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Introducing the 2020 Southcentral Champions for Kids

Alaska Children’s Trust is honored to announce our 2020 Southcentral Champions for Kids: Charity Carmody and Lisa Wade. We will celebrate Charity and Lisa, along with our 2020 Northern/Interior Champions for Kids, Traci McGarry and Bernard Gatewood, at the premier of our Champion for Kids Challenge Campaign on September 15. Learn more about the campaign on our website.

Charity Carmody

Charity Carmody is a fourth-generation Alaskan. She and her husband, Kris, have been married 26 years. They have four grown children and two grandchildren. The Carmody’s took in their first foster child when Charity was only 21 years old. Within the first six years of their marriage, they owned a large home in North Mountain view and cared for foster children and adults in need of rehabilitation. Their oldest son, Jesse, was one of their first foster children. 

Caring for foster children continues to be a passion for Charity. The nonprofit Beacon Hill was founded in the Carmody’s living room in 2009 by a group of friends that wanted to give back. It started as a transitional living facility for homeless mothers and children, and then became a foster care and adoption agency five years later. 

Today, Beacon Hill has a foster care prevention program called Safe Families for Children Alaska that operates in six cities. It also operates Family Support Centers in Anchorage and Wasilla that host supervised visits and mentorship for children in foster care with their biological families.  Beacon Hill also manages the Heart Gallery of Alaska, which recruits adoptive homes for children in foster care that are legally free for adoption and are waiting for a forever family. In 2017, Beacon Hill opened a thrift store and café, whose profits fund Beacon Hill’s operating expenses. Charity acted as Beacon Hill’s volunteer executive director until 2018, when Kristen Bierma was hired to take the organization to its next level. Charity remains the board president.

Outside of her volunteer work, Charity has been in finance and insurance since beginning her career in 1994 at Smith Barney. She started her own company, Carmody Insurance Agency, in 2007. Her agency is now located in South Anchorage and still going strong, giving jobs and resources to the community.

Charity received her bachelor’s in business and MBA from Alaska Pacific University, where she now teaches as an adjunct business professor. She is currently finishing her doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University in Boston. She has a dream of writing federal and state child welfare law.

Charity’s efforts to better her community has been recognized numerous times. She is a 2015 Top 40 under 40 recipient by the Alaska Journal of Commerce, a 2019 Athena Society Inductee, the recipient for Beacon Hill of World Magazine’s Hope Award for effective compassion in Washington D.C., and a member of 100+ Women Who Care.

Lisa Wade

Lisa Wade is Ahtna Dene’ of the taltsiine (water clan) and the c’etsiy tnaey (iron people clan). Lisa is a Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax (Chickaloon Native Village) Tribal citizen. She is a wife and mother of two amazing daughters and currently lives at Tsidak’etna’ (Grandmother’s Creek), just north of Palmer.

Lisa has served as a member of the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council since 2012, and Council secretary and Tribal Court judge since 2018. She has worked for Chickaloon Village Traditional Council since 2007, and serves as the health, education and social services division director. She also manages the Ya Ne Dah Ah School, the first school in Alaska established by a Tribal government.

Lisa is a standing board member on the Benteh/Nuutah Valley Native Primary Care Center joint operating board, the Ce’yiits Hwnax Life House Community Health Center advisory committee, the Mat-Su Health Foundation board of directors, the Alaska Family Services board of directors, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Tribal technical advisory committee. She has also participated on the steering committees of Raising Our Children with Kindness (R.O.C.K.) Mat-Su and the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI) since their inception.

Lisa is an advocate for the health and wellness of Alaska Native peoples and is committed to supporting healthy communities locally, statewide and nationally through community building, policy development, and indigenous advocacy. She enjoys cultural learning and creating community art projects, especially with children.

About the Award

Each year, through our Champion for Kids Awards, Alaska Children’s Trust recognizes individuals who have demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward preventing child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive, and nurturing communities. The purpose of the Champion for Kids Award is to recognize someone for his or her contributions to children living throughout Alaska, whether it is through their professional employment, volunteer work, community activities, or actively working with children.

Charity and Lisa join other 2020 Champions throughout the state, including Traci McGarry and Bernard Gatewood, our 2020 Northern/Interior Champions, and Kevin Ritchie and Kyle Worl, our 2020 Southeast Champions. Find full bios of our Champions on our website.

Champion for Kids Challenge Campaign

Our 2020 Southcentral and Northern/Interior Champions for Kids, Charity Carmody, Lisa Wade, Traci McGarry and Bernard Gatewood, will be honored on September 15 at the Facebook Live premier of our Champion for Kids Challenge Campaign. While COVID-19 prevented us from celebrating these champions at in-person receptions, we are pleased to recognize them at the virtual launch of our Champion for Kids Challenge Campaign

Our Challenge Campaign is an important effort to raise funds during a time when children and families are more vulnerable than ever before. A very special thank you to our generous challenge grant sponsors: Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, Wells Fargo, Doyon, Limited, the Brice-Henderson Family, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, and Southcentral Foundation, as well as our 45+ co-hosts and board members who are challenging our community of friends. Learn more about the campaign and see the full list of supporters on our website.

We invite you to join these supporters and help us meet our challenge grant of over $35,000 by making a gift between September 15 and October 18. Because together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.

Congratulations 2020 Southeast Champions for Kids

Alaska Children's Trust honored our 2020 Southeast Champions for Kids, Kevin Ritchie and Kyle Worl, at an awards reception in Juneau on January 29. Each year, we recognize individuals that have demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward preventing child abuse and neglect, by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive and nurturing communities.

Read more

Congratulations to our 2019 Southeast Champions for Kids: Joy Lyon & Sen. Peter Micciche

We were honored to announce our 2019 Southeast Champions for Kids at a special event benefiting Alaska Children’s Trust in Juneau on February 20. Two amazing individuals were recognized with this award: Joy Lyon and Sen. Peter Micciche.

Each year, Alaska Children’s Trust recognizes individuals that have demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward preventing child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive, and nurturing communities. The purpose of our Champion for Kids Award is to recognize these individuals for their contributions, whether it is through their professional employment, volunteer work, community activities, or actively working with children.

Joy Lyon - SE champ for kidsJoy Lyon is the executive director for the Association for the Education of Young Children (AEYC) in Southeast Alaska. A mother of three and a self-described “reluctant advocate,” Joy says, “It is never easy, but it is harder not to do it!”

Over the years, Joy has been instrumental in raising awareness, lending her voice to those who are normally silenced, and creating programs to support families. For the first part of her tenure, she organized Stand for Kids – an annual advocacy event on the steps of the Alaska Legislature. These later morphed into Little Red Wagon visits, where advocates and children in red wagons toured legislators’ offices to remind them what the future of Alaska looks like. Today, this program has developed into the annual valentine outreach, where each legislator receives valentines made by children.

Under Joy’s leadership, AEYC has reached thousands of families over the decades. She brought Parents as Teachers, a home-visiting program, to Juneau and established the Juneau Imagination Library, which has ensured children receive books. She is part of the leadership behind Best Starts, an initiative to encourage local investment in early childhood. She led the effort to create the “Hearts Award” program, which provides fiscal compensation to early educators who improve their qualifications, with support from the City of Juneau. The list goes on and on.

micciche - SE champ for kidsSen. Peter Micciche was also honored as a Champion for Kids. As a father of four, Peter knows how important investing in our children is for their future and our own. Since the day he entered the Legislature back in 2013, he has brought the stories of children and families to the table. He challenges himself and his colleagues to use a child-focused lens when making decisions that impact people across our great state. This was apparent in his work to rewrite Title 4, the state’s alcoholic beverage control regulations.

The vast majority of child abuse and neglect and domestic violence cases involve alcohol. Utilizing this knowledge, Peter ensured language that promotes responsible consumption, while effectively supporting industry, and protecting our families. In addition, he included key regulations that create stricter regulations that prevent youth from accessing alcohol. Youth who do use alcohol will benefit from new regulations that promote a trauma-informed approach.

Peter’s support was also influential in the passing of legislation that supports the State’s use of a trauma-informed lens, and legislation designating marijuana tax revenue toward afterschool programming. Both pieces of legislation will help strengthen Alaska’s children and families.

Peter’s dedication to children does not solely exist as a legislator. As a community member, he is consistently engaged in projects that help create safe, stable and nurturing communities for children. He has been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula for nearly a decade, and was most recently president of the board. He participates in a variety of community events that promote and strengthen family protective factors.

Please join us in congratulating both of these Champions for Kids! Learn more about the awards, past recipients, and upcoming nomination periods on our website.

Painting the stories of trauma and resilience

Steve Gordon found himself in the midst of the conversation about childhood trauma and resilience “quite by accident.” One year ago, the renowned artist and University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) art instructor tasked his students with a mural-painting project that explored issues of contemporary interest. The topic: the headline-topping opioid epidemic. But instead of having his students just read articles on the issue, Steve invited several “recovery advocates” to come to his class and share their life stories.

“You can talk about the epidemic generically but when you hear a personal story, you have more compassion for the struggle and the heroic effort it takes to get into recovery,” Steve shares. “Many of these people had childhood trauma and that made their addiction more understandable. It got me interested in the correlation between ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and addiction.”

For the next series of murals, Steve decided to have his class focus on ACEs, and the Resilience After Trauma: An ACEs Mural Project was born. Adverse childhood experiences are when children are exposed to toxic stress like child abuse, domestic violence, an incarcerated parent or intergenerational trauma. These types of experiences can impair the development of a child’s brain and body so profoundly that the negative effects increase their risk of experiencing many of the physical, social and behavioral ills our communities face today, like substance abuse, homelessness or mental illness. However, there is hope – by learning healthy coping techniques and establishing supportive relationships, children and adults can develop resilience, which minimizes the impact of ACEs on their lives.

“Here we saw what can happen if a child undergoes trauma and doesn’t get any help or learn any resilience strategies,” Steve explains. “If children don’t get resources on the front end, you could be paying to put them in prison on the other end. It’s tragic.”

For the ACEs mural project, Steve invited another group of recovery advocates to speak to the students, who asked questions, took notes and photographed the speakers. “To hear what happened to them as kids, and how they are fiercely working to help others now, it was inspiring. It was impactful for me and everyone involved,” Steve says.IMG_7080

Then came the hard part – figuring out how to visually convey the stories of trauma and resilience in a 6-foot by 10-foot mural. Students worked together in teams to create three murals, and Steve invited four professional local artists to create pieces as well. Two local organizations – Alaska Children’s Trust and Alaska Native Medical Center Auxiliary – provided grants that helped with the cost of supplies.

We were pleased to be able to support Steve and his students in this unique and collaborative effort to raise awareness of adverse childhood experiences and the power of resilience,” says Trevor Storrs, president/CEO of Alaska Children’s Trust. “That’s exactly what our community investment grants were created for. By working together, we can create real change and turn the tides on child abuse and neglect in Alaska.”

Once the murals were completed, the class invited the speakers back for an unveiling of their work. Each group shared how they visually depicted the life-impacting moments – both negative and positive – into the mural.

The students also wrote artists’ statements explaining how the process impacted them personally and how they incorporated the stories into the paintings. “Working on this mural together, holding these images and words from Tarah’s life has had a profound effect on all of us and we are grateful to her for what she shared with us,” wrote the team of students who painted Tarah’s story. “She is the inspiration behind every layer of paint.”IMG_7156

Each mural is accompanied with the artists’ statements, along with information about ACEs and resilience, making it possible for viewers to understand the project without any introduction. “Most of the general population hasn’t heard about ACEs. I hope the murals with information on ACEs and resilience help people to be more aware,” Steve says. “ACEs are real and they have a lasting, lifelong impact on the development of kids’ brains. But you can proactively give children the tools to deal with stress and become resilient. The people in these murals are evidence of that. They provide hope to others.”

The murals will make their public debut February 7 at the Church of Love in Anchorage during a reception hosted by Alaska Children’s Trust and UAA with support from Alaska Native Medical Center Auxiliary and REAL About Addiction.

The February 7 reception is just the first stop for the freestanding artwork, which are designed to be highly transportable and easily displayed in public areas, including outdoors. From February 8 – March 8, the murals will be on display at the Anchorage Downtown Bus Depot. On March 8 – 9, they move to the Dena’ina Center for the Bean’s Café Empty Bowl Project. During the rest of March, the murals will tour the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. Throughout April, they can be seen at the Loussac Public Library, and in May, they will be featured at the Mat-Su Health Foundation. All displays are free and open to the public.

Steve continues to seek opportunities to share the murals – and the messages they contain. “It’s exciting that art is helping to make a difference,” he says. “Art inspires change by shining a spotlight on the issue of ACEs and offering hope.”

Inspiration, knowledge, networking, awards … even an earthquake at 2018 Alaska Afterschool Conference

The Alaska Afterschool Network, a program of Alaska Children’s Trust, hosted the very successful 2018 Alaska Afterschool Conference in Anchorage on November 28-30, 2018. More than 150 afterschool educators, representing more than 40 Alaska communities, attended the conference themed “Unlocking Potential, Transforming Lives.” Additionally, 63 individuals participated in the preconference institute focused on Trauma Responsive Afterschool Programs.

Professional development workshops, a welcome reception, VIP supporter tours and an awards luncheon topped the agenda on Thursday. The awards luncheon included the opportunity to honor Senator Cathy Giessel and Representative Matt Claman as 2018 Afterschool Champions for their legislative work securing marijuana sales tax revenue to support Alaska afterschool programs. Currently, 25,000 Alaska children are enrolled in afterschool programs, and another 45,000 children would benefit from a program but can’t due to barriers in program capacity, costs and availability in their community.

Afterschool conferenceThe conference schedule was interrupted Friday due to the 7.0 earthquake that occurred in the Anchorage area. The afterschool professionals, already champions in the role they play in children’s lives, worked together seamlessly to ensure all participants were safe, cared for, and able to reach homes and families. Parents helping kids process their thoughts and emotions from the earthquake are invited to view this resource from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Alaska Afterschool Network thanks everyone who attended the conference and extends a special thanks to our workshop presenters, sponsors, vendors, and the hard-working conference planning committee: Thomas, Jessica, Courtney, Shanette, Karen, Eric, Carrie, Lindsey and Marilyn. Their tireless commitment and efforts made all the difference.

Visit the Alaska Afterschool Network website and Facebook page for more information on the conference, upcoming events and afterschool programs in Alaska.

ACT Announces Six Lifetime Champions for Kids

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

Barnes1Ramona 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

Brice, Carol DSC_1151seCarol 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.

Deborah Bonito

2432652877_772aefe5c1In 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

diane-kaplanDiane 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

thThe 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

fran-ulmerThe 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.

Celebrating our 2018 Interior Champion for Kids: Taber Rehbaum

Taber Rehbaum was honored as the Alaska Children’s Trust 2018 Interior Champion for Kids during our annual reception in Fairbanks on March 29. The award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive and nurturing communities.Champ for Kids

For 22 years, Taber led the amazing work of Big Brothers Big Sisters. She was hired as the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters – Greater Fairbanks Area in 1995. Between then and 2007, she grew the Fairbanks agency from less than 30 children served per year to approximately 600.

During this time, the agency implemented a number of new initiatives, including school-based mentoring, programs serving Interior villages, and many partnerships intended to reach Alaska Native people, address the mental health needs of Alaska children, and help incarcerated youth avoid recidivism when released. The Fairbanks agency was recognized nationally for its program expansion.

In 2007, Taber helped plan and execute the merger of the three Alaska Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies into Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska. From 2009 to 2017, Taber served as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, helping develop a more effective organizational structure. Under her leadership, the statewide agency continued to be recognized nationally for its work with Native populations and the juvenile justice system. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska was also a leader in developing systems and practices to partner with parents to prevent child abuse and to identify and respond to indicators of abuse.

In addition to leading the agency, Taber was also matched with two Little Sisters, both of whom she is still in contact with. Taber’s first Little Sister now lives in Houston, where she and her husband are expecting their first child. Taber’s second Little Sister will graduate from high school this spring.

Taber says she is grateful to have her Little Sisters as well as many mentors in her life – and Alaska Children’s Trust is grateful for Taber and the years of dedication she has shown to Alaska’s children and families.

 

ACT is Coming to Juneau

We are looking forward to the Alaska Children’s Trust fundraising reception coming up next week in Juneau! The reception, hosted by First Lady Donna Walker and Ms. Toni Mallott, takes place Tuesday, February 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Governor’s House. During the event, we will recognize Dr. George Brown, our 2018 Southeast Champion for Kids. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to vlewis@alaskachildrenstrust.org or 907.248.7374 by this Friday, February 9. We hope to see you there!

ACT First Lady invite for email

Addressing Children’s Environmental Health in Alaska

By Pamela K. Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Children in Alaska and the Circumpolar North experience disproportionate exposures to toxic chemicals that may have long-term negative health consequences, such as neurodevelopmental effects, cancer, birth defects, metabolic disorders, and compromised immune systems. In order to address these health disparities, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) organized the 2016 Children’s Environmental Health Summit – the first of its kind in Alaska.

The summit took place on October 5 and 6, 2016, at Alaska Pacific University. Participants included students, health care professionals, Alaska Native leaders, scientists, teachers, policymakers, and children’s health advocates. Fifteen Alaska communities were represented, and the sponsorship program made it possible to provide scholarships to 13 participants from eight different communities (Gambell, Savoonga, Nome, Kivalina, Elim, Diomede, Atqasuk and Brevig Mission).

Kathy Sanchez

Kathy Sanchez MA, Tewa Women United, presents about the impacts of historical trauma.

The first day of the summit consisted of plenary sessions addressing case studies from communities around Alaska, as well as the state of the science on certain health disparities, such as birth defects and childhood cancer. Presentations focusing on critical children’s environmental health concerns from Alaska-based community leaders and health care providers created a balance of on-the-ground perspectives and traditional knowledge and wisdom.

The summit was intended to be a springboard for action rather than an end in itself. So, much of the second day of the summit was devoted to work group discussions in the areas of policy, research, health care, education and outreach, and environment. The work groups resulted in a series of recommendations and actions that will be carried forward following the summit, with the help of the Children’s Environmental Health Task Force.

These are some of the highlights and common themes from each of the work groups:

Health care:

  • Emphasis on ideas to educate and more fully engage health care professionals
  • Change the system of health care to be more responsive to environmental health concerns

Education and outreach:

  • Identified the need to develop educational materials to reduce harmful exposures
  • Prepared a summary of important audiences to reach, key messengers for those particular audiences, existing resources, and new opportunities for outreach – parents, health care providers, students, policy makers, community leaders, media and store managers.

Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee, Citizens for Clean Air, presents some of the working group recommendations.

Environment:

  • Identified the primary areas of concern for children’s exposures, including indoor and school environments, as well as contaminated sites in and around the communities, such as military and industrial sites, solid waste and incineration facilities. Climate warming is a major concern because it is mobilizing contaminants with increasing storm surges and melting of ice.
  • Recommended solutions include community education and trainings, youth activities, and working with local stores to offer healthier alternatives.

Policy:

  • Offered ideas about policy priorities at the local, school board, and state level – including support for the Toxic-Free Children’s Act (HB 53).
  • Emphasized importance of implementing the recommendations of Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Development Risks).
  • Need to strengthen partnerships with health care professionals to be an effective force for change.
  • Recommendations for market shifts toward healthy products, focusing on retail stores that serve rural Alaska.
  • Importance of strong implementation of the new Lautenberg Act, which amends the Toxic Substances Control Act – enforcing the language to protect vulnerable populations.

Research:

  • Develop “rapid response” tool kit for communities to investigate potentially harmful exposures from industrial or military facilities.
  • Longer term: Cultivate support for community-based participatory research – education and engagement of potential research partners.
  • Ways to address health disparities and develop effective interventions.
  • Establish children’s cohort in Alaska to address key health concerns.
  • Investigate connection between climate change and increasing levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the Arctic; chemical mixtures.

Summit participants

Summit participants and task force members

At the end of the conference, 12 participants offered to serve on a task force to implement the recommendations developed by the working groups. This task force consists of a diverse group – from traditional healers and environmental coordinators, to parents, health care professionals and academics – representing the wide base of advocates that is needed to address the complex challenges facing children’s environmental health in Alaska and the Circumpolar North.

Another outcome of the Summit is a report entitled “State of the Science: Children’s Environmental Health in Alaska and the Circumpolar North.” This report summarizes the scientific evidence linking environmental exposures and adverse health outcomes for children in the Arctic, including neurodevelopmental disorders, birth defects, childhood cancers, respiratory conditions, metabolic disorders, and compromised immune systems.

Pamela_K_Miller

The task force currently meets via monthly teleconferences, and is working to prioritize the recommendations and put them into practice. If you are interested in learning more about the task force or joining the team, please email Sama Seguinot-Medina at samrys@akaction.org.

Pamela K. Miller is the executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.

Save the Date: Birth Parent National Network Virtual Convening

BPNN virtual convention