Hello colleagues,

With vaccinations going well in Alaska and COVID-19 testing readily available, I’m hoping we can soon find our new normal. Our small grant program, what we call Tier 1, is a good example of things easing back to something that is more familiar. Here’s the latest from our world. Let us hear from you!
— Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO

Alaskans walk for community

In early February, Alaskans took to the great outdoors to participate in the 9th annual Walk4Warmth, a weeklong fundraiser hosted by the United Way of Anchorage. This year’s event benefited AK Can Do, the statewide coronavirus fund we helped create.

Alex McKay, Rasmuson Foundation VP of programs and newly elected board vice chair of United Way of Anchorage, and Clark Halvorson, United Way of Anchorage president and CEO, co-hosted the virtual Walk4Warmth kick-off and celebration. They highlighted the positive impact partnerships can have, especially during times of need. AK Can Do is an excellent example. So far, it has distributed $3 million to frontline nonprofits and 7,000 Alaskans to help pay for rent, utilities, food and payroll.

The little Alaskans took part in the Walk4Warmth fundraiser in February 2021 to help our neighbors.

Thanks to generous Alaskans, the 2021 Walk4Warmth raised $42,000 in donations alone. Thanks to the 1-to-1 matching provided by sponsors, a total of $84,000 will be given to AK Can Do.

The good news does not stop there. ENSTAR Natural Gas Company announced at the celebration that it has matched a customer’s recent $10,000 donation. This helped establish the Warm Hearts Warm Homes Utility Assistance Fund in partnership with United Way of Anchorage. This fund will help pay for utilities in Anchorage, Mat-Su and the Kenai Peninsula. All donations will be matched 1-to-1, up to $20,000.

Rasmuson Foundation has been a proud sponsor of Walk4Warmth for nine years and we’ve supported AK Can Do with $410,000 in grant support.

AK Can Do match

Meanwhile, $160,000 in donations to AK Can Do from three generous families has been matched with support from dozens of individuals in January and February as well as from the Walk4Warmth. The donations will help individuals all around Alaska as well as critical services on the frontline in Southcentral Alaska. AK Can Do will remain open for donations and grants to help Alaska through year two of the pandemic.

Small grants that make a big difference

After pausing routine Tier 1 grant awards in 2020 due to the pandemic, Rasmuson Foundation’s Program Team quickly resumed making these small grants in January, approving 34 awards totaling almost $525,000. Resuming Tier 1s feels reassuring after 2020’s crisis-response. This is our small grant program, with awards of up to $25,000.

The latest batch will help to fund playgrounds in Kodiak and Sitka, five vehicles including an airboat for Bethel Search and Rescue and snowmachines for trail grooming and avalanche safety, and two COVID-19 related projects. Christian Health Associates, for instance, is being supported for COVID testing at Anchorage high schools. Covenant House Alaska is focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion with its award, and Alaska Native Sisterhood Association is working on cultural preservation through creation of online resources taught by elders. See the whole January list at this link.

In 2020, the Foundation awarded more than 125 small grants approaching $1.8 million through the Tier 1 program. That’s about half of what we normally award in Tier 1s every year.

MacKenzie Scott donation to Food Bank of Alaska

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $3 million to the Food Bank of Alaska, expanding the ways the nonprofit will be able to bring hunger relief to Alaskans in this time of exceptional need. The Food Bank distributed 43% more food in the last six months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The donation is the first of its kind for the Food Bank, which is operating mobile pantries around Anchorage during the pandemic and working with statewide partners to address need all over. Jim Baldwin, Food Bank of Alaska CEO, says local donations will continue to be needed. With about $2 million in awards over the years, we’ve provided steady support. Scott is the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

 U.S. Artists include Foundation awardee

 In its largest group of fellowship awards to date, United States Artists has announced that 60 artists across 10 creative disciplines will each receive an unrestricted, $50,000 cash award. This is in honor of their accomplishments and to support their ongoing artistic and professional development. One of the 2021 fellows is Tlingit master artist and 2009 Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist, Nathan Jackson of Ketchikan. He is a traditional dancer, master wood carver, metal smith and creative artist. He is also among the most important living Alaska Native artists, revitalizing traditional totem carving and inspiring a new generation of Indigenous and non-Native artists. Nathan is one of the six original Alaskans featured in “Magnetic North: The Alaskan Character,” a documentary series produced by the Alaska Humanities Forum in partnership with Rasmuson Foundation. You can watch his documentary here.

Nathan Jackson works on his carving, Flip Flop, in 2011.

So far, 15 Alaska artists have received a U.S. Artist fellowship. Many of them are past Individual Artist Award recipients. See the entire list here.

Rasmuson Foundation is one of the founders of United States Artists along with Ford, Rockefeller and Prudential foundations. The organization has provided $33 million in direct financial support to artists across the country since 2006.

First Native American wins Caldecott

We are pleased to share that Michaela Goade, Tlingit artist and 2019 Individual Artist Award recipient, is the first Alaska Native/Native American to win the Randolph Caldecott Medal for her art in the children’s book “We Are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom.

This is not her first national recognition! She also partnered with Google in 2020 to design the “Google Doodle” celebrating Alaska Native civil rights leader, Elizabeth Peratrovich. She received an Individual Artist Award in 2019 to develop ideas for picture books celebrating Indigenous culture.

Kodiak museums receive largest-ever gifts

An old photo of Donald W. Clark from the Kodiak History Museum.

The Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository will receive $1,274,000 and the Kodiak History Museum, $1,176,000, from the late Donald W. Clark’s estate. Clark, who died in 2018, was a historian and archeologist who spent decades researching Kodiak history and the cultural history of Alutiiq people. He was a founder of and first president of the Kodiak Historical Society and longtime supporter and contributor to both museums.

Rasmuson Foundation has supported Alutiiq Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that runs the Alutiiq Museum, with almost $500,000 in awards over the years and the Kodiak Historical Society with close to $400,000 in awards. Clark’s bequest stands out as the largest gifts to date for the museums.

Health care for the most vulnerable

A health care nonprofit, Anchorage Project Access, was able to revamp its website and promote its services and valuable health information during the pandemic with the help of a $5,500 Rasmuson Foundation grant. The project connects Anchorage residents without health insurance to donated dental and specialized medical services and helps clients enroll in health insurance. Through social media and television public service announcements, Anchorage Project Access shared information about health insurance and open enrollment.

“During a year of great challenges related to the pandemic, APA was on the frontlines navigating complex, ever evolving health care directives to ensure individuals who have lost their jobs, their income, and their health insurance have access to donated specialty medical and dental care,” the organization, part of Christian Health Associates, said. “APA is the only health care safety net of its kind in Alaska and providing health education materials is one of the most important aspects of the services provided.”

In memory of David McClure

Alaska’s affordable housing community has lost one of its greats. David Eric McClure, a sabbatical recipient and former executive director of the Bristol Bay Housing Authority, died Feb. 3 at age 66. He came to Alaska in 1979 as a VISTA volunteer. For 14 years, he served as village administrator for the Kvichak River community of Levelock and helped establish local control of federally funded housing developments. For 21 years, he led the Bristol Bay Housing Authority. In 2009, he was able to reset and refresh with a Rasmuson Foundation sabbatical award.

“He was a great man and will be greatly missed by all here at the Bristol Bay Housing Authority,” said payroll accountant Eileen Savo, who worked with him for a dozen years. “He did so much for the people of Bristol Bay.”

 A community’s water crisis

A fire on Jan. 16 in the Kuskokwim River village of Tuluksak devasted the washeteria and community water source. An estimated 450 people live in the community. While the village store has bottled water, at $9 a gallon, it is more expensive than fuel. Many homes are overcrowded with families living on top of families.

Water, juice and shelf-stable milk are needed for the next four to six weeks. We are arranging help with our network of partners. Ukallaysaaq Okleasik, who has led our PPE project, is helping pull together resources. He is coordinating with the Food Bank of Alaska, Global Empowerment Mission and Global Citizen. The latter two nonprofits respond to global disasters. Air freight is expensive but might be necessary because liquids can freeze on a trek up the Kuskokwim River ice road.

Disastrous fire in Kenai

The children’s theater has received an outpouring of support, including on Facebook.

The Alaska Community Foundation is teaming up with the Kenai Peninsula Foundation to establish a recovery fund for long-time Foundation grantee Triumvirate Theatre. Click here to donate. The children’s performing arts center building was destroyed in a Feb. 20 fire. We will help to seed the fund with a $10,000 donation, and the Kenai foundation will work with the theater to market the opportunity. The facility was a total loss. Organization President Joe Rizzo has vowed to rebuild.

During the pandemic, Triumvirate found success with radio plays. Its last performance focused on mental health during the pandemic.

We have supported the theater with more than $164,000 in awards over the years.

Saying goodbye to a colleague

Kiran Ahuja

Kiran Ahuja, CEO of Philanthropy Northwest, is stepping down effective June 30. She joined four years ago as the first woman of color CEO for the organization. In a Feb. 4 message to colleagues, Ahura shared that her family is now based in the Northeast and the organization needs a leader in the Northwest.

“While there is never an ‘ideal’ time for a leadership transition, Philanthropy Northwest is financially strong, has an incredibly committed staff with the right people in the right positions, and will continue to support and lead this region’s philanthropic sector toward greater equity by its words and actions,” Ahura said.

The board has formed a search committee, which includes PNW board member Alex McKay, and has a robust CEO transition plan in place. Anjana Pandey, executive vice president, will serve as interim CEO.

Philanthropy Northwest remains our close partner in part through the Momentum Fellowship program that provides those from underrepresented communities an opportunity to work in philanthropy. Currently, Tristan Agnauraq Morgan and Emily Kwon are Momentum Fellows with the Foundation.

Bittersweet farewell to Sharity Sommer

The Rasmuson Foundation team gathered outdoors for a goodbye party. Sharity’s gift is a basket by the late Athabascan artist Daisy Demientieff.

Almost a dozen years after she walked in the Foundation door as a First Alaskans Institute intern, Sharity Sommer is saying farewell. She is leaving to pursue her master’s degree in public health. Sharity has been working part-time this fall as she wraps up her work as a program officer. We will miss her terribly! With her talent, big heart and passion for giving back, we know she will shine in this next chapter too. It’s the end of an era.

Foundation voices on two impactful boards

Alex McKay, our VP of programs, was recently named vice chair of the United Way of Anchorage board. In this role, she is chair elect for an organization that works to improve the health, education and financial stability of everyone in the community.

Program Officer Tanya Dumas is one of five new operations board members for The Foraker Group. She will bring her program management expertise, operational skills and commitment to equity in grantmaking.