It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year of virus, shutdown and economic crisis – and also hope and resilience. We are so grateful for all the hard work in getting Alaskans vaccinated and so glad to finally see a way out, if we all keep doing our part. Meanwhile, a lot is going on in the nonprofit world. Catch the latest in my roundup.

— Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation CEO.

Bringing water to a rural Alaska community

At a special meeting in March, our Board agreed to help fill in funding gaps for a water treatment plant in the Kuskokwim River community of Tuluksak. We will award $100,000 to Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. to help replace the village water source. In January, a fire destroyed the water purification plant, and village residents had to rely on donated bottled water for drinking before a temporary reverse osmosis filtration system was installed. The next step is installing a temporary water purification plant. Materials are being shipped up the frozen Kuskokwim River ice road but some may end up arriving by barge after breakup. The Indian Health Service has announced it will fund most of the $6.7 million cost of an eventual permanent replacement.

Senior Fellow Ukallaysaaq Okleasik helped secure bottled water donations for the community through the Food Bank of Alaska, Global Empowerment Mission and Global Citizen. Donations have come from all over including from Taboo Nawasha of the Black Eyed Peas. “If I’m available, I’m there,” he told Bethel public radio station KYUK.

Helping the helpers in Fairbanks

Dr. Mark Simon, Brenda Riley and Board member Rebecca Brice Henderson volunteer on Feb. 11, 2021, at a vaccine clinic held at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.

Board member Rebecca Brice Henderson helped to provide lunch for volunteers at a recent vaccination clinic held at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. State and local health agencies joined together to inoculate Alaskans against the coronavirus. “This is a way that we as a community can get the vaccine to a large number of people very quickly,” Clint Brooks, incident commander for the vaccine effort, told the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. “If you pool your resources together, you can give up to 8,000 to 12,000 shots a day depending on how big you want to expand your operation.” Rasmuson Foundation provided a grant of $15,000 to the United Way of Tanana Valley to cover lunches for vaccine clinic volunteers.

$1 million donation to Cordova fund

An anonymous donor has pledged up to $1 million to Cordova Community Foundation, the newest local fund under The Alaska Community Foundation umbrella. Contributions will be made over several years and already $400,000 has been given to the local fund. Beyond the $1 million, the donor wants to encourage others to give and will also match donations up to $100,000 in 2021.

The Cordova Community Foundation, created in 2019, has a goal of a $5 million endowment by 2025. The recent pledge gets the local fund 20% of the way there.

 Sharing stories of good work in Seward

Seward Community Foundation recently released the first episode of its podcast, Heartstrings Radio. Through interviews and storytelling, the community foundation hopes to educate and inspire listeners. Program manager Amy Hankins hosts the show. Episode one features Katie Cornwell, director of Seward Prevention Coalition. The show can be found on Spotify.

Eleven local funds created with our support are housed within The Alaska Community Foundation.

Goal: $200 million for University of Alaska

The University of Alaska is putting public attention on the most ambitious private fundraising campaign in its history. They are calling it the “For Alaska” campaign. I served as special guest host for the March 25 virtual kickoff.

The University of Alaska Foundation has been raising funds since 2016 to build a university system that matches the resilience of Alaskans. So far, $150 million of the $200 million campaign goal has been raised from 16,000 individual donors including alumni, organizations and regular Alaskans. Now organizers are making a pitch to the public for additional support.

State support to the university system has been deeply cut, and enrollment has been declining. Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the university system agreed in 2019 to $70 million in cuts over three years, much less than what he initially proposed; this allows for planning.

Building the University of Alaska endowment will provide funding streams for scholarships to provide critical research, training for Alaska’s workforce and support for innovation and emerging industries to strengthen Alaska’s economy. Rasmuson Foundation has been the lead organizational donor to the UA Foundation $200 million campaign through $8.4 million in grant awards since 2016.

Fitting name at Bowdoin College: Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies

Lile and John Gibbons

A new center dedicated to the multidisciplinary study of the Arctic at Bowdoin College will be named for Rasmuson Foundation board member Lile Gibbons and her husband, John. They gave a significant gift in support of the project. John is a 1964 alumnus. All four of their children including board members Jay and Adam are graduates of Bowdoin, a private liberal arts college in Maine.

In its announcement of the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies, Bowdoin described the family’s “long and storied connection to Anchorage” and establishment of Rasmuson Foundation in 1955 by Elmer Rasmuson and his mother, Jenny Olson Rasmuson — Lile’s father and grandmother. “Today, it is the largest foundation in Alaska, one that focuses on serving the varied communities that make up the state,” the college said.

The center will include a new home for the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum as well as an academic building. Site work is underway.

The Foundation has awarded $251,000 in matching grants to Bowdoin since 2002.

Telling the story of Eklutna Dam

Community members team up in September 2018 to form a bucket brigade at Eklutna Lake to celebrate the removal of the Eklutna Dam.

Board member Curtis McQueen joined a recent Foundation staff meeting to share the history of the Eklutna Dam and what removing it has meant to the Dena’ina people. Curtis, former CEO of Eklutna Inc., is continuing to work on next steps to improve the river flow and salmon runs. Rasmuson Foundation supported the dam removal, led by The Conservation Fund, with a $250,000 grant in 2017. More recently in 2019, a small grant of $25,000 was awarded to the Native Village of Eklutna to study the river flow. Patagonia was among sponsors of a film on the project and the Alaska Federation of Natives passed a resolution last year supporting a restored river. Ultimately, Curtis told the staff, the existing hydroelectric plant will need to be removed to restore the river.

Alaska Native health care exec appointed to Murdock Trust

Katherine Gottlieb

Katherine Gottlieb has joined close partner M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust as a senior fellow. In this role, Katherine will support convenings and provide insight into the needs of Native communities, the health care sector and communities in Alaska. For more than 30 years, she served Southcentral Foundation as president and CEO and is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.

From Philanthropy Northwest to the White House
President Biden
named Kiran Arjandas Ahuja to lead the Office of Personnel Management. Currently, she serves as chief executive of Philanthropy Northwest. The federal office sets policy on hiring and firing and manages benefits for 2.1 million executive branch workers.

 More transitions
Tammy Green
, chief executive of Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center for the last six years, plans to depart by the end of 2021. The organization, which began service in 1974 as Alaska’s first community health center, has begun the process of recruiting for a new chief executive officer. Majors John and Pamilla Brackenbury of The Salvation Army of Alaska are leaving the state in early April for new duties in Sacramento. The Brackenburys have served the Alaska Division for more than 2 ½ years and are grateful for Rasmuson Foundation’s partnership. Lt. Cols. Doug and Sheryl Tollerud are arriving in April to serve as divisional commander and director of women’s ministries for Alaska. This will be their second time in Alaska. They are coming from the territorial headquarters in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Change at the top for United States Artists

Deana Haggag connects with Rasmuson Foundation’s Roy Agloinga at Silver Salmon fish camp back in 2019, pre-pandemic times.

Deana Haggag, chief executive officer of United States Artists, is stepping down to join The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a program officer in arts and culture. She will focus on current and emerging infrastructure and needs. Jamie Bennett will serve as interim CEO during the executive search and transition period. Bennett, who was executive director of ArtPlace America from 2014 to 2020, participated on the 2018 Grantmakers Tour of Alaska hosted by Rasmuson Foundation. During Haggag’s tenure, United States Artists awarded dozens of fellowships and founded the Berresford Prize, an unrestricted $25,000 award to recognize significant contributions to the advancement, well-being and care of artists.

Rasmuson Foundation is among the founders of United States Artists. I serve as USA board treasurer.

New and renovated shelter space in Anchorage

AWAIC celebrated the start of its major renovations with a groundbreaking in 2019. Foundation board member Jason Metrokin attended.

Services at AWAIC, or Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, will be much improved as a result of a just-completed renovation funded with $1 million each from the State of Alaska and Rasmuson Foundation. The project has added 15 new shelter beds including three designated for male survivors and families. In addition, space for new offices and intake rooms was added including private offices for advocates to meet with participants in need of counseling, treatment and housing.

Story of fish and people of the Kuskokwim
A bilingual book based on conversations about fish with Yup’ik men and women in three Kuskokwim River communities was published in January with Foundation support. In their most recent collaboration, Ann Fienup-Riordan, Alice Rearden and Marie Meade (a 2019 Individual Artist Award recipient) detailed “traditional knowledge surrounding the harvest and use of the six species of whitefish, as well as salmon, pike, burbot, and blackfish, on which people relied so heavily in the past and continue to harvest to this day.” A Tier 1 grant of $19,750 to Calista Education and Culture supported publication of “Kusquqvagmiut Neqait /Fish and Food of the People of the Kuskokwim.”

Staff surprises

On a staff full of animal lovers, our chief of staff may be the biggest softie of them all. We marked Jeff Baird’s 10 years (wait, what!) at Rasmuson Foundation with a dog-themed staff meeting. Jeff and Stefanie Baird have made a wonderful home for rescues Tucker, Kusko and Sadie. Staff members roasted Jeff in rhyme and added to the festivities with dog costumes and backgrounds. The Foundation also recognized our chief dog with 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles. VP of External Affairs Angela Cox put a point on it with her closing: “Happy 3,650th Day.”

Rasmuson Foundation staff celebrate Chief of Staff Jeff Baird’s 10th anniversary at the Foundation with dog-themed virtual celebration.

Earlier, staff in their best Hawaiian garb serenaded me with the “Happy Birthday” song. What great virtual fun.