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What Gives Me Hope: Looking Back on 20 Years on the Alaska Children’s Trust Board

By Tlisa Northcutt Alaska Children’s Trust, Board Chair

As I thought about writing this post, I realized: I have spent the majority of my adult life advocating for children to be children – growing up in safe, nurturing environments, enjoying happy, healthy childhoods, free from the trauma of child abuse and neglect.

I became involved with Alaska Children’s Trust right out of college, as an account coordinator for a local advertising agency. A couple of years later, I was asked to join the board of Friends of Alaska Children’s Trust (FACT), the fundraising arm of the trust at the time. Twenty years later, I am deeply honored to serve as the chair of the Alaska Children’s Trust board.

To give you some perspective: I have been involved with this organization since before my career was established. Before I was married. Before I had my two beautiful daughters. You could say my family has grown up right along with Alaska Children’s Trust.

I have been asked why I have dedicated so much of my life to this organization and this cause. It’s simple: My heart breaks every time I think of children growing up without the love, without the support, without the opportunities, that I had. I know there is a solution. It might not be an easy one, and it might not be a quick one, but there is a solution.

I am fortunate to have found an organization and an issue I feel so passionate about early in my life. And when you feel so strongly about something, it’s only natural to want to be involved, and to give your time and treasure to make a difference, to move it forward.

And what an evolution it has been. I have seen firsthand how Alaska Children’s Trust evolved from a state entity to a private, nonprofit organization. I have witnessed the grantmaking process evolve and strong partnerships formed with direct service providers serving children and families across the state. I have watched Alaska Children’s Trust grow from a one-person staff to a flourishing, multi-faceted organization.

Along with our network of partners and supporters, we have become a resounding, collective voice for Alaska’s children and families. A statewide leader in the conversation about child abuse and neglect – both the root causes and the possible solutions. A catalyst that has everyone, from individual Alaskans to influential policymakers considering the impact of their decisions on our state’s children. Last year’s legislation directing a portion of Alaska’s marijuana sales tax to support afterschool programs is a prime example of the prioritization of Alaska’s children by our state.

I have also been asked how I continue to have hope about an issue that seems so hopeless. What gives me the most hope is that people are starting to understand and talk about the issue. Child abuse and neglect is coming out of the shadows, and becoming part of the mainstream conversation. Words and concepts like resiliency, trauma-informed care, and adverse childhood experiences (ACES) are no longer limited to the professionals involved in this important work. We as a community are beginning to understand that what happens early in a child’s life has lifelong implications. We’re grasping that adverse childhood experiences aren’t just physical abuse – it is also not having enough to eat, not having somewhere safe to go afterschool, or not having a trusted adult to talk to and count on.

We’re also starting to understand the power of resilience and the importance of trauma-informed care. We know now that a child who has endured trauma is likely acting out because of their experiences, and with the right support, they can develop the skills they need to overcome their trauma and come out stronger on the other side. There is a growing awareness that while kids might start out with the cards stacked against them, if we can help them break the pattern at some point, they can still come out with a winning hand.

Finally, what gives me hope is that we are beginning to comprehend that we can all play a role in the health, safety and success of the children in our communities. You don’t have to be a teacher, a doctor or a judge to make a difference in the life of a child. As a parent, I know that I can only do so much to keep my children safe. At some point, they are going to venture beyond the protection I can offer, and it takes each of us, as a community, working together, to create a society where children are valued and protected.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s in all of our best interests. It’s been said many times before because it’s true: Today’s children are our future. We must protect them, care for them, value them and give them opportunities to ensure a strong, healthy future for us all.   

I am deeply grateful that the founders of Alaska Children’s Trust understood this and had the foresight more than three decades ago to create this organization. I am proud that other children’s trusts across the country are looking to us as an example for operations, advocacy and partnership. And I am truly thankful to have the opportunity to be part of this organization over the past 20+ years.

My dream is that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe, nurturing environment, where they can dream about their futures as they grow up happy, healthy and thriving. As one of the many voices that makes up Alaska Children’s Trust and our network of partners and supporters, I know I am not alone in this dream. And I know that together we can – we will – prevent child abuse and neglect.

Tlisa Northcutt is the senior director of donor relations at the University of Alaska Foundation. She has served on the Alaska Children’s Trust board for the past 20 years, and currently serves as board chair. She was raised in Alaska and is proud to be raising her own family here.

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