Alaska’s nonprofit community is amazingly resilient and resourceful. We are so grateful to stay closely connected in new ways.

— Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO

Convening with Southeast Alaska

While we have missed meeting with nonprofit leaders in person over the last year, we have been able to efficiently connect with large groups of grantees by Zoom. The benefit of these multi-community gatherings was on full display in April when more than 90 Southeast nonprofit leaders joined board members Angela Salazar, Marilyn Romano and Curtis McQueen for a virtual gathering. The meeting objective was threefold: We wanted to introduce our board members to Southeast nonprofit leaders; provide grantees with an update on our grantmaking; and hear about needs and innovations a year into the pandemic. Our Alaska Community Foundation Affiliate partners in Haines, Sitka, Ketchikan and Petersburg, as well as the Juneau Community Foundation, helped spread the word. In the face of adversity, stories of resilience, service to Alaskans and dedication to mission were inspiring.

Angela Salazar, Marilyn Romano and Curtis McQueen

“For us, the silver lining was that we were able to come together with our community, to secure funding for a youth shelter as well as a Rapid Rehousing project for our young adults,” said Jorden Nigro, executive director of Zach Gordon Youth Center in Juneau ($275,000 award in 2007 and $50,000 in 2013). “Both were able to move faster with the push of the pandemic. We were able to get youth out of adult shelter and into apartments and support them to stay housed with the help of CARES funds.”

The 90-minute meeting is the first of several regional convenings we will be hosting throughout the state.

Advocating for Alaska nonprofits: Another set-aside?

Chief of Staff Jeff Baird and I met virtually with 17 state legislators to request a nonprofit carveout from the $1.02 billion coming to the State of Alaska through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Just days ago, the House Finance Committee unveiled its proposal to spend about $700 million this year including $30 million for Alaska nonprofit organizations. Investment Committee member Anthony Mallott and partners Mike Abbott, Melanie Bahnke, Laurie Wolf and Michelle DeWitt participated in the effort.

Connecting with sabbatical recipients

Sabbatical recipients connected this month during the Foraker Leadership Summit. Cathy Rasmuson, our board vice chair and Sabbatical Committee chair, shared why the program is so important. Applications and nominations for 2022 sabbaticals will be open through Sept. 15.

Checking in with funding partners

Rasmuson Foundation staff met with a team of 10 senior Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield staff in April to provide an update on how our $40 million funding partnership is improving Alaska’s efforts to solve homelessness. So much has changed since the work began almost three years ago through a collaboration that also includes Providence Health & Services Alaska and Weidner Apartment Homes. The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness now has the staff and support to collect and analyze data, so we can track trends as we try to build a system in which there is housing for everyone. People are being rapidly housed. Other foundations, corporations and the Municipality of Anchorage have invested.

Making sure Alaskans were counted

Alaska Counts created buttons to spread the word about the 2020 U.S. Census. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Census Working Group)

The first results from the 2020 census are in and show slow growth for Alaska’s population, with just a 3.3% increase from 2010 for a total of 733,391. The Alaska Census Working Group, with a $150,000 grant from the Foundation, worked to ensure a fair count of Alaskans, essential for federal funding and political representation.

Activities included broadcast, print and social media, phone banks, local mini-grants and translation of census materials into other languages.

Safe places to play on the Alaska Peninsula

The Rams Creek Playground is one of two new ones in King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula.

Children in the remote community of King Cove are enjoying two new playgrounds, thanks to initial support from Rasmuson Foundation and Disney that helped the community leverage tribal and corporate donations. The initial budget of $80,000 for a single playground more than doubled to $200,000, enough to buy additional play equipment and safety supplies such as bear-proof dumpsters. The community’s old playground was shut down. We supported the project with a $25,000 award in 2019 to the King Cove Women’s Club, which partnered with the city.

On a Juneau walk, listen to history

Signs recently unveiled by the city of Juneau around its downtown area are no ordinary markers. Along with a map, each contains a piece of oral history as part of a storytelling project called Juneau Voices. By scanning the QR codes at each of the 11 locations, downtown strollers will learn more about the rich history of the place. The idea came from local artists Lillian Petershoare and Ryan Conarro, 2011 Individual Artist Award recipient, who pieced together the city’s history in a series of storytelling circles. We supported the project with a $25,000 grant in 2019. Listen to the stories here: https://juneau.org/voices.

On the cover of First American Art magazine

Lily Hope‘s “Chilkat Protector Mask”

Lily Hope, master weaver and two-time Individual Artist Award recipient, wove a piece fitting for these times that is featured on the cover of First American Art Magazine’s 2021 spring issue. In addition to “Chilkat Protector Mask” being on the cover, Hope is one of the artists profiled.

The resilience of the nonprofit community

In April, The Foraker Group held its three-day Leadership Summit, which we supported with $25,000. About 1,000 nonprofit leaders, board members and staff took part in the virtual conference, double the number that can attend in-person. VP Alex McKay and I kicked off the event. I reminded the crowd of how the concept of Foraker was hashed out one night over dinner with Dennis McMillian. Our co-founder, Elmer Rasmuson, understood the need for a resilient nonprofit community and an organization like Foraker to support it but suggested that we think bigger — statewide — not just Anchorage. We also recognized Laurie Wolf for her 20 years leading The Foraker Group.

For Haines, breweries “Pour the Love”

The design was created by Haines-raised artists Celia Bower and Tulsi Zahnow for “Pour the Love.”

The community of Haines, so devastated by a December storm and mudslides, will receive double the benefit from a recent fundraiser because of Rasmuson Foundation’s matching dollars. Four Juneau breweries sponsored the February “Pour the Love” fundraiser and, aware of the match, selected Chilkat Valley Community Foundation’s emergency response fund to receive proceeds. Customers bought a $30 beer passport that allowed them to try specialty beers, after which the passport could be turned in for a one-of-a-kind T-shirt. The breweries were hoping to raise $1,000. Instead, they collected $18,000.

Gathering with Korean American leaders

At an early April meeting with Korean American community leaders, recent events in Atlanta, where six Asian women were murdered, were top of mind. The discussion that occurred was candid, deep and emotional. Though many think Alaska to be a safe haven, we heard disturbing examples of Asian hate here. One attendee and her daughter were yelled at and called racial slurs by a group of young men at a red light. A local restaurant owner has been bombarded with harassing and threatening phone calls because of her race.

Christy NaMee Eriksen, a Korean American small business owner and three-time IAA recipient who many Board members met in Juneau, said: “Asian hate is not just slurs or insults. …  It is also public policy that’s designed to keep Asian people from reaching their full potential.” Asian hate, she said, also materializes as invisibility. “We’re not in history books, we’re not asked to be on committees.”

Korean American community leaders gather with Rasmuson Foundation in April 2021.