The Alaska summer kept us energized even when it seemed like so many things were falling apart. What is keeping you inspired during the pandemic? Read below about what the Foundation has been up to.
— Diane Kaplan, president and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation

Congrats to our “Women of Achievement”

An impressive and inspiring slate being honored for this year’s YWCA Women of Achievement awards includes Rasmuson Foundation board member Marilyn Romano and Vice President of Programs Alexandra McKay. The Foundation couldn’t be happier to see them both selected from a group of highly deserving nominees who work to empower women, eliminate racism and promote opportunity for all, living the YWCA mission.

Marilyn Romano (Photo by Brian Adams)

Romano has embraced her roles as Alaska Airlines regional vice president and publisher of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner providing opportunity for women, families and Alaska Native people. She is vice president of the Alaska Airlines Foundation and executive sponsor of Alaska Airlines’ Native Employee Network. Her work led to a $1 million pledge by Alaska Airlines to support the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program at the University of Alaska. She ran the newspaper as a family-friendly operation with children part of the newsroom. She serves on the University of Alaska Foundation board, is an American Heart Association Alaska Advisory Board member, and chaired the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation.

Alexandra McKay (Photo by Brian Adams)

McKay, who is Black and Korean, champions civil rights across race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Alex had a stellar career in law and philanthropy before joining the Foundation. As VP of programs, she oversees our grantmaking and has led on recent initiatives related to COVID response, including the $40 million partnership between the State of Alaska and The Alaska Community Foundation. She has also been a strong advocate of funding for groups that historically have been underrepresented. She reaches out to organizations rooted in communities of color. One grant provided technology upgrades for a Korean senior center. She was a featured speaker at a recent march in support of racial justice (see separate story). She serves on the boards of Philanthropy Northwest, United Way of Anchorage, and recently, Outer Coast. She served seven years on the national ACLU board.

In addition, CEO Diane Kaplan wrote a letter of support for another of this year’s awardees, Susanne Fleek-Green, superintendent of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve southwest of Anchorage. She is former chief of staff to Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and is an outstanding professional.

In all, 10 exceptional Alaska women are being honored as 2020 YWCA Women of Achievement. The others selected are: Paola Banchero, Renee Carter-Chapman, Ann Hale, Panigkaq Agatha John-Shields, Lina Mariscal, Moira Smith and Lynda Zaugg. What role models all of these women are! The celebration will be held virtually through a “Week of WOA” set for Nov. 2–6.

Convening with leaders of the Anchorage Korean community

During the Momentum Fellowship retreat, virtual discussions were led by First Alaskans Institute.

External Affairs Associate and Momentum Fellow Emily Kwon helped to organize a gathering of leaders from the Korean community in Anchorage to discuss COVID-19 impacts, their programs and how Rasmuson Foundation can support them. This is not the first convening with the Korean community. Rasmuson Foundation last met with leaders in 2017, resulting in almost $90,000 over multiple Tier 1 grants.

Key Getty, president of the Korean American Community of Anchorage (KACA) and retired CPA, expressed though they have been adapting well to convert to virtual celebrations and meetings, some services have been disrupted. When asked what programs were heavily impacted by the pandemic, our guests agreed that it was the Korean Senior Academy due to lack of funding and health concerns. The senior program usually runs for 24 weeks and provides much needed services such as English lessons, education in civic engagement, healthcare guidance and traditional Korean meals. With many Korean seniors living alone without family nearby, the social aspect of the program has helped them create connections in a comfortable space. The guests mentioned they have been brainstorming ideas such as delivering care packages and creating a team dedicated to teaching seniors how to use video conferencing programs such as Zoom. When asked if there are any barriers to existing resources, Eugene Cho, KACA NexGen member and small business owner, said language access. He brought up the fact many Korean business owners do not speak or are not fluent in English. Combined with the complicated application processes, many are not able to tap into critical funding resources. Cho has helped several Koreans apply for funding and noted that translated materials along with a team designed to assist non-English speakers would alleviate many issues.

Other attendees included: KACA board members Kap Sun Enders, an agent at New York Life, and Chuck Kim, a small business owner; longtime volunteers Andy Kwon, a small business owner, Han Choe, a local CPA and Charles An, a software engineer at GCI; Korean Language School vice principal and controller at the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association, Hojin Park; KACA NexGen member and partner at Aldrich CPAs & Advisors, Lia Patton; and Matt Shuckerow, campaign manager for Dan Sullivan for U.S. Senate.

A follow-up convening is planned.

Our board vice chair, Cathy Rasmuson, first initiated roundtable conversations with ethnic community leaders many years ago.

What would you do?

Commonwealth North has created a new tool to help Alaskans better understand the challenging state budget choices before Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Legislature. The State of Alaska has nearly depleted its savings and is facing a general fund budget gap of $1.3 billion in the coming budget year. Alaskans can imagine how they would balance the budget given some basic spending and revenue options. Impose a 2% sales tax? That will bring in $500 million. Roll back a Medicaid expansion? That will save $19 million in general fund dollars (but will also cost the state $465 million federal dollars). How Alaskans propose to solve the gap will be submitted to the governor and Legislature. We are supporting the project along with GCI, Lynden, Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Blueprint Alaska, Cheryl Frasca and Heather Flynn. This is similar to the budget tool we launched in 2015 as part of Plan4Alaska.

Many Alaska nonprofits need help

Alaska’s Coronavirus Nonprofit Relief Fund attracted a massive number of applicants for the second round of funding, just as it did for the first round. Round two awards were just approved by a CEO oversight group that includes Diane Kaplan. Program Officer Tanya Dumas is on loan to The Alaska Community Foundation to review requests for help and VP Alex McKay and other program executives make funding recommendations. For this round, reviewers assessed 150 applications seeking a total of $39 million. That was whittled down to 83 awards totaling $10.7 million. The State of Alaska carved out $50 million in Alaska CARES Act funds to be distributed to nonprofits, local governments, tribal groups and faith-based organizations. Initially, $35 million was transferred to The Alaska Community Foundation for distribution. Because of the partnership’s initial success, the State is committing an additional $5 million to the fund. The first round of awards attracted 174 applicants seeking more than $60 million, and some 90 organizations were awarded $18.5. The application deadline for a third round of awards is Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. Approximately $10 million will be awarded.

AK Can Do, the privately funded COVID-19 relief program that is helping individuals as well as organizations, awarded its third round of grants to nonprofits at the end of September. That will be the final round for 2020 to support nonprofits, according to The Alaska Community Foundation, which is managing the grants to organizations.

Volunteers from the United Way of Southeast Alaska helped provide meals for St. Vincent DePaul’s cold weather shelter, AWARE, and the Glory Hall homeless shelter. United Way of Southeast Alaska was a recipient in the second round of the Coronavirus Nonprofit Relief Fund grants. (Photo courtesy of United Way Southeast)

Additional funds are still available for individuals through the neighbor-to-neighbor arm. Those funds are being distributed by United Way of Anchorage with support by multiple partner organizations including the Salvation Army, Kawerak, Maniilaq, Arctic Slope Native Association, Ahtna, Lutheran Social Services and food banks.

In all, $2.67 million has been raised including 714 donations through So far, $1.54 million from the AK Can Do fund has been deployed by The Alaska Community Foundation and United Way of Anchorage. More than $930,000 has been distributed to 154 organizations across Alaska. Rent and utility assistance totaling $610,000 has helped 1,750 individuals in some 540 households. A fourth round of funding to support nonprofits will open in 2021.

About one-third of Alaska small businesses are closed, compared to 20% nationally, according to Jon Bitner, executive director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center. Some 23,000 Alaska households are at risk of eviction this fall. Needs may continue long term because of our battered economy.

In downtown Anchorage, listen for the bells

The Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery sign thanks donors for their support of the bell tower. (Photo courtesy of Anchorage Park Foundation)

Bell tones now ring on the hour between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. Every evening at 8, the bells play “Taps” to close the day. This gift of music comes through the new bell tower at the downtown Anchorage cemetery. We supported the project with a $100,000 Tier 2 grant approved in 2018 Ed and Cathy Rasmuson are among many individual donors. Anchorage Park Foundation was the fiscal sponsor. The Fairview Community Council and cemetery advisory board pushed more than a decade for the project. Ernie Hall, former Anchorage Assembly chairman and volunteer fundraiser, was the driving force. The bell tower is the centerpiece of a plaza with seating, flagpoles, flowers and a donor wall.

Keeping Momentum Fellows connected

Tristan Morgan is seen at the 2019 Anchorage Museum gala, posing by the “Molly of Denali” exhibit about the PBS show with Alaska Native lead characters.

Emily Kwon enjoys a hike on Matanuska Glacier in 2019.

Fellows Emily Kwon and Tristan Agnauraq Morgan joined their cohort of the Philanthropy Northwest Momentum Fellowship for a two-day virtual retreat. The theme revolved around effective conversations and networking. Discussions on day one centered on how to talk about race and racism and the power of awareness and unconscious bias. Fellowship program managers Mares Asfaha and Sharayah Lane used the last day to encourage all to share their experiences so far. The program managers also took time to ask for feedback from the cohort to help improve the fellowship.

The other Alaska fellows this round are Pili Queja, Alaska afterschool program specialist at Alaska Children’s Trust, and Kay Larson-Blair, cultural heritage program officer of Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.

The Momentum Fellowship program of Philanthropy Northwest is designed to support individuals from underrepresented groups to work in philanthropy. Because of the pandemic, recruitment of the next cohort has been postponed until 2021.

A new role promoting a stable economy

Diane Kaplan was appointed to the Community Advisory Council for the Twelfth Federal District, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. This district covers nine Western states plus American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It is the largest in the Federal Reserve, which is responsible for promoting a strong and stable economy as well as the soundness of the nation’s financial system. The Twelfth District supports more than 400 banks. Its community development department collaborates with a wide range of organizations “to promote the economic resilience and mobility of lower-income Americans.” The district recently issued a report on how the pandemic is impacting nonprofits in the West.

 A new kind of higher education

VP Alexandra McKay has joined the board of trustees of Outer Coast, a new Sitka-based liberal arts institution of higher learning built on the pillars of academics, service and labor, and self-governance. The nonprofit was founded by state Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, the current board chair and was inspired by California’s Deep Springs college. An impressive group of Alaskans and top-tier college graduates is on the staff and board. The school is holding in-person classes in 2020-21.