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Posts tagged ‘Alaska Children’s Trust’

First Father’s Day: New dad reflects on importance of family-friendly workplaces

“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it”

Spring 2019 was an exciting time for Pili Queja. He and his wife, Reanne, found out last February that they were expecting their first baby. Shortly after, Pili received a job offer from Alaska Children’s Trust as the program specialist with the Alaska Afterschool Network.

Among all the preparations that go into getting ready to welcome a new baby, Pili and his wife, both of whom were working full-time jobs, had to figure out how they would balance caring for their newborn while providing for their family.

At the time Pili started his new job, ACT did not have a paid family leave policy, and since he was such a new employee, he would not have much personal time saved up before his daughter’s arrival. And with all the expenses that come with having a baby, he preferred not to take unpaid leave. At the same time, being home to support his wife and help care for and bond with his daughter was a top priority.

“It was our first baby and I didn’t know what that would look like. What would I need to do to support my wife? How do I take care of my family and be present and fulfill my job? It was a stressful situation,” Pili shared.

A conversation with ACT early in his employment quickly got the ball rolling on the development of a paid family leave policy. Several months before his daughter’s birth, the new policy was in place, offering new mothers and fathers two weeks of paid leave, plus the ability for co-workers to donate their leave time to the new parent. Under the new policy, Pili received six weeks of paid family leave, including four weeks that were generously donated by his co-workers.

“It was amazing,” he said.

The knowledge that he had the time to care for his family was a relief, especially when Pili and Reanne’s birth plan went awry, with their daughter – Shiloh’Grace “Maluhia” – arriving two weeks early via c-section.

“I didn’t understand what went into recovering from a c-section. I can’t imagine having to leave my family and go back to work right away,” Pili said.

“Emotionally having the ability to be present with my family made me feel like I was being a good dad – while I was figuring out what that meant. There was no manual. We were learning by the hour how to work with her and we were growing together as parents. We had to learn how to feed her, learn her cries, her sleep schedule, how to burp her at 3 a.m. Going back to work in that time would have been crazy,” he continued. “My being able to be home was a huge support to our family.”

Among Pili’s most precious moments with his daughter were the nighttime feedings – something he would not have been able to help with if he had returned to work shortly after her birth. “Some of our best bonding time was late at night, feeding,” he recalled.

ACT’s family-friendly approach didn’t end with the new paid family leave policy. After Pili returned to work in early December, he was able to bring his daughter to work with him for the first six months. His wife’s employer also welcomes babies in the office for six months.

“Between the two of us, we both returned to work without needing to put our daughter in child care. She’s 6 months old and has never been to child care,” Pili said. “Our work family has seen her grow up.”

In the office, Pili felt very supported by both his employer and his co-workers. They put in a changing table so he didn’t have to change his daughter’s diapers on the office floor. They gave him a pack ‘n play as a baby shower gift so Maluhia could nap in his office. Co-workers offered to watch the baby when Pili had a meeting or phone call. And Pili’s officemate didn’t mind when Pili closed the door and played boy-band lullabies to get Maluhia to sleep.

“Knowing I was supported by my workplace was huge. They are sensitive to what families are going through, and want to help, not add stress,” Pili said. “My coworkers were always happy to see her and happy to help. I never felt like my having a baby was an inconvenience.”

Combined, the time at home after Maluhia’s arrival and the time with her in the office was a game-changer for Pili.

“My relationship with my daughter wouldn’t be the same without it,” he said.

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.

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.

Be Safe on the Water this Summer: Safe Boating Practices for Families

By the Alaska Office of Boating Safety

The Alaska Office of Boating Safety strives to help Alaskans avoid dangerous situations on the water and use safe boating practices. One of our programs, the Kids Don’t Float program, is a statewide injury prevention effort developed to address Alaska’s high youth drowning rate. This program educates participants about the effects of cold water immersion and provides life jackets through the Kids Don’t Float life jacket loaner board component.

While we focus on teaching children throughout Alaska why it’s important to wear a life jacket, we also want the adults in their lives to have the same understanding. Wearing a life jacket is a vital part of safe boating for everyone, not just for children.

Generally accepted by researchers to be water temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, cold water is virtually all water in Alaska, and it has a physical effect on everyone, regardless of age, swimming ability, or boating experience. Cold water immersion plays a significant role in many of Alaska’s boating fatalities. During each stage of cold water immersion, a life jacket can greatly improve a person’s chances of survival by increasing the distance between their airway and the water, assisting with rescues and self-rescues, keeping a person floating even when disabled or unconscious, and providing protection in the event of an ejection.

In Alaska, anyone under the age of 13 is required by law to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when on an open boat, on the deck of a boat, or when being towed. Along with making sure your children are wearing safe and serviceable life jackets, you can set a good example, not to mention taking a step to ensure you’re around for their future, by wearing yours.

Consider a situation in which you are unable to help during an emergency (perhaps you experience a medical issue or fall out of the boat). Will your family know what to do? Empower passengers, including children, to be safe and responsible boat passengers by educating them on what to do in the event of an emergency. Make sure they know how to handle the boat, location of emergency equipment, how to call for help, and how to assist in a rescue.

Because nearly all boating-related mishaps involve operator controllable risk factors, most are both predictable and preventable. Effective risk management is the key to safe and enjoyable boating. To keep yourself and your children safe while boating, follow these safe boating practices:

  • Always wear a life jacket
  • Carry emergency communication and distress signaling (alert and locate) devices on your person
  • Attach the engine cut-off device when underway (powerboaters)
  • Equip the boat with at least one means of re-boarding
  • Complete a pre-departure check
  • File a float plan
  • Brief all passengers on the location and operation of emergency equipment and how to stop, start, and steer the boat
  • Check the weather and dress appropriately

BSlogo Idea OneTo learn more about what we do, visit alaskaboatingsafety.org or find us on social media. You can contact us at officeofboatingsafety@alaska.gov with questions or comments, or to schedule a Kids Don’t Float presentation at your school or organization.

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.

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.