What we are holding onto

A message from President and CEO Diane Kaplan

After a crazed, tough year of job losses, disrupted funding streams, business closures, illness and death at levels previously unimaginable, I cannot help but feel hope. Because you came through, for Alaska.

When the senior center in Kodiak had to close its dining room, elders didn’t go hungry. The center more than doubled the number of home-delivered meals and offered a curbside pickup option that became popular even with those who had never visited before. Chugachmiut, an Alaska Native nonprofit serving the Chugach region, switched from in-person retreats to virtual camps to help individuals with sobriety. People stayed engaged — and sober.

Staying home forced us to pause, reset and rethink operations. We realized how vulnerable Alaska is to supply chain disruption, not just for toilet paper and hand sanitizer but for food. All over Alaska, organizations strengthened connections, relationships — and distribution systems. The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, for one, now has new partners all over the region and is making weekly mobile food deliveries to remote and smaller communities. Bethel Community Services Foundation stood up a local food bank and helped get food boxes to villages.

When the pandemic closed off regular revenue streams, emergency grants were vital. As we detail in this story, valued partners stepped up. Months before CARES Act dollars started to flow, we worked with others to create a way for individuals and organizations to donate, and for local people and groups to receive help, through a fund we called AK Can Do. Juneau Community Foundation, as another example, raised $300,000 early in the pandemic for food, masks and other essentials.

Rasmuson Foundation’s Leadership Team connects in June 2021 at Harding Lake near Fairbanks. Pictured: Julee Farley, Jeff Baird, Angela Cox, Diane Kaplan and Alexandra McKay. (Photo by Kate Wool)

While all of you were adjusting, so were we, with new ways of grantmaking, new communication platforms and new relationships. With routine awards paused, we reached out to under-resourced organizations, including many that serve those who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. We had never connected with some of the groups before, nor had we offered grants for operations vs. capital expenses. We did both, to better serve our community. We encouraged an unusual partnership between The Alaska Community Foundation and the State of Alaska that resulted in $47 million from the CARES Act to Alaska nonprofits and hospitals. Staff tried new things so we could keep on doing the work.

In recent months, our team has gathered virtually with nonprofits, tribal organizations, and BIPOC leaders to find out how these groups so vital to Alaska are doing. We’ve heard story after story of resilience and innovation. Yet we can’t forget the pandemic is a global health crisis not yet contained. The large federal relief packages are finite. Pressing needs haven’t vanished. Demand for mental health care has gone up dramatically. Nonprofits are having difficulty filling open positions. Parents trying to return to work can’t find childcare — or can’t afford it.

We have much to do as we emerge from a collective grief. Let’s hold onto the best of this last year: powerful partnerships, structures for equity, flexibility and innovation. What we learned may get us through the next.