kris Norosz was among those who recognized the risk when things shut down. She stepped up with a design for handwashing stations and worked with a behavioral health clinician at Petersburg Mental Health Services to implement the community-supported project. Rotary Club members are changing out buckets of water. The Chamber of Commerce donated money for soap and paper towels. Read the story by public radio station KRSK here.

Shut out of newsrooms, journalists find new ways of storytelling

The Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism, created in 2019 by Atwood Foundation, awarded $70,000 in technology grants to 21 newspapers and radio and TV stations to help them deliver the news during the coronavirus pandemic. The grants are funding laptops and video, audio and other digital equipment so reporters and editors can work safely while being shut out their newsrooms. Rasmuson Foundation as well as Knight Foundation are funders of ACE-J along with Atwood Foundation.

Partners focus support on coronavirus response

Prominent Alaska funders have shifted grantmaking to focus on the crisis of COVID-19. As of late April, Mat-Su Health Foundation had awarded 18 grants totaling $856,337 under its Coronavirus Prevention and Response grant program. Its awards of up to $50,000 target critical safety net programs such as housing, food and behavioral health. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority has designated $1.5 million for COVID response in grants up to $25,000 to organizations that help beneficiaries. The trust authority already has awarded 47 grants totaling $1 million. Priorities include immediate needs such as rent, medications and groceries; protective personnel equipment and operational assistance such as for telework. Alaska Airlines Foundation has dedicated $315,000 in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and California. Sealaska has pledged $1.25 million.

Virtual panels will assess art applications

With the Distinguished Artist named, other 2020 Individual Artist Awards recipients will be announced later this year. We are moving ahead with our selection of Project Awards and Fellowships through virtual panels. A more traditional in-person celebration is planned for next year combining the 2020 and 2021 events. We heavily promoted the 2020 opportunity throughout Alaska with workshops, public radio interviews, a poster and videos explaining the awards and how to apply.

We also are wrapping up our partnership with the literary nonprofit 49 Writers, a way to promote the artists and support Alaska writers. Almost 70 profiles of past IAA recipients were completed in two years. We shared each on our social media platforms. You can find the profiles at rasmuson.org/49writers/. Enjoy!