When communities of faith come together, there's no telling what impact they can generate. In this week's blog, Senior Program Associate Jeff Baird recounts the start of what may well be a very important ongoing conversation about serving Alaskans' basic needs.

Ed Rasmuson listens at the Faith Convening

Ed Rasmuson listens at the Faith Convening

In 2012, Rasmuson Foundation awarded United Way of Anchorage $1 million to give to Alaskans who needed help buying food, paying rent and accessing other basic necessities. In looking at the list of organizations United Way relied on to distribute the funds into their communities, we noticed more than half were faith-based, and many of those were religious institutions.

While Rasmuson Foundation has an extensive history of partnering with nonprofits delivering core social services in their communities, including organizations like Covenant House, Catholic Social Services, Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together and Volunteers of America that are rooted in faith, we don’t have as strong of a grasp of the work being done by religious groups. Last week representatives from more than 70 Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley-based faith communities joined Rasmuson Foundation at the BP Energy Center to partake in a conversation on service to those in need.

The event, which was attended by Foundation Chairman Ed Rasmuson, President and CEO Diane Kaplan and John Franklin of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, had two primary purposes. First, the Foundation wanted a better sense of the services faith communities provide and to explore barriers to doing more. Second, we wanted to spread the message that the Foundation was a resource they could turn to when working on projects that have broad community benefits.

But a third theme evolved during the course of the discussion. Participants repeatedly stated that demand for their services exceeded their individual congregation’s ability to help, and volunteers were frustrated because they didn’t know where to send people. There was a desire by some in the room to explore a more collaborative and coordinated approach to delivering services.

The Foundation’s response – we want to help. If Alaska’s faith communities are willing to come together and work out a plan that might lead to a more organized, efficient and strategic approach to serving those in need, we want to hear about it. But while Rasmuson Foundation can be a catalyst for these conversations and provide resources through our grant programs, the planning and commitment has to come from the communities.

Last week we began a conversation on how we can better help those amongst us who are most vulnerable. Let’s work together to make sure it’s just the start.