Creating Community Impact in The Last Frontier

by Candace Winkler

Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) is a part of a much larger movement that is nearing the end of its first century of existence. As we compare ourselves with older community foundations across the nation, we realize the magnitude of the work we are doing — and the work that's ahead of us. Established 16 years ago, the Alaska Community Foundation works to grow philanthropy and build community in an effort to improve the quality of life here, now and forever. In our large state, that can be a daunting task.

In order to grow philanthropy in Alaska, we need to have a true understanding of what Alaskans and our communities across the state need to be successful. One way we accomplish this is to work with advisory boards in our affiliate communities — Chilkat Valley, Kenai Peninsula, Petersburg, Seward, and Talkeetna — to better understand their local needs and support leaders as they set community goals and raise permanent chests for their future.

We also help build community by providing opportunities for community members and our fund advisers to have open conversations about issues. Over the past year, we've hosted dozens of "conversations about causes that matter." The topics we've discussed have ranged from childhood hunger to healthcare to family philanthropy. These gatherings engage citizens to both understand and become involved in tackling the challenging issues that face Alaska.

Two unique gatherings we have hosted include a televised production of a roundtable panel conversation about teen suicide and a two-day community-building event, which was facilitated by Louise Van Ryhn, a social architect from South Africa. She worked with over 125 Alaskans from 20 communities across the state to explore our collective and individual visions. The convening provided experiential training for those in attendance about how to facilitate high-stakes conversations and inspired many of them to re-evaluate their role in building a strong future for Alaska.

The panel discussion on teen suicide included experts on the topic and showcased scenes from a powerful play, Winter Bear, which addresses teen suicide in rural Alaska. This new, televised approach enabled us to reach a much wider audience and engage Alaskans in a technology-based conversation using a new community web platform, Town Square 49 (TS49). TS49 is a joint project between ACF and the Alaska Public Telecommunications, Inc., funded by the Knight Foundation, to address community information needs. It's also a virtual place where Alaskans can determine which stories or issues are most important and allow individuals to join together in dialogue about the best way to address pressing issues.

As our nation celebrates Community Foundation Week and our field enters its 100th year, ACF is proud to hold true to our core principle of building permanent endowments that help us create the future we hope for. However, we also recognize our need to stretch, grow, and adapt. We are excited to incorporate new technology and opportunities to connect people who care with causes that matter. Alaskans who want to make a difference look to the Alaska Community Foundation for leadership and help with translating their ideas and passion into community impact.

Candace Winkler is CEO and president of the Alaska Community Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.

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