I hope you are enjoying Alaska summer as much as I am. Yet the weight of the pandemic remains heavy. Things had just opened up when the Delta variant took off. We are taking precautions and following CDC guidance. Meanwhile, check out what our team and partners have been up to in recent weeks.

— Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO

Back to where it began

The board enjoyed remarkable, jam-packed days of site visits and meeting time in June, including a gathering at Harding Lake more than 65 years after the board first gathered there. Thank you so much to board member Rebecca Brice Henderson for hosting us and to former board members Kris Norosz and Jeff Cook for all they did to make this a memorable time. It was also great to see Nadine Winters. The Foundation board’s first meeting in October 1955 was in College, a community at the edge of Fairbanks, at the home of the Rev. B.J. Bingle, and records suggest they also gathered at Bingle Camp at Harding Lake.

During a June 2021 visit by the Foundation board, Hannah Hill, executive director of Bread Line, explains the work — and healing — that happens at Stone Soup Cafe. At right, board member Jay Gibbons.

In Fairbanks, the Foundation awarded Fairbanks Native Association $25,000 for the Walter Harper project. A long-overdue statue will recognize Harper, a Koyukon-Athabaskan mountain climber — and the first person to summit Denali.

Two remote community grocery stores, a small farm as a youth employment opportunity and shelter upgrades in Bethel are among 23 projects moving forward as a result of board action. You can read our announcement on Rasmuson.org.

Among other highlights from our time together was a dinner at Ed and Cathy Rasmuson’s home and a preview of the upcoming Magnetic North film on Chairman Ed shown at the board meeting.  A public viewing of the film is scheduled for Sept. 9 at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. We had a virtual meeting with new Mayor Dave Bronson and agreed to ongoing partnership.

The Rasmuson Foundation board gathered in June at Harding Lake.

Being a good steward

I spoke recently on a panel of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Alaska chapter, about what meaningful stewardship looks like to me. It was part of a full-day stewardship lab that included ConocoPhillips, Cook Inlet Region Inc. and individual philanthropists.

Who is experiencing homelessness in Alaska?

A valuable new tool frames Alaska’s efforts to solve homelessness with solid data. The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness developed a data dashboard with our support to illustrate community need, efficacy of programs and trends. It shows real-time information on the number of people experiencing homelessness as they move in and out of the system and is part of an effort to ensure everyone is known, solid facts are in hand, and there is housing for all. The data comes through self-reports from individuals to 39 Anchorage homelessness service programs, including shelters, street outreach organizations and supported housing sites that participate in the Alaska Homeless Management Information System. On the coalition’s newly redone website, scroll down the Built for Zero dashboard to see the information.

Resource hub moves forward; talks underway on shelter solution

A screenshot of the recent op-ed in Anchorage Daily News.

In Anchorage and all over Alaska, homelessness is in the news in a big way. We are assisting with talks between the mayor’s office and Assembly on how to safely house and support the hundreds of individuals who have been at Sullivan Arena during the pandemic. I wrote an op-ed supporting talks to move the work forward. This truly is too big to fail.

Meanwhile, we have awarded funds to Catholic Social Services to begin design of a resource hub — or engagement center — at the old Bean’s Café with a range of services for those experiencing homelessness. We have committed to supporting its operation for three years, with the expectation that the Municipality of Anchorage will step up funding during that time. Cook Inlet Tribal Council and Southcentral Foundation are advising on a design that will be welcoming and healing to all.

2021 scholar in experimental economics

Judd Kessler

Judd Kessler, a Wharton University associate professor, will receive the 2021 Vernon L. Smith Ascending Scholar Award. The award recognizes an early-career scholar of exceptional promise and is accompanied by $50,000 to encourage continued top-tier scholarship. The award is named for Nobel Laureate Vernon L. Smith and is being presented by the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics, or IFREE. We supported the organization with a $100,000 award in 2017.  Kessler, who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, investigates forces that motivate individuals to contribute to public good in areas from organ donation to charitable giving.

Celebrating cross cultural friendships

This past June, the Korean American Community of Anchorage teamed up with local nonprofits like the Anchorage Library Association and The Alaska Center, as well as cultural groups, to host a festival at Dimond Mall commemorating the 12th Korea Alaska Friendship Day. Emily Kwon, Foundation external affairs associate and Momentum fellow, volunteered with NexGen, a young Korean Americans group, and sold dumplings to raise funds.

Many Rasmuson Foundation staff members came out in support. We helped to sponsor this year’s festival.

Cemetery bell tower rings in memories

The new Foundation-supported bell tower at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery was unveiled in June. We supported it with a  $100,000 grant awarded in 2018. Ernie Hall, a longtime advocate for the tower, led the dedication ceremony. Board member Lile Gibbons attended. The tower symbolizes remembrance and joy. Its digital library of songs provide opportunity for celebrations and ceremonies.

Breaking ground on a new transitional home for young people

Covenant House Alaska recently celebrated the groundbreaking on a new medium-term housing construction site. The building will be 10,000 square feet with 22 apartment-style micro-units. As part of the Bridge to Success program, the home will house young adults ages 18 to 24 they transition from the shelter to apartment living. The goal is to help them secure their own permanent housing and gain independence.

Construction should be completed in 2022.  Rasmuson Foundation supported this project with a $250,000 grant in 2021.

Ribbon cutting celebrates building acquisition

MyHouse Mat-Su area recently purchased the building that has been the base of operations for the past decade. The team celebrated with a ribbon cutting at Our Gathering Grounds, a café operated by MyHouse that provides job training and employment for youth experiencing homelessness.

By purchasing the building, MyHouse will save $5,000 a month. Half the savings will go into an account dedicated for maintenance and repairs and the other half will support its work in helping local youth experiencing homelessness. We supported this project with a $235,000 grant in 2021.

$1 million mark for local fund

Let’s give Seward Community Foundation a hearty congratulations! The local fund became the first in The Alaska Community Foundation’s Affiliate Program to reach the $1 million mark in grants with this year’s awards of $71,000. Among the recent beneficiaries are Kenai Mountains Public Media, an arts program run by Qutekcak Native Tribe, and the Moose Pass Volunteer Fire Department.  Seward Community Foundation, launched in 2008, is one of 11 local funds created with our support to increase giving and support grantmaking across Alaska.

A model in leadership

I recently spoke about the impact of community foundations at a donor appreciation event in Haines held by Chilkat Valley Community Foundation. A long-term recovery partnership created in response to the deadly mudslide in December is being led by CVCF — a model for the kind of leadership we hoped would arise from our affiliates. The mudslide emergency fund is mostly tapped out, and 23 homes still need to be replaced. We are supporting the work with a $25,000 grant.