Pay It Forward – Storyknife Edition

Sometimes a dream starts thirty years in the past.

In 1989, Dana Stabenow was sending out her first novel to publishers in New York City. Back then, the process was pretty arduous and disheartening, all done by “snail mail” and the wait for acceptance (or rejection) was long. So, when Dana’s friend Katherine Gottlieb saw an article about Hedgebrook, a new retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, she encouraged her to apply. Even though Dana scoffed at the idea and had to be cajoled, she did finally apply and was accepted.

During those blissful two weeks at Hedgebrook, Dana made some close friends, worked on her novel and a short story, rode the facility bike to the small public library, perhaps drank some wine, and maybe, began to believe that she’d be a writer. In fact, she sold her first novel the following year.

Thirty years and more than thirty published novels forward, the dream planted deep in Dana’s subconscious is about the blossom. Storyknife Writers Retreat, a women writers residency founded by Dana overlooking Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Augustine, and Cook Inlet just a tiny bit outside Homer, is going to open for business. Starting in April 2020, six new women writers will be in residence each month until October. Each weekday, the chef will bring a basket lunch to their cabins, and in the evening the writers will sit down to a prepared meal together. That shared meal is meant to foster community among them so that when the leave Storyknife, they take with them more than just some new writing, they take a support system.

Storyknife Writers Retreat is named by that original small community of two, Dana and Katherine.  In 1993, Dana received an Edgar Award presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Katherine presented her with an ivory carved Storyknife pin made by Rick Lonsdale just before Dana went onstage to receive her award. Storyknives are used in the Central Yu’pik tradition of storyknifing. The Storyknife (yaaruin) is a traditional tool used only by girls for sketching pictures on the ground or in the snow. Katherine is President and CEO of Southcentral Foundation, the nonprofit health arm of Cook Inlet Region, Inc., a MacArthur Award recipient, CIRI shareholder, Old Harbor tribal member, and Seldovia tribal member. Her gift of a traditional storytelling tool used only by girls has gone on to be the name of a writers retreat that will foster women’s stories.

The building of Storyknife, its six cabins and main house, has also been about building a larger community. Some of the funds came from foundations like the Homer Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, and the Atwood Foundation, but the majority came from individual donors. People who wanted to honor special women writers, or hometown librarians, or teachers. Some gave funds dedicated to their mothers who encouraged them. Others to honor women community leaders.

Since Storyknife’s groundbreaking this May, so many people in the Homer community have come forward to help make it a place where women writers feel cherished. Patrice Krant brought the Kachemak Bay Quilters on board to create a custom quilt for each cabin. Annette Bellemy has organized six different women potters to make an individual set of dishware for each cabin. Rita Jo Shoultz donated her time and her plants to making gorgeous gardens around the facility. Suzanne Singer Alvarez created incredible hand-made stepping stones. People have donated artwork, books, and even purchased items from Storyknife’s Wish Lists for each cabin. One of the local book clubs, the Cosmic View Book Club, got together to donate an entire set of durable pots and pans. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Storyknife will continue to be supported by the community it brings together, donors, benefactors, readers, and writers.

In 2020, Storyknife begins full programming with 42 writers in residence with the help of many people, including its incredible board and founder. What will it in turn create? A community of women writers who support each other, who help each other write and lift each other up. A diverse community, purposefully emphasizing inclusion of Native Alaskan and Indigenous writers, who are told that their stories are important, essential. Novels written by women with strong women lead characters, because we all know how important representation is. Plays and movies written by women that give us new ways of the seeing the world. Poetry written by women that touches our hearts. Memoirs, essays, short stories, all brought into the world because women writers were told that they deserve the time and space to devote to their craft, that they deserve something beautiful because they and their work are important.

Respectfully submitted by Erin Hollowell, Executive Direction, Storyknife Writers Retreat

Being Community Means Being ‘Like Lizzie’

Lizzy was a common prairie woman, daughter of Norwegian parents who immigrated with little to their name except knowledge of a small farm where they had lived in the fjords of Norway.

She knew how to raise chickens. She grew a garden of flourishing vegetables. She was a superior cook of ordinary food, home baked bread, soups, fried chicken, and sandwiches she prepared from her farm animals. Her food seemed to “melt in one’s mouth.”

It was deep winter in the Dakotas and snow drifts hard as cement had to be plowed to open the roads. It was a bitter cold, flu season.

My family of 11 children became ill one by one as my parents traded turns nursing us back to health where we lived 32 miles from the nearest doctor. No running water or indoor bathroom. Their days must have seemed endless as they built wood stove fires, prepared food, provided drink and monitored fevers. The only consolation was a sibling alongside to keep a sick child company in order for them to do the necessary work.

In the 1950s, life along the Dakota Cattail Creek that fed into the Missouri River was isolated and lonely. Sickness during winter months tested the best of its residents who lived on small farms with a few head of cattle that could be sold come fall. People grew their own gardens and animals for protein, harvested grain and hay, and cut wood from the Missouri River bottom. Even though we had a root cellar full of canned food, my mother had little time to create deeply nourishing food for many sick children.

After days of home canned tomato juice and toast from home baked bread, our neighbor arrived with a huge pot of chicken soup. Lizzy, our dear neighbor, knocked at the door and my parents wondered who could be out in this storm and cold. She had her “boys” break through the drifts with their tractor, wrapped the soup in blankets and made her way, 3 miles, to our house.

When mother received her and the food, Lizzy commented, “I heard you had a house full of sick ones, and this was one way I could help so far from a doctor. I needed to get rid of some of the chickens in my freezer anyhow.” She didn’t stay because the blizzard was becoming increasingly strong as the day wore on. The most delicious soup I’ve ever tasted — I’m sure Lizzy was our doctor.

The U.S. Coast Guard didn’t go through a blizzard this past spring, but instead experienced a political storm, not of their making. Nonetheless they were caught in the middle.

Homer citizens became Lizzy for the Coast Guard families and fed them at the Methodist Church, opened accounts at the banks, in grocery stores, gave charge accounts at businesses that enabled these families to continue their lives, opened their hearts and arms to fellow citizens who had no paychecks due to the Federal Government shutdown.

Without the Coast Guard our waters are under threat from factory ships who could destroy the fishing industry. Without the faithful patrol of waters by the Coast Guard, Alaska’s waters are vulnerable to China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Russia. The Coast Guard is as necessary to our way of life as the Marine Highway. The Coast Guard pays it forward everyday. As a community we thrive due to that effort and should continue our support.

Respectfully Submitted by Flo Larson, Trustee of Homer Foundation

New Fund!

The Homer Foundation is pleased to announce the creation of a new donor advised fund, the Girl Scout Travel Fund. The fund will provide grants to Girl Scouts and Girl Scout troops on the southern Kenai Peninsula for travel and experiential learning activities. The fund was established with a generous donation from Tina Seaton, a long time Girl Scout leader.  Although the Girl Scout Travel Fund gives preference to Girl Scout activities and travel, it will be available to all girls.  Paying travel expenses is a constant fund raising challenge and this fund allows troops to focus on individual growth instead of raising money.  We’re thankful for the generosity of Mrs. Seaton in establishing this fund.  Interested parties can find a grant application on the Homer Foundation web site. 

Homer Foundation Annual Meeting

Come to our annual meeting where we debut our annual report, our investment portfolio, Grant reports, donor and grantee highlights, and a chance to nominate your favorite nonprofit for one of three $500 People’s Choice Awards!

November 13th at 5:30 pm at the Pratt Museum.

Pay It Forward, August 2019

Living Pay It Foreward

Flo Larson, Trustee

Learning to ride a horse takes time and patience. Years ago to earn money to pay for college, I worked as a female counselor at a trail ride camp for middle and high school age students in the Badlands of North Dakota. A roan mare was assigned to me for the summer by Herman Urban, a German cowboy of immigrant parents. He knew horses and how to care for them “like the back of his hand.” He was the wrangler, the one who gathered horses and gear from local ranchers as donation to the cause. He assigned horses with gear to campers, taught them how to feed and care, how to curry and groom their assigned horse and how to take care of the saddlery and harness.

Herman instructed campers and me before they arrived the first time how to mount a horse that didn’t know the rider. As my mare moved sideways or twirled her rear end the minute my foot hit the stirrup, Herman used to say, “Hold the reins. Hold the stirrup leather and speak in a calm voice. She’s looking at you to see if you have patience and will not give up. She’s checking to see if she can trust you.”

After a few weeks of everyday following his calm instructions and encouragement, she let me mount her easily. She would stop completely if one of the reins fell to the ground and wait until I retrieved it. We developed a trust, an unspoken communication of good will and confidence in each other. Staying the course made a difference in our relationship. To this day, I feel fondly toward that spirited horse and learned how to trust an animal’s wisdom and appreciate its personality.

About 30 years ago, Homer Foundation was established for long term benefit of this community by a few visionaries. Joy Steward was hired as the first Executive Director of the first community foundation in Alaska. Others were to follow, but Homer had the first community foundation and Joy was the first director of one in Alaska. Last Sunday at the annual Homer Foundation picnic, Joy was honored for all her work.

She may not like me highlighting her dedication and effort over all these years in the paper in this column, but here goes. She prefers background support. Perhaps due to that quality about her, the foundation has flourished through ups and downs as Homer and the state, borough and national economies have fluctuated.

Like Herman instructed, she remained calm. She was patient. She watched and listened carefully to donors. She encouraged and made friends with people as they inquired how to support Homer over the long haul. People came to trust her and her council. She helped others leave legacy and give memory to a loved one through scholarships and invested funds. She developed communication and confidence with community members and the board. She gently encouraged distribution of funds with a grasp of the needs of the lower peninsula while she continued contact with larger foundations in the state. She opened herself to learning all she could to enhance Homer Foundation. She stayed the course. She made a difference. She’s still here and will continue to give to this community, no doubt. Her wisdom is broad and deep and will benefit all of us going forward.

She enabled the board and gently guided us in the hiring of a new director and worked tirelessly for the past three years to make this transition seamless. Bravo, Joy for a job well done!

Flo Larson
Homer Foundation, trustee

Pay It Forward July 2019

Last week, Governor Dunleavy abruptly vetoed all of the state legislature’s approved funding for the arts and culture in Alaska, cut the University of Alaska by 40% and slashed Health and Human Services, destabilizing our most vulnerable–children and elderly. If state legislators are unable to override the Governor’s veto with a 3/4 vote in a special session that begins on July 8th, numerous State agencies will begin shutting down services to Alaskans.  

I am profoundly disoriented by this situation. I have taught for the University of Alaska twenty years, nearly as long as I’ve worked for Bunnell Street Arts Center. Many of the services which Dunleavy axed are mandated in our state’s constitution.  In this context, it’s hard to talk about the needs of the arts and culture sector. But let’s remember that the arts and culture are livelihoods for many. In Alaska, arts and culture a 1.3 Billion dollar industry.  In this sector alone, Dunleavy’s abrupt termination of funding will have dramatic and immediate impacts on people’s lives and programs in Alaska: 

  • Recently-approved pending grants to Alaskan arts organizations, individual artists, school districts, and local arts agencies would not be paid. 
  • The services provided by these arts organizations to children and families across the state would be severely curtailed. 
  • The annual federal match of $700,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts would be revoked.
  • The $1.5 million in private money administered by ASCA would be returned to foundation funders and not be expended to the benefit of Alaskans.
  • Alaska will be only state our nation to have no State Arts Council

In defense of her decision to protect the PFD at all costs, Representative Vance suggested to me that private foundations could pick up the slack by funding arts and culture non-profits in Alaska. This is not true, and here’s why. State support is not all about money.  The strength of our sector builds on the infrastructure and the example of stewardship set by the State of Alaska. The Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) was established to advocate, connect, strengthen, train, evaluate and elevate Alaska’s cultural sector. It is our bone structure. It’s not our fat. ASCA has provided modest funds aimed to empower and catalyse the arts and culture sector, to attract and leverage private gifts from individuals and foundations. This is critical to our sustainability. ASCA does all the things that a good parent does to raise a responsible member of society: inspire, teach, evaluate, reward. Opposite thinking motivates the Governor’s veto:  when the bones of a body are removed, you destroy it. 

Leverage is what state support achieves, leverage for private dollars. Homer’s non-profits leverage state support at least three times for every dollar.  Foundations are very careful not to create dependent non-profits. Foundations require non-profits to show State support. Federal agencies require us to demonstrate State support. So we will lose far more than State dollars with Dunleavy’s axe. 

Art offers more than pretty images. Arts build a great many strengths for our society. Arts teach discipline, patience, cooperation, collaboration, coordination and teamwork. Arts teach problem-solving. Not everyone learns these essential life skills through academics or sports. State support was at an all-time low when Bunnell was established as a non-profit in 1994. A determined perennial, Bunnell has grown a deep root system to nurture Alaska’s creative sector. We have learned to grow with minimal support from the State of Alaska, but the support we receive, about 10% of our budget, is a critical part of our success. We leverage State support 10x for every dollar. We present over 150 artists in about 75 programs annually. Our work as an arts presenter of exhibits, performances, residencies and Artist in Schools contributes to artists’ livelihoods, builds strong and deeply engaged communities and helps schools meet Alaska’s art and cultural standards.  In the absence of art teachers and a Kenai Peninsula District Art Specialist to serve remote and rural schools, this is especially hard for schools to manage. The work we do strengthens lives economically, educationally and culturally. 

As UAA, Alaska’s Health and Human Services and non-profit arts and culture sector face grave cuts, I am reminded of the very hard work it took to build these agencies. So that much of this work isn’t lost, what every Alaskan can do is use our fat PFD’s to support the services that shape a more just and vibrant society. To maintain a healthy state we will have to pay it forward. It’s up to each of us.

Asia Freeman is the Artistic Director at Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer Alaska.

Pay It Forward, June 2019

The Mariner Mat room has changed in 20 years.

 When I started wrestling, girls on the mat were few and far between. In middle school, the School Board said I wasn’t allowed to wrestle. Only when I challenged them with Title IX did they allow me on the mat.

I felt lucky to have the chance to wrestle and I knew that if I didn’t lay it all on the mat, if I ever gave up, it would be attributed to my gender rather than my character. The acceptance of girls in wrestling was not a given, it was hard earned by each wrestler, coach, official, and supporter of female wrestling.

Now as a coach, when I walk into the mat room, it’s different. I feel accepted–and honestly I am taken aback by it. I grew up so accustomed to the idea that I must prove to the room that I belong here.

It’s a real example of social change in gender equality.

Change is seen through policy. Alaska was the fifth state in the country to sanction high school girls wrestling. Furthermore, the KPBSD, who once tried to keep girls off the mat, is considering funding the first high school girls coaching position in Alaska.

Change is seen through programs and funding. This spring, Homer hosted an all-girls wrestling camp for 35 Alaska girls. Scholarships were provided by the Homer Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council. One former Mariner wrestler, offered up a scholarship because she wanted to pay forward the opportunities she was afforded by a generous community.

Change is felt on the mat. The wrestlers, both girls and boys, earn their place–but not as a representative of their gender, but as representatives of their community, family, and team. It’s about wrestling, not gender.

Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” By building girls programs our wrestling community strengthened wrestling for all.

This year, at the Alaska State Championships, a new wave of wrestlers made a splash on the mat. Moms. Alaska Moms On the Mat, or AMOM, developed as a fundraiser for Alaska girl wrestlers. At first, I was curious with a tinge of skepticism. Were moms really going to sign up? Wrestling is intense; a few minutes of wrestling takes a kind of conditioning that is unlike any other sport. It’s a battle: a display of athleticism, body, will, and heart. Moms were up for this? The idea intimidated me and I’m an Olympic wrestler who’s had three natural child births.

This spring, 34 moms competed against each other, and honestly, they stole the show. Moms trained with their teams, learned moves, and geared up in singlets. When a mom match was on the mat, the energy filled the big Menard Sports Center, people couldn’t stay in their seats as they crowded towards the mat. I watched children coaching their moms before their matches. Dads cheered and yelled encouragements. Coaches sat on the edge of their seats coaching like it was the NCAA championships! All for the wrestling moms, who laid it all on the mat through frustration, bruises, and exhaustion? Win or lose, each mom stepped off the mat as a respected wrestler.

Witnessing how our community’s culture celebrates and supports our girl and mom wrestlers shows that we are on the forefront of this movement. Thank you to all of you social change makers.

Tela Bacher, center right, with Wrestle Like a Girl participants

Tela Bacher is a mother, Olympian, advocate, and coach. Tela and her husband, Paul, raise their three children close to nature in a community worth celebrating.

State Budget Vetoes and Homer Community Impacts

In every corner of the state Alaskans are talking about the state budget and the impacts it will have on the quality of life for young and old.  After the State Legislature approved a budget with some very deep cuts, Governor Dunleavy used his veto pen to cut another $444 Million.  These cuts, primarily in higher education and social services, will profoundly impact the life of all Alaskans, including those in the Homer area.

The Homer Foundation is the oldest community foundation in Alaska and regularly interacts with many other nonprofits in the region. In conversations with some of our partners in the Homer area, we know that as a result of his budget local nonprofits will lose significant funding.  What does this mean for our community?  Our partners tell us the loss of state funding will mean layoffs, lost matching grants, and reduced help for members of our community that need it most.  Here are just some of the outcomes:

  • Medicaid dental services – Some 300 adults who receive dental care at the SVT health center each year would lose access to those services under elimination of the state’s Medicaid adult dental benefit.
  • Early childhood – State funding is eliminated for Head Start and several other early education programs. Homer’s Head Start program serves twenty children aged 3 to 5. In addition, elimination of the Best Beginnings program could cut enrollment in half for the local Homer Imagination Library program, which provides hundreds of kids here with early-reader books.
  • South Peninsula Hospital – Medicaid payments for elderly long-term-care patients help subsidize unprofitable services at our small-town hospital. Medicaid cuts  – first by the Legislature, then by the governor – will cost the hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Short-term impacts in long-term care would likely be reduced staffing.  Elsewhere at the hospital, cuts to Medicaid and behavioral health treatment grants are expected to divert patients into the emergency room, where they would receive more expensive care that hospitals have to cover without reimbursement.
  • Homer seniors – Many elderly residents living in or near poverty on the Lower Kenai Peninsula count on the state’s need-based senior benefits program, which was eliminated. Monthly grants of $76 to $250 were used by seniors for food, rent and medicine. Homer-area recipients probably number in the hundreds, though exact figures aren’t available; the state counts 1,200 recipients on the Kenai Peninsula.
  • Arts – Elimination of the State Council on the Arts will punch a $20,000 hole in the budget of the Homer Council on the Arts, or 12-15 percent of its budget.
  • Public Radio – KBBI anticipates layoffs and programming changes, but the full effects of the budget cuts will create a ripple effect that is hard to gauge. The radio stations’ $75,000 in state funds were eliminated, jeopardizing the ability to bring in an additional $125,000 in federal funding. No funds are provided to support the station’s central role in the lower Kenai Peninsula’s emergency alert system. In addition, $30,000 in engineering services provided by the state will go away.
  • Behavioral Health Services – State mental health grants used to pay for state-required services that are not covered by insurance, such as emergencies at the hospital or police station, are eliminated — cutting income up to $250,000 in the budget of the South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services.
  • The Homeless Assistance Program run by the Haven House will be cut by at least $60,000 in funding due to the near-elimination of the state’s homeless assistance grants.

There appears to be a misunderstanding in some quarters that the philanthropic sector will fill these budget holes. This is wishful thinking.  This statement is not based on the generosity of Alaskans, it’s based on scale.  In 2018 total philanthropic giving in Alaska added up to approximately $135 million.  This amounts to just a portion of the cuts proposed in the budget even before the Governor’s vetoes.

Locally, in 2018 the Homer area nonprofit sector accounted for $5.9 million in revenues of which $2.4 million was new money into the area.   Much of this was federal matching funds which require State funding to qualify for the Federal portion.  As a leading local distributor of funds, last fiscal year the Homer Foundation distributed $150,000 in grants and scholarships.  We are proud of our fund holders, donors and volunteers who love this community and help their neighbors by giving to the foundation.  We are also proud of the rigorous level of due diligence we employ both in our grant-making and our investment management. By noting theses impacts we are not entering the political conversation. That is for others.  Some would argue that a large PFD will help all Alaskans.  We’re not debating the merits of that argument either. This conversation is about what sort of community we want to have.  Our role here is to inform the community of the very real local adverse consequences resulting from this budget. Whatever your position on the issue, be informed.

-Mike Miller, Executive Director

Homer Foundation