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Posts from the ‘Partners’ Category

2-1-1 Help Line Offers the Right Help at the Right Time

211 homepage editedBy Sue Brogan, Chief Operating Officer, United Way of Anchorage  

Sue Brogan-photo for blog and e-news

Sue Brogan, United Way

 The Alaska 2-1-1 Help Line helps families quickly find     and connect with important services to meet their     needs. The phone and online service run by United Way   of Anchorage has no equal in the state. Since 2007,   specialists have answered calls from more than 244,000   Alaskans, made 330,000 referrals to more than 1,000   health and human service agencies, and logged more   than 517,000 online database searches.

But as of fall 2018, the Alaska 2-1-1 website hadn’t had an overhaul in 10 years. Ten years equals multiple generations online, so 2-1-1 was long overdue for an upgrade.

Thanks in part to a $10,000 grant from the Alaska Children’s Trust, that work got underway during fall 2018. In early spring 2019, Alaska 2-1-1 launched a modernized site that looks better, uses familiar icons to guide searchers to help, and provides a comprehensive complement to the call specialists who staff the 2-1-1 phone line five days a week.

By phone, 2-1-1 staffers provide a human touch. They listen, then respond with care and professional expertise. And while there’s no substitute for a sympathetic ear and a friendly voice, the Alaska 2-1-1 website aims for a warm online presence in trying to make the site more appealing and easier to navigate. We know that people looking for help don’t need hurdles.

Even though all calls are confidential, some Alaskans prefer to search for help online. The revised website meets them where they are 24/7. The first question on the main page is “What can we help you find?”. The second question is “Unsure of what you’re looking for? Let us help.”

Beginning on a page of descriptive icons, with a few keystrokes, searchers can define and narrow the field to find the help they need, by location and agency. The Alaska 2-1-1 database runs wide and deep; more than 9,300 services are included, and many entries feature detailed descriptions about what they offer, from child care to family counseling to housing assistance – as well as how to utilize those resources.

We redesigned the website with detailed provider information to streamline the search for help. Even so, we understand that the array of choices can still be confusing – which services, for example, will best meet my particular needs? That’s why the online search is sometimes the best prep for a call to 2-1-1, where specialists can guide callers to the provider who can best assist with the caller’s circumstances or use their knowledge to help brainstorm solutions if answers are not obvious. The website can be a helpful start, introducing people to the options available before contact with a specialist.

The importance of the partnership between Alaska Children’s Trust and Alaska 2-1-1 is clear. So many of the service providers in the 2-1-1 network involve the welfare of families and children – day care, health care, housing and nutrition. The mission of Alaska Children’s Trust is to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to ensure all Alaska children grow up in a family and community that provides them with the means to make their dreams come true. The right help at the right time is vital to that mission, and that’s the connection that Alaska 2-1-1 offers every day, by click or call.

We are grateful to the Alaska Children’s Trust for their support and partnership, and we are glad to contribute to their mission.

Alaska Childrens Trust awards grants to organizations in Alaska that work toward the prevention of child abuse and neglect.  With the generous support of its donors, Alaska Childrens Trust has invested more than $5 million in Alaska children and families to date. To learn more about available grants and eligibility, or to view current recipients and their projects, visit https://www.alaskachildrenstrust.org/grants-overview.

Families Laying Down New Tracks

A project of the Old Harbor Alliance, supported by Alaska Children’s Trust

By Amy Peterson, Program Manager

The Old Harbor Alliance was established by community leaders of Old Harbor, Alaska, to seek funding for educational programs and projects that will bring our people together to build a healthy community with strong leaders for all generations.

Over the past year, Old Harbor Alliance, with grant support from Alaska Children’s Trust, hosted a series of events for families through a program called Families Laying Down New Tracks. These events provided culturally relevant family and community gatherings that incorporated positive parenting and highlighted the negative impacts of child maltreatment.

The first event, “Who Makes the Rules?”, took place last fall. The purpose of the activity was to create commonly accepted boundaries for when we are together in a gathering-type setting.

IMG_6190“Who Makes the Rules?” This question was asked to our participants, whose answers ranged from: parents, teachers, ourselves, grandparents, the police, The Father (Three Saints Orthodox Church), and the President of the United States. The group discussed that if someone tells you they have a rule that makes you uncomfortable, you should follow your instincts, leave, and talk with a trusted adult about the situation.

Once the group finished talking about the rule makers, we discussed making rules and expectations that fit everyone. To facilitate the discussion, we introduced six categories and then invited the students to come up with rules or expectations for each category that would work for a group of people of all ages. Participants had a great time running up with their sticky notes or shouting out their ideas.

  1. Ideas are never right or wrong; they are a beginning. Rules or expectations for this category included listening, participating, respecting opinions and thoughts, trying new things that aren’t your idea, encouraging others to speak up, and never saying someone’s idea is stupid.
  2. Humor. Rules or expectations for this category ranged from laughing, smiling, having fun and being friendly, to saying “no” to bullying and never making fun of someone.
  3. One person speaks at a time. In this category, participants said to ask questions, pay attention, not to interrupt, take turns, talk to someone new, and include everyone.
  4. Respect: give it to get it. Students had a lot to say about this category, offering rules like telling the truth, saying please and thank you, sharing, and being kind, grateful, positive, safe and responsible. Things to avoid included fighting, stealing, hitting, shouting, and laughing at others.
  5. Working together. Sharing, listening, teamwork, being helpful, and picking up after yourself were popular rules in this category. Participants also offered suggestions like “everyone is important,” “if you disagree, work it out,” “encourage and compliment each other,” “acknowledge each other’s feelings,” “use positive words and a positive tone,” and “check on your elders to see if they need anything.”
  6. Listening. This category also inspired many ideas, like “give your full attention,” “be still while someone is talking,” “be quiet so everyone can hear,” “wait for a good time to ask a question,” “encourage others politely to be quiet and still,” “respect your elders” and remember that “everyone’s time is important.”

When the group was finished sharing their thoughts and ideas, the participants had snacks and made posters to be shared around the village. Since this first event, participants have been seen sharing these ideas with others during gatherings.

This was a great beginning to our program, Families Laying Down New Tracks. We thank Alaska Children’s Trust for their support of healthy and positive gatherings! Quyanaa!

Alaska Children’s Trust awards grants to Alaska organizations like the Old Harbor Alliance, which are working to prevent child abuse and neglect. With the generous support of our donors, we have invested more than $5 million in Alaska children and families. Learn more about our grant program, grant recipients and upcoming opportunities on our website.

First Innovation Grant Awarded: Trauma Informed School Pilot Project Underway in Juneau

ACTAlaska Children’s Trust is proud to announce the first grant under our Tier 2, Innovation grants program. Juneau Community Foundation was awarded $20,000/year for the next two years to support the Trauma Informed School Pilot Project.

The project is a collaboration between Juneau School District, State of Alaska, Juneau Community Foundation, local funders and many service providers to pilot a trauma-informed school project. The project will utilize the CLEAR (Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience) program that partners with education systems to create and sustain trauma-informed models of practice through staff development, consultation and support. It is steeped in the ARC Framework developed at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute with assistance from the Alaska Child Trauma Center. The CLEAR model uses existing community resources to build a solution for each school, an important component for Alaska’s unique communities.

The pilot project started in three Juneau schools in the fall of 2017. The pilot will inform a statewide trauma informed school framework development effort being led by the Department of Education and Early Development and the Association of Alaska School Boards and including other key partners. The broader outcome of this project is to inform the development of a framework for Alaska schools and school districts, rather than each school inventing it themselves, and allow schools to become trauma informed, resulting in more resilient children, families and communities.

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.

Data that Drives Change

A 2018 impACT story

Every morning, children arrive at schools across Alaska with empty bellies. Some haven’t had enough breakfast – or any at all. Others haven’t eaten since they left school the previous day.

These kids aren’t hungry to learn – they’re just hungry.

The 2018 KIDS COUNT Alaska Economic Well-Being Report tells us that 20 percent of Alaska’s kids live in households where there is not enough food.

While data like this doesn’t put food on the table, it does provide the information decision-makers need to implement efforts to address the problem.

Data plays a huge role at schools like Anchorage’s Willow Crest Elementary, which offers a free breakfast and lunch program to 100 percent of its students.

“Schools receive the free meals through their having a high number of students who qualify for free/reduced lunch,” explains Kristina Peterson, who served as Willow Crest principal for eight years. “Students qualify based on the income level of the family. When a school has a high level of students qualifying, the entire student population can be provided the free meals.”

The importance of data is why Voices for Alaska’s Children, a program of Alaska Children’s Trust, became the Alaska KIDS COUNT partner in 2016. KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is the premier source for data on child and family well-being in Alaska and throughout the United States. The mission of KIDS COUNT is to ensure child advocates, policymakers and the public have access to high-quality, unbiased data about child well-being.

Information for the Alaska reports is provided by state and federal sources, then compiled and presented by Voices for Alaska’s Children.  As the KIDS COUNT Alaska partner, Voices looks at the data through an Alaska lens, putting out quarterly reports that give a view of what’s going on in Alaska compared to the rest of the country. The data is available to anyone, from parents to program managers to policymakers.

“Just 20 years ago, there was no centralized place to get information on kids and families,” says Andrew Cutting, who oversees KIDS COUNT Alaska. “It’s a big deal. Not a lot of data sets are nationally focused on kids and families, or as easily accessible.”

One of the noteworthy aspects of KIDS COUNT is that it uses the same measurements to compare Alaska to other state and national data in areas including economic well-being, education, health, family and community, and overall child well-being.

For example, the 2018 KIDS COUNT Alaska Economic Well-Being Report shows that 36 percent of Alaska’s children are living in poverty – significantly above the national average of 19 percent. Overall, Alaska ranked 41 out of 50 in a state-to-state comparison of economic well-being in 2018.

“It compares apples to apples,” Andrew says. “It makes shocking numbers even more shocking.”

By demonstrating Alaska’s disproportionately high numbers, the data underscores the need for a shift in strategy. “If you keep going the same path, you are going to get the same results,” Andrew says. “When you change your outlook and try new things, you’ll start to get better outcomes.”

Back at Willow Crest and other schools across the state, data continues to drive decisions to benefit students and their families.

“It’s already difficult for many families to provide their kids with what they need, so we’re taking a burden off those families by providing a couple meals a day for their children,” Kristina says. “When you know your child is safe and being cared for, it opens the doors for you to do the things you need to do to help support your family.”

Learn more about Voices for Alaska’s Children and access KIDS COUNT data at voicesakchildren.org.

Partnering to Support Parents

A 2018 impACT story

We aren’t born with parenting knowledge, and as any parent will tell you, the job doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But even the most basic knowledge can make an enormous difference in raising happy, healthy children and reducing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which research has shown can lead to many future lifelong problems, including poorer mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic status in adulthood.

O’Maly – a mother of four – and other young moms gained a wealth of parenting knowledge through Covenant House Alaska’s Parent Resiliency Project over the past year. The project, which Alaska Children’s Trust helped fund with a $10,000 grant, delivered a series of parenting workshops to current and former residents of Passage House, which is Covenant House’s transitional living program for young women who are pregnant or parenting.

The workshops explored in-depth parenting skills in a group setting, with a goal to increase parental awareness, examine the effects of one’s own trauma and ACEs on their children, and build a strong support network of peers.

“My biggest hope is that we are preventing ACEs in children through this process of creating parents who are aware of trauma and prevent it whenever possible,” says Gena Graves, Passage House program coordinator. “In 20 years, my hope is we have young adults without ACEs because their parents were knowledgeable and had the skills.”

One of the first challenges that the project worked to overcome is the negative stigma associated with “parenting classes.”

“Going to a class doesn’t mean you are a bad parent – it just means you can learn to be a better parent. We want people to embrace the thought of parenting as lifelong education. We want to normalize it and change the climate,” Gena says, adding that she was encouraged by the participating mothers’ attitudes toward the workshop.

“Everyone can learn more. Even the best parent can learn more because everyone is different,” shares O’Maly, who connected with Passage House a little over five years ago, when she was pregnant with her first child.

O’Maly and the other mothers were so engaged that they requested additional sessions, including one that invited their family members, significant others and anyone else associated with their children’s care. “That session allowed everyone involved in the child’s care to hear the same information and be able to speak the same language. The moms wanted that,” Gena says.

One of the unique aspects of the project was that it blended many different styles and strategies. “Our curriculum approaches subjects and teaches skills in different ways. It’s not just based on one resource, way or book. So, if something didn’t resonate with a mom in one way, it was often approached in a different way later that they could connect with. There was something for everyone,” Gena says.

O’Maly agrees, saying that she has tried different parenting classes in the past, but found this one to be the most interesting and valuable. “I paid attention this time. I wanted to participate. I had to participate, not just listen,” she shares.

Perhaps the most positive outcomes Gena witnessed over the year were the connections the mothers made with each other, and the knowledge and confidence they gained. “The project focused on delivering the information over a period of time, giving the moms time to meld, and build on past material,” she says. “It brought the same group of women together over and over and created an atmosphere of learning and support amongst the participants.”

“Over the year, we saw them become more engaged in parenting. They gained a lot of confidence and felt more knowledgeable,” Gena continues. In a post-project survey, the mothers indicated that 93 percent had greater resilience as a parent, 97 percent had more positive parenting attitudes, 97 percent increased their knowledge of ACEs and resilience, and 100 percent built connections.

“The different topics and information on different stages definitely helped me become a better parent,” O’Maly shares. “I can understand my kids better and know how to parent my kids at different levels and in good ways.”

Funding from Alaska Children’s Trust allowed Covenant House to provide workshop materials and tools for the moms to take home. “It allowed us to put the tools in the moms’ hands so they can continue to refer to it, go back to it and learn more. They could also share with others in the home who were helping care for the child. That wouldn’t have been possible without the funding from ACT,” Gena says.

Covenant House plans to continue the workshop series this year, inviting continued participation from the previous participants and welcoming new moms.

“I think it is super important to have this kind of education for young moms especially,” O’Maly said. “I recommend it 100 percent.”

For more information on Alaska Children’s Trust’s community investment grants, visit alaskachildrenstrust.org.

Building Resilience through History and Hope

A 2018 impACT story

Alaska is a beautiful and unique state, with places and people like nowhere else. Unfortunately, it is also a state with problems like nowhere else. From child abuse to substance abuse and low graduation rates to high suicide rates, Alaska is at or near the top of every list.

Driven by the belief that understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and resilience will begin to turn the tide, the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI), an initiative of Alaska Children’s Trust, led the effort to develop an Alaska-specific curriculum to educate Alaskans on these topics.

After more than a year of intense work involving a diverse and passionate statewide group, the new curriculum, History and Hope, was piloted this spring. The curriculum is designed to “train the trainers” to go out and educate audiences on what ACEs are, why they are so significant, why resilience is so critical, and how to build it.

Training programs on ACEs and resilience are not unique – in fact, ARI began using a different curriculum to train trainers in 2014. However, it soon became apparent that the program – developed in the lower 48 – was missing some critical pieces for the Alaska audience. “We found it did not meet the needs of Alaska, and it became clear that we needed an Alaska-specific curriculum,” says Laura Norton-Cruz, ARI director.

Big picture, the two things that the new curriculum incorporates are context – specifically addressing the significance of historical and ongoing systemic trauma, as well as the strength and healing power of Alaska Native culture – and hope, providing real-life examples and tangible tools so audience members leave feeling like they can begin to make a difference in a complex problem that Alaska has grappled with for decades.

“In Alaska, we have our own culture and pride about being Alaskan. The land, the people who have been here for thousands of years. There is strong culture and knowledge to learn from,” says Anna Meredith, one of new History and Hope facilitators.

Two versions of the curriculum have been developed to date – one specifically for those in the health care field, and a second focused on K – 12 educators. The goal is to create additional versions for other audiences, including early childhood educators, legal professionals, policymakers and parents.

“We chose school and health care first because they are essential places where trauma shows up, and it is important for those audiences to be trauma-informed. Anyone in education – from teachers to front desk staff to noon duties – can help create a safe space. Same in health care – from the receptionist to the doctor – it’s really important that everyone have access to this,” Laura says.

ARI began piloting History and Hope this spring, with presentations in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer and Juneau. One of the first presentations took place at the R.E.C. Room at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic in Homer, where board members, clinicians and staff from accounting, administration, youth education and outreach participated.

“The training reinvigorated previous brainstorming,” says Anna, the R.E.C. Room’s youth program manager. For example, the clinic’s trauma-informed care team is now building off of Homer’s ACEs brochure to include specific local resources, as well as developing acupressure point cards that provide clients with an effective calming technique.

Another pilot presentation was offered in Fairbanks at the Alaska Native Education program, which serves Alaska Native and American Indian students in grades K-12 by providing a wide variety of services, including academic, social and cultural support.

“It was the first time many staff had heard about ACEs,” says Yatibaey Evans, program director. “Having their eyes opened to the (ACEs) study and how trauma affects kids is helpful to understanding and building compassion and empathy. It increased their open arms, made them wider.”

LaVerne Demientieff, clinical associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was closely involved in the development of History and Hope and is also one of the curriculum facilitators.

“My hope for the curriculum is that we build compassion, connection, ceremony and curiosity,” she shares. “Part of the understanding of the impacts of trauma is being more compassionate. You’re less likely to place blame and more likely to understand that something happened to this person.”

At the Alaska Native Education program, Yatibaey’s ultimate goal is higher graduation rates. “The curriculum helps adults learn how to help children heal and feel supported at school,” she says. “When students feel supported, they are more likely to engage in work and graduate.”

Anna is also optimistic about the potential for the curriculum to impact youth. “The end goal for me is that the next generation of young people get this,” she says. “My hope is that it’ll be a step in a cultural shift and empower people through the science of resilience, give them understanding and compassion of where people are and why.”

Laura shares a similar perspective. “I hope people walk out thinking differently about their students and patients, feeling more compassionate and curious, wondering what’s going on and how can they help,” she says. “We want to give people more tools and an understanding to support compassionate practices. The idea is that when institutions are more trauma-informed, and take a more culturally responsive approach, they’re more effective – there are better outcomes.”

Learn more about ARI and History and Hope at akresilience.org.

New Funding, New Hope for Afterschool Programs

A 2018 impACT story

The school bell has just rung, signaling the end of the day. Two children walk out the front doors of the school. One begins his walk home – alone – to a dark, empty house, and spends several hours on his own before someone gets home from work. The other child heads to an afterschool program, where counselors greet him, ask about his day, give him a snack, check his homework, and provide engaging activities to do with friends.

Out of these two children, which one would you say has a lower risk of getting involved in unhealthy behaviors, like substance abuse? If you said the child in the afterschool program, you would be right.

University of Alaska Anchorage researchers found that students who participate in an afterschool program at least two days a week are 18 percent less likely to use alcohol and 39 percent less likely to use marijuana. Many other studies and evaluations have come to similar conclusions – that afterschool programs can reduce risk factors and build protective factors, minimizing the likelihood that youth will engage in unhealthy behavior while enhancing healthy development.

But here’s the challenge: In Alaska, there are currently 25,000 children enrolled in afterschool care, and another 45,000 children who want to be in a program, but can’t because the programs are full, cost-prohibitive – or simply don’t exist in their community.

These statistics were unacceptable to the Alaska Afterschool Network (a program of Alaska Children’s Trust), as well as Boys & Girls Clubs Alaska, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and a group of Alaska legislators, who joined forces to champion a bill establishing the Marijuana Education and Treatment Fund.

The bill, which successfully passed both the House and Senate earlier this year, will direct 25 percent of Alaska’s new marijuana sales tax revenue to the fund. Half of that revenue will go to the Department of Health and Social Services for marijuana education, monitoring and treatment efforts. The remaining half will directly benefit Alaska’s youth by increasing access to afterschool programs statewide through the newly established Alaska marijuana use prevention youth services grant program.

“Alaska is the first state to invest funds from marijuana sales directly into afterschool prevention programs. Other states are looking to us as an example,” says Thomas Azzarella, director of the Alaska Afterschool Network. “It went from a topic that no one was talking about to one that everyone is talking about.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula is just one program that can speak to the critical need for funding. They closed their Homer Club in 2013 due to funding shortages and lack of program space; funding for their Soldotna Teen Center has dried up, creating an uncertain future for a much-needed program; and their Soldotna Club has a waiting list of 85 kids.

“It is a hard situation because we want to serve all kids, especially those who need us most. However, funding and program space have been our biggest barriers, preventing us from expanding our existing programs,” shares Heather Schloeman, executive director.

“We teach youth how to make positive decisions and give them the tools needed to avoid risky behaviors and peer pressure,” Heather explains. “Our programs serve youth when they are most at risk: after school and during the summer months, times when they would most likely be without adult supervision if afterschool programs were not available.”

Jennifer Yeoman can share firsthand about how important afterschool programs are to Alaska families. In addition to her six children, ranging in age from 7 to 18, Jennifer has cared for many foster children over the years.

“Having a large family, I truly believe in the thought it takes a village to raise a child. Boys & Girls Club has been there as our children have grown up and provided a structured program for them where I did not have to worry,” Jennifer says. “They have been beyond helpful for all our foster children we have had over the years. We could not have provided the care as a foster family without the help from Boys & Girls Club.”

“If these programs were not there, we would have to have our own children be home alone after school, or not be able to work full time, which would impact our family, as well as not be able to continue being foster parents for most of the children we have helped,” Jennifer adds.

With the new fund and grant program in place, Thomas says they can begin to work toward the goal to get more kids in afterschool programs, where they can build protective factors and reduce the risk of substance abuse. The fund will also provide professional development for afterschool providers to improve program quality.

“Afterschool programs with highly trained staff and volunteers produce greater positive outcomes for youth. Trained afterschool professionals are more likely to build relationships that make a positive difference throughout a youth’s life,” he says. “Quality of care matters.”

Jennifer agrees. “Having a safe place for your children to go for a few hours after school helps more than I can speak to,” she says.

And now, with support from the new grant program, more Alaska kids will have just that.

Visit akafterschool.org to learn more about the Alaska Afterschool Network and how afterschool keeps kids safe, inspires learning, and supports working families.

Thank you, Donna!

One of my favorite traditions at Thanksgiving is when people share what they are thankful for that year. Although Thanksgiving is a few days away, I would like to dedicate this month’s issue of ACT’s community impACT e-newsletter to one of our most favorite partners – Alaska’s First Lady Donna Walker.

I remember the first time I met Donna nearly four years ago. She came to our offices alone – a very rare occurrence to meet her without staff in tow. What I remember the most is her smile. She has one of those smiles that is infectious. As I shared the history of the Children’s Trust and the relationship we have with the First Lady, her smile grew tenfold.

For 20 years, it has been a tradition for Alaska’s First Lady to be ACT’s honorary chair. Donna’s affinity for the mission of ACT provided the opportunity to serve as a champion for the safety and well-being of Alaska’s children.

Donna has had a lifelong commitment to children. As a mother and grandmother, she knows firsthand how important it is to ensure children grow up in safe, stable and nurturing environments. She even took a year away from her law career to be a caseworker for the Office of Children Services. To have the opportunity to partner with a statewide organization with a mission to prevent child abuse and neglect made that infectious smile grow.

For the past four years, Donna has been a beacon of hope for us all. Her passion and her voice to raise awareness and commitment to ensuring Alaska children and families thrive was present in everything she did.

When it comes to children, Donna never said no. She volunteered hundreds of hours with programs striving to support children and families. She has slept out in freezing temperatures to raise awareness and funding for homeless youth. She has written numerous op-eds asking Alaskans to join her in protecting and investing in Alaska’s most precious resource. She has taken time to sit with children and read stories. Each year, she joins Operation Santa ensuring children and families in rural Alaska have an amazing holiday. And the list goes on and on.

As a partner of ACT, Donna was always willing to lend a hand in helping us work towards achieving our mission of preventing child abuse and neglect. Annually, Donna hosted a gathering at the Governor’s house on behalf of ACT. She helped us raise resources that support our various programs. She kicked off our annual National Child Abuse Prevention Month rally. She visited ACT grant recipients across the state to learn how communities are working to protect children and what barriers they face day-to-day.

Although her time as Alaska’s First Lady is coming to a close, we know this is not the end of her work to help build safe, stable and nurturing environments for Alaska’s children. On behalf of all the children and families in Alaska, thank you to First Lady Donna Walker for being a champion for kids.

Trevor Storrs, President and CEO, Alaska Children’s Trust