Wonder what we’ve been up to during this pandemic summer? Here is a sampling of recent activities involving Rasmuson Foundation and nonprofits in Alaska.
 — Diane Kaplan, president and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation

Convene. Listen. Engage.

We once again convened with leaders in the Black community, the third time since January. The group represents a broad mix of professionals including a state trooper, an Anchorage Police Department officer, state senators, nonprofit leaders and a pharmacist. Our initial goal was to make time this year to meet with diverse communities of Alaskans, especially those who are underrepresented in our grantmaking.

Because of national current events, meeting with this specific group has given so much more than we could have anticipated, including perspective and advice regarding our own response to racism and inequity. During the July meeting, participants discussed the lack of African American representation in museums and art installations, a need for more Black history in school curriculum, and a desire for Alaska’s largest employers to release statements of support for Black residents as well other diverse Alaskans who have faced injustice and inequity. A deep appreciation was expressed for Ed’s op-ed, and we discussed the need for more Black representation on boards generally. In addition, important feedback was shared regarding our ally campaign and a proposed media project to highlight Black Alaskans. Vice presidents Angela Cox and Alex McKay and Program Officer Roy Agloinga joined me in hosting the group.

A meeting with Fairbanks Black leaders is in the works. Board members Rebecca Brice-Henderson and Marilyn Romano plan to participate.

Coronavirus response

While individual 401(k) accounts as of late have bounced back, the Foundation’s assets continue to be impacted by the economic upheaval of the pandemic, in part because of our positions in the real estate, energy and financial sectors. In response, the Foundation leadership team has continued with cuts and adjustments to our budget to reflect projected assets averaging $575 million for the year. Among other things, we are saving money because of the cancellation of this year’s Grantmakers Tour of Alaska, the absence of hosted in-person events including the Individual Artist Award celebration and the lack of Foundation travel. Routine grants in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 programs remain on pause.

Our COVID-19 Relief Fund now has designated about $1.2 million in awards, with $1 million more from other sources redirected to organizations addressing critical needs. Those latest figures reflect an additional $250,000 for matching grants to local governments that invested CARES Act dollars in arts and culture organizations, mirroring our earlier investment in response to robust demand. For round one, awards to local governments of up to $50,000 will benefit arts and culture organizations in the City of Kenai, the Denali Borough, the Municipality of Anchorage, Kodiak, Petersburg and Unalaska. Second-round deadline: Aug. 14.

Recent distributions from the response fund include $147,000 to nonprofits for laptops, digital platforms and other technology needed for online work and programming. Our Camps Initiative is taking new form with virtual curriculums and activity kits this year. We provided support to 12 nonprofit camps totaling $158,000 in redirected funds. And the first round of $1,500 grants to support individual artists facing a dire financial emergency because of COVID has gone out. These come through our partnership with Atwood Foundation, Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Out of 273 applicants, 73 were selected, said program officer Enzina Marrari, who has been working with the arts council to review applications. Another 143 applications will be considered in round two.

We helped carve out $35 million in State of Alaska CARES Act funds for nonprofits. Program officer Tanya Dumas is helping The Alaska Community Foundation make awards, which will range from $25,000 to $1 million. The round one deadline was July 29; applications requesting a total of $40 million were received. We also are promoting the opportunity.

AK Can Do, the statewide COVID-19 relief fund that we helped create at The Alaska Community Foundation, continues to grow, with the total now topping $2.5 million thanks to a $100,000 contribution in July from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The healthcare foundation’s leaders have participated in the Grantmakers Tour of Alaska eight times, attending in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2018.

Meanwhile, the Foundation office reopened — briefly — on July 13. No more than 25 percent of staff were allowed at one time. Staff members coordinated their time in the office. They wore masks in communal spaces, didn’t share food and wiped down surfaces they touched, like the refrigerator door handle. On July 29, based on new guidance from the Muni, we reinstated a “work from home if you can” directive.

Four buildings a good start

We have been closely watching and speaking out about proposals before the Anchorage Assembly that, if approved, would support our effort to solve homelessness. The Assembly is considering the purchase of four properties for a daytime engagement center, a combination engagement center and night shelter, residential substance misuse treatment facility and transitional housing for those leaving shelters or finishing treatment. A second proposal has been postponed indefinitely. It would have changed municipal zoning code to allow these types of facilities in business districts as well as areas zoned for public lands and institutions. I testified in support of the purchases as did Dick Mandsager, our senior fellow, and Todd Shenk, senior program officer. We helped spread the word on social media about the Assembly meetings, and we published a post by Dr. Mandsager on rasmuson.org.

The op-ed in this screenshot from adn.com discusses how racism has seeped into testimonies against proposals to purchase and convert four buildings into centers that offer shelter, housing and substance misuse treatment.

While homelessness has many causes and affects many community members, including veterans, families, and young people, the debate over these four buildings amplifies hopes, fears and prejudices. A recent op-ed by the Rev. Matt Schultz and Samuel Johns, an Athabascan activist and performer, described how “the evil of racism” has seeped into people’s comments in recent public hearings. The Assembly is next scheduled to consider the purchase proposal on Aug. 11.

Other developments include results from the January 2020 point-in-time count, which found a total of 1,058 people in Anchorage experiencing homelessness, including in shelters or transitional housing. On that bitterly cold night, just 55 were outdoors. The total number has been essentially flat in recent years. The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Advisory Council also recently produced a document that analyzes gaps in services and details community priorities. To fill all the unmet needs for housing, from shelter beds to permanent supportive housing, Anchorage needs an additional 3,000 units. The biggest gap is in rapid rehousing, which includes temporary subsidies and supports to help individuals break the cycle of poverty.

Experts predict an increase in homelessness due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

A foundation for Portugal.The Man

Grammy-winning Alaska rock band Portugal. The Man with Rasmuson Foundation President and CEO Diane Kaplan before a rally over the governor’s vetoes of the budget at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

We helped Portugal.The Man launch PTM Foundation and a new website in July. The Grammy-winning band hopes to build community resilience and empathy through music, stories, art, education and connectivity. The foundation aims to convene and organize partnerships and projects informed by community need, then mobilize Portugal. The Man’s listeners and supporters around that shared vision. The group has a special emphasis in working with Native American communities.

The band has stepped up for Alaska, headlining a Save the State rally last summer. We supported the launch with a $10,000 grant. Learn more at www.PTMFoundation.org.

Helping this business group look like Anchorage

The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce is gradually becoming more diverse, with the help of concerted attention from Jocasta Gee Olp, the chamber’s diversity coordinator and a local pharmacist. She was hired in 2019 with the help of a $25,000 Tier 1 grant from the Foundation; a second small grant for a like amount was awarded this year. Matching grants supporting this multi-year diversity program come from Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., BDO, Carr Foundation, ConocoPhillips, Cook Inlet Region Inc. and GCI.

Jocasta Gee Olp

Five free memberships have been given to graduates of the Set Up Shop program for entrepreneurs from low income and minority communities, Olp reports. The chamber has formed diversity partnerships with businesses, community groups and legislators. It has issued two press releases on diversity and hosted four Make It Monday forums with diversity themes. Recruitment of diverse prospects is continuing for potential director seats and diverse nominees are being encouraged for Gold Pan Awards. Its website highlights diversity and inclusion. Of 23 board members, 12 are women and four are minority members.

In our social media posts, we are putting regular attention on the census in the hopes of increasing participation. We also continue to participate in the Anchorage Complete Count Committee and are a funder of Alaska Counts, the statewide effort.

Making sure Alaska Counts

Census efforts in Alaska started off great with a national kickoff in Toksook Bay back in January. Then COVID-19 hit. The count shut down during a critical two weeks. Fewer than half of Alaskans have completed the census as of mid-July, the lowest response rate in the nation. Some 166,000 Alaska households aren’t yet counted. Alaska Native residents, Black residents and other people of color have especially low rates. A low count can lead to a loss of federal funding and diluted representation by elected officials. In the parts of Alaska with the highest numbers of Alaska Native residents, two-thirds of residents have yet to complete the census, according to an analysis by Headwaters Economics.

Note: Different areas of Alaska are counted different ways and remote Alaska areas already have been counted door-to-door.

The Census Bureau will keep trying and will help Alaskans be counted wherever they are, even fish camp. Residents can phone it in! The census has been extended until Oct. 31. But if you haven’t answered, don’t wait for the census to come to you. You’ve got until Aug. 11 to go online at my2020census.gov, or call 1-844-330-2020 to answer over the phone.