This is the seventh of nine short historical reminiscences to mark the 30th anniversary of the Homer Foundation, Alaska’s first community foundation. This series was produced by The Foundation and written by former board member Tom Kizzia. It was first published in 2021.
When Robert and Melon Purcell suffered the loss of their son, Sheldon, in a 2010 accident, one of their responses was to set up an endowment in his name at the Homer Foundation. It would not be a scholarship, however— the devastated parents wanted to do something to enhance the lives of kids growing up in Homer.
The Sheldon Youth to Youth fund was set up to provide money to one of the community foundation’s unique operations: a grant committee run entirely by students, making grants to support Homer young people.
The Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) had been formed in 2002 under the guidance of board member Susan Cushing, an artist who also designed the foundation’s logo. In 2001, after spruce bark beetles had decimated miles of old-growth forest on the Kenai Peninsula, she built her design around a seed and a spruce tree: a symbol of hope, and of expectation of growing endowments.
The idea behind YAC was to direct money shrewdly to activities that youths themselves considered important. But the aim was also to grow young philanthropists. That first year, the YAC group voted to grant funds to start a recycling program at Homer High School. The committee’s students also agreed to fund an emergency taxi voucher program to help athletes without transportation. Equally important, the students learned the hard lessons of saying no to some applicants.
The YAC had a source of funds from the beginning, derived from another tragedy. In 1998, Ashley Logan, an 8-year-old girl living on East Road, was struck by a car while dashing to catch her school bus. Doctors held out little hope, but Ashley beat expectations and survived— though she remained in a wheelchair and unable for a long time to communicate.
A lawsuit resulted in a settlement to Ashley’s family, after which an anonymous donor created the Ashley J. Logan Fund in 2001.
More than $60,000 has been donated around the community by the students who have served on the committee. Projects included a batting cage for little leaguers, books for the Homer library, equipment for ski programs, and support for the REC Room, HoWL, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Project GRAD and Popeye Wrestling. Finding a fresh batch of students every year to serve as young philanthropists has not always been easy for the foundation’s volunteers, whose effort was led for many years by longtime board member and middle school teacher Bonnie Jason. Indeed, the YAC program is once again looking at possible revisions, in the aftermath of the pandemic school year.