The 14th annual Educational Tour of Alaska for Grantmakers kicked off today with a 7 a.m. departure from Seattle, Washington. First stop: Bethel, Alaska. Each year, the Foundation invites a small group of grantmakers from the South 48 to visit Alaska. The goal is to provide an opportunity for our peers from Outside to gain knowledge about Alaska and about philanthropic opportunities throughout the state.

The Ed Tour takes place the same week as the funeral for former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens who, along with four others, died tragically in an airplane crash near Dillingham one week ago. Although many of the people the Tour is scheduled to meet changed their plans to attend his funeral in Anchorage midweek, in Bethel today a good number of the people we hoped to meet were still available today.

We saw the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) Pre-Maternal facilities, the Yuut Elitnaurviat “People’s Learning Center” and its new dental health aide therapist center, we toured the Tundra Women’s Coalition shelter and the Association of Village Council Presidents’ Yuut Yaqunviat “Where People Earn Their Wings.” In Napaskiak we saw the community’s K-12 public school (“Home of the Hawks”), the health clinic, and the Head Start building.

Among our tour guides today was Gene Peltola, president and CEO the YKHC. He shared a story with the group that epitomizes the recollections many Alaskans are experiencing this week. “In 1998, Senator Stevens spoke with me,” recalls Peltola. “He said: ‘Gene, how can we avoid having to seek fisheries disaster relief each year?’ and he  asked for a comprehensive training plan for the region. We gathered the elders and local leaders and came up with the concept for the Yuut People’s Learning Center.

“Another example is when Senator Stevens said he could help with a residential health treatment center. And, again, in consultation with local leaders and elders, the Denali Commission was born.

“The way I see it,” concluded Peltola, “everybody in Alaska is indebted to Senator Stevens – especially in rural Alaska.”

We could not have said it better.