A couple of weeks ago, Rasmuson staff traveled to Juneau, Klukwan and Haines for our annual staff retreat. In this post, staff members share a few of their experiences, the lessons they took away, and a little about the dedicated and hard-working individuals we met. Thank you, to all in Southeast Alaska who made the trip a success!

Two weeks ago, Rasmuson Foundation staff traveled together to Southeast Alaska to accomplish a few important goals: to learn and gather information that informs our work; to connect with existing and new partners; and to recharge the internal batteries that keep us committed to our work.

We had a full-itinerary, spending two days visiting Juneau, Klukwan and Haines. We, along with Rasmuson Board Member Anthony Mallott and Committee Members Bill Corbus and Sharon Kelly, visited numerous nonprofits, including a few impromptu stops that we realized we couldn’t pass up. We met with Governor Sean Parnell, and legislative, nonprofit and community leadership vital to the region.

Thank you to all who took the time to meet with us.

In this week’s blog, staff members have shared some of their meaningful experiences.

Food has an amazing ability to connect us to place. It was very apparent that salmon, and other subsistence foods, are at the heart of lives in Juneau and Haines. At the Sealaska Heritage Institute, we were honored to taste the seal oil, herring eggs, fresh king salmon, shrimp and more. The next day in Haines, we breakfasted on hard-smoked salmon strips, lox, dried salmon, homemade raspberry jam, fresh fry bread (some of us couldn’t help eating two pieces!) at the Klukwan Cultural Center.  The Chilkat Center for the Performing Arts hosted lunch of salmon fillet, beautiful salad and home-made bread. It was apparent that all these dishes were reflected something essential about each community—and prepared with love. Thank you to our hosts! – Aleesha Towns-Bain, Senior Program Associate

The efforts of the Klukwan community to perpetuate and share their culture was a highlight. With support from various donors and Rep. Bill Thomas’s advocacy, leaders like Kimberly Strong and Lani Hotch have developed an inspiring vision of a cultural center to practice traditional activities, present cultural treasures, market local art, promote tourism, and host community gatherings. This builds on the earlier work to create a beautiful fish camp, carving shed and community building on an adjacent site. – Diane Kaplan, President and CEO

Some highlights of the staff outreach trip were: Meeting Kim Hort, DMD, at the SEARHC Dental Clinic. She was delightful – no wonder there was a framed picture drawn by one of her patients depicting her in an operatory dental chair with Dr. Hort standing by with the caption, “I can hardly wait for my dental appointments.”  A far cry from how I felt about my dentist as a child. And, touring the Governor’s Mansion and eating the scrumptious food we were served at many locations we visited. Oh, my! Thank you, Rasmuson Foundation for this wonderful trip. – Sandra Miller, Executive Assistant & Board Liaison

The sheer scale of Haines Borough is staggering – twice the size of the state of Rhode Island! As we flew up the Lynn Canal, to the accompaniment of breaching humpbacks, towering snow clad peaks and massive glaciated valleys slowly emerging from the mist, we knew that we were entering a very special region of Alaska. It is evident that Haines residents draw much inspiration from nature, continuing the long tradition of the Tlingit people. What was not so immediately evident is the inspiration that residents draw from each other. Over the course of a long day of site visits, we met with native leaders, long term residents and newcomers, and quickly became enmeshed in understanding what makes a small rural community work. Neighbors looking out for neighbors, community leaders and families working hard to create economic opportunities and friends of good causes working together over many years to promote a better quality of life. From the Klukwan Traditional Knowledge Camp to the Chilkat Center for Performing Arts we also learned how philanthropy plays a key role in sustaining the infrastructure, systems and spirit of the Haines community. It was thus most fitting to conclude our visit with a community reception at the Haines library, one of the core institutions in any small community. At that reception we listened intently as Stephanie Scott, Mayor of Haines Borough proclaimed May 25th as “Community Organization Appreciation Day” in perpetuity. That proclamation was a touchstone moment in my career – the community of Haines is a remarkable example of the power of philanthropy to nurture communities – her words of appreciation for the Rasmuson Foundation and our many partners in Haines will inspire me for a long time to come! – Ian Dutton, Vice President

Having spent a significant amount of time treading water in jobs that just weren’t the right fit, I often think about how lucky I am to have found work I really care about and connect with. Perhaps that explains my takeaway from last month’s staff retreat. I met people who exuded passion and energy for their work and who were anxious to share their organization’s story. It’s a wonderful (and inspirational) thing to meet people who really believe in what they do, and I look forward to playing a role in any future role Rasmuson Foundation might play in helping our nonprofit partners in the Southeast to do their work. – Jeff Baird, Program Associate

Special thanks to our nonprofit site visit hosts at Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Juneau Family Health and Birth Center, Aiding Women in Abused and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Alaska State Museum, Juneau Arts and Culture Center, Zach Gordon Youth Center, Governor Sean Parnell, First Lady Sandy Parnell, Sealaska and Sealaska Heritage Institute, McPheters Hall, Representatives Beth Kerttula and Cathy Muñoz, Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, Juneau-Douglas City Museum, Perseverance Theatre, Chilkat Valley Community Foundation and Ann Myren, Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan Tribal Council President Kimberly Strong, Chilkat Center for the Performing Arts, Lynn Canal Community Players, Haines Arts Council, KHNS Radio, Southeast Alaska State Fair, Alaska Indian Arts, Haines Assisted Living Center, The Hammer Museum, Haines Borough Public Library, Haines Mayor Stephanie Scott, Sheldon Museum, individual artists Lani Hotch and Sarah Cohen, and American Bald Eagle Foundation’s Natural History Museum and Live Raptor Center; and to trip advisors Debra Schnabel, Sharon Kelly, Jessie Kiehl and Ann Myren. And on a personal note: It was especially meaningful for me because I got to visit my hometowns of Haines and Juneau. Beautiful. – Jordan Marshall, External Affairs Manager

The Juneau Family Health and Birth Center was an awesome Foundation investment. Mrs. Kanne was an excellent tour guide around her facility. She was proud, happy, and joyful about what she does at JFHBC. This location helps people and gives them a peaceful, private, relaxing room to experience the JOY of having a baby. All I can say is, “Mrs. Kanne, my hat’s off to you.”

Ms. Tabachnick with Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies was very GRATEFUL for what the foundation has done for AWARE. She is passionate, energetic, faithful, but really no words can describe how she feels about what she does. AWARE was a place that I felt comfortable in when I was visiting and that the women and children are well taken care of and cared for from the heart of Ms. Tabachnick and staff. Thank you for what you do.

Going to the Klukwan Traditional Knowledge Camp, Cultural Center in the Native Village of Klukwan with Ms. Strong and Ms. Hotch was an honor. I was able to see the heart that goes into making a Totem Pole and the different meaning that is behind them. When I was at the camp my eyes received a new light in why certain traditions are so important. I have a whole different outlook.  Ms. Strong and Ms. Hotch showed the most open-hearted feeling about what they do. The hospitality that they gave to us will be unforgettable to me. I wish the best for the Village of Klukwan.

The whole Staff Retreat was fabulous Thank you Diane, Ian, Jordan, and all the people that made the Retreat rewarding. – Bridget Brunson, Administrative Assistant

One of the many highlights for me besides the weather was the wonderful people that I met along the way from Juneau and Haines. They were gracious enough to us to host us, make wonderful food for us and show us the work that they do day in and day out. Their passion for what they believe in is evident and admirable. My hat’s off to all of our nonprofit partners that we visited because they do the work they do with heart and selflessness. – Carmen Goodwin, Grants Accounting Associate

I was inspired by the people we met at the nonprofit organizations in Juneau and Haines. Their efforts were labors of love.  Juneau and Haines were breathtakingly beautiful; what a great experience! – Marian Hunter, Grants Accounting Associate

I had not been back to Southeast Alaska since I was in high school at Mt. Edgecumbe, so it was wonderful to return and be reminded of its incredible landscape. Visiting Southeast nonprofits was also a reminder of how lucky I am to work for an organization working to help those dedicated to a cause accomplish their work. Everyone we met was so passionate and dedicated to what they do. They all were working hard to accomplish day-to-day tasks, but still looking ahead to achieve future aspirations. I especially enjoyed learning about what Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Klukwan Traditional Knowledge Camp and Cultural Heritage Center are doing to preserve their traditional culture and heritage, as well as, make it a thriving part of everyday life. – Sharity Sommer, Communications Associate

Our staff journey to Southeast affirmed for me that the best learning we can ever encounter is when we connect face-to-face with each other. What we learn from grantees and local community members when we are there visiting always inspires me. Somehow, a conference call, or occasional Skype meeting just doesn’t capture the true essence of a particular vision or idea that a community has for a special project. Of course, Foundation staff do visit communities with “site visits” when we are considering large grant requests, but the chance to connect with boots-on-the-ground for smaller projects is limited.

Let’s take for example, our visit to the Hammer Museum in Haines. What a wonderful gift the museum is to the visitors of the area. The museum collection is fascinating, educational, quirky, historic. I had spoken with a museum volunteer about nine months before our visit there about some potential capital needs they were scoping. I was intrigued by the museum at the time and looked forward to more information about their work. But honestly, it wasn’t until our recent visit that I realized what a true gem they are. The reality is that organizations like the Hammer Museum exist all over Alaska. The passion and vision of local community members to create and sustain these organizations is what makes Alaska such an extraordinary place.

There were so many kind and generous individuals that we met with during our trip. I’m grateful for those connections. Thank you to the communities of Juneau, Haines, and Klukwan for sharing with us. – Jayson Smart, Program Officer

Juneau, Klukwan and Haines, thank you again for a memorable trip!