At the Alaska Children’s Trust 30th anniversary celebration, held September 20 in Anchorage, we honored six individuals as Lifetime Champions for Kids. These individuals have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the work of ACT and have exhibited extraordinary commitment in working toward preventing child abuse and neglect in our state.
The individuals selected are the pioneers of our organization and laid important groundwork for those of us who followed. Their dedication, influence and contributions to the well-being of Alaska’s children have had immeasurable impact on the effort to keep our children safe.
Please help us in congratulating these Lifetime Champions for Kids.
Ramona Barnes and her family moved to Alaska in 1972 and she quickly became active in politics with a focus on children. She served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1979 to 1985 and from 1987 to 2001. As a Republican, she continually worked across the aisle – especially when it came to children’s issues. Prior to joining the Alaska Legislature, Ramona served on the Elmendorf Air Force Base School Board.
Ramona was a strong ally for ACT. She recognized that the future of Alaska was directly connected to the future of our children. She understood that finding ways to prevent child abuse and neglect was key to helping children and families thrive. Ramona was instrumental in gaining the support necessary for the trust legislation to pass in 1998.
Later, Ramona partnered with Gov. Tony Knowles, the Children’s Cabinet and other advocates to support the transfer of ACT’s first and only state deposit of $6 million into the endowment.
Ramona passed away in 2003, but her legacy continues on.
Carol Brice moved to Alaska in 1959 and since then, her message has been simple: Every child in Alaska should be raised in safe, healthy families and communities. Her long history of community service in Alaska includes public health nurse, co-founder of RCPC (Resource Center for Parents and Children), co-founder of the Fairbanks Head Start program, associate professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Early Childhood Education Program, owner of Family Training Associates, which provides parent education classes, and many more.
Carol recognizes that the societal impacts of child abuse and neglect are lifelong. She knows the lives of our children and the prosperity of our state depend on our recognition that primary prevention is the key to eliminating child abuse and neglect. With this vision, Carol set out to inspire and empower people across the state.
One of her legacies is the Alaska Children’s Trust, which was born in 1988. However, for eight years, it laid dormant and forgotten by all but its most devoted supporters, like Carol. In the mid-1990s, passionate advocates convinced the new governor to resurrect the trust. With supporters like Carol, Gov. Knowles was able to restructure the trust so it could start achieving its mission.
One of the first acts of the governor was to appoint Carol to the board of trustees. She sat on the board from 1996 to 2003, serving as chair throughout her tenure. As a founding member, Carol established the infrastructure and guiding principles that still guide and support ACT today.
In 1996, when Gov. Knowles restructured ACT and helped get the trust endowed with its first and only state deposit of $6 million, he recognized the trust could not do this work alone.
Gov. Knowles reached out to a close friend and advisor to help create a non-governmental entity that would further promote and support the work of ACT. That person was Deborah Bonito. Under her leadership, and with the support of other community leaders, Friends of the Alaska Children’s Trust (FACT) was born with the goal to build the ACT endowment and raise awareness about the challenges Alaska’s children and families face every day.
Attracting significant private donations to grow the trust proved nearly impossible during the first few years. But this did not deter Deborah. Through her creative energy, commitment and flair for all that is possible, Deborah and a group of highly motivated activists developed successful community fundraisers over the years, setting the stage for the endowment to grow significantly.
Deborah was instrumental in starting a new movement to improve the lives of Alaska’s children. This movement strengthened the partnership between ACT and FACT, which led to the merger of the two organizations in 2012.
Diane Kaplan sees children as one of Alaska’s most valuable resources. She understands that how we invest in them today determines who they will be tomorrow. She has committed to ensuring Alaska is a great place for everyone to live, especially those raising children. This is demonstrated in her work as president and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation and her involvement in community organizations like the Alaska Community Foundation and the Foraker Group. She donates countless hours and resources to a variety programs that support children and families.
Deborah Bonito knew she needed fellow leaders to join and share her vision for Friends of the Alaska Children’s Trust to ensure the success of both organizations. It was no surprise that she reached out and recruited Diane.
In 1996, Diane began a 20-year journey with ACT. First, she was a founding board member of FACT. In partnership with Deborah and other community leaders, they built an organization that helped strengthen ACT’s corpus and increase community awareness of the impacts of child abuse and neglect in Alaska. By 2004, Gov. Murkowski appointed her as a trustee to ACT’s board.
With an understanding of both organizations and the challenges they face, Diane was a key contributor to ACT’s next evolution – the merger between FACT and ACT. As chair of ACT’s board, she teamed up with Carley Lawrence, FACT board chair, to merge the two organizations. By having ACT become an independent nonprofit organization, and securing the endowment at the Alaska Community Foundation, it opened new opportunities and fortified current services that made ACT better equipped to respond to a very complex and ever-changing issue. By 2012, the merger was completed, and Diane remained on the board for another three years.
Governor Tony Knowles
The trust entered state statute in 1988, approved by Alaska lawmakers after a fight over how to fund it. The original bill gave Alaska residents who received an annual PFD the option of donating part of that money to ACT. Realizing a vote on the trust would not be allowed as long as it contained the dividend check-off, its sponsors removed it and the legislation passed with little opposition. The trust went into statue but was not activated. Advocates from across the state tried several times with different ideas to get funding for the trust, with little to no success.
By 1994, Gov. Knowles became Alaska’s seventh governor and, soon after, he made children a key focus of his administration. In spring 1995, he appointed five state commissioners, the attorney general and the lt. governor to serve on his cabinet for children. Their mission: In partnership with families, ensure children have opportunities for happy, healthy and productive lives.
With leadership from the Children’s Cabinet, Gov. Knowles’ chief of staff, Jim Ayers, and legislators like Ramona Barnes worked together to breathe new life into the trust. Under the leadership of Gov. Knowles, his administration rewrote the Alaska Children’s Trust statute using an executive order that streamlined the structure and made it part of the governor’s office. They appointed the first board of trustees and transferred $6 million to the trust from the surplus in an unrelated account.
By the first year, ACT distributed nearly $300,000 in grants to support statewide efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect. Today, the trust has over $12 million and has invested over $5 million dollars in prevention efforts.
Lt. Governor Fran Ulmer
The partnership between Fran Ulmer and Gov. Knowles, combined with their shared commitment to children, made them the dynamic duo. Prior to becoming lt. governor, Fran made children a key legislative issue when she was in the Alaska Legislature. As a member of the Women’s Commission, she supported, assisted in the creation of, and was an original member of the Interim Children’s Commission. The number one recommendation of this commission was the creation of the children’s trust. With the support of a key staff member, Karla Timpone, and other members of the Children’s Commission, they drafted legislation modeled after the most recent formation of the Texas’ Children’s Trust. As a legislator, Fran assisted in developing the relationships needed to get the legislation passed in 1988.
In 1991, Fran co-sponsored the first legislation to fund the trust. The House of Representatives approved the legislation, but it died in the Senate. But this setback did not sway Fran from continuing to support children and give life to the children’s trust. As lt. governor, she was a member of the Children’s Cabinet that breathed new life into the children’s trust. In partnership with Gov. Knowles, legislators like Romana Barnes, and advocates like Carol Brice, Fran played an important role in the restructuring of the children’s trust.