Here at United Way of Anchorage, we bring good tidings as the year 2022 begins.
And we know that any good news has been especially welcome during these last two years. For 2020, the year of COVID-19, racial turmoil and the stark revelations of systemic racism, and deep, bitter political divisions, invaded 2021.
And 2021 only fought the invader to a draw — at best. We have potent vaccines, but the virus has variants to exploit our pandemic fatigue. Deep-seated racism – sometimes subtle, sometimes not – continues to test Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous faith that the arc of history bends toward justice. As for bitter political division, we saw plenty played out right here in Anchorage over the last year.
So, if you’re discouraged as the new year begins, it’s understandable.
But every day here at United Way of Anchorage we see first-hand so many reasons to feel encouraged about 2022. We’re not pumping sunshine, my friends. We’re telling truths that are good to hear, good to see, and even better to live.
– Alaska 2-1-1, United Way’s phone and online helpline, has become more deeply imbedded in our community than ever before. The call volume for 2021 didn’t match that of 2020, but it was the second greatest volume we’ve ever logged, and our working relationships with the Anchorage Department of Emergency Services and the State of Alaska as the state’s go-to information and referral line are firmly established.
– 2-1-1 is the swiftest connection to another reason for encouragement – our expanded Healthcare Navigator team. Now 10 strong, United Way’s team of navigators just helped more than 500 Alaskans get health insurance policies through the Affordable Care Act by Dec. 15 for coverage than begins Jan. 1. From Fairbanks to the Kenai, with the invaluable partnership of public libraries, hospitals and other health services, navigators brought to Alaskans unbiased clarity, relief and the peace of mind that comes with health insurance coverage.
– With United Way’s support, our friends at Camp Fire continued their Learning Pods at three elementary schools so kids whose families were least equipped for remote learning could attend school with all the resources they needed in a safe and healthy environment. Close to 100 students participated, and through the Restaurant and Hunger Relief program, a partnership of United Way, Alaska Hospitality Retailers and the Municipality of Anchorage, those students enjoyed restaurant quality meals to stoke the fires of learning.
– Restaurant and Hunger Relief didn’t just pack lunch for the pods. Launched in November 2020, the program continued throughout 2021. Through mid-November, 65 restaurants provided 186,992 much-needed, high-quality meals to 24 Anchorage nonprofits at 34 sites. Those restaurants were able to hire, rehire, or retain 676 employees who would otherwise not have jobs, and give additional hours to 343 employees.
Many of those restaurants didn’t take Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day off either, serving up more than 7,500 meals on those three holidays.
The triple win of restored jobs, better bottom lines, and great meals to those in need from preschoolers to seniors also served to knit the community together in relationships of ongoing care. Those who cooked, those who delivered, and those who dined all know one another better now.
– United Way administered federal child care funds in cooperation with the municipality and providers, keeping quality care available for 4,500 children at 200 programs throughout Anchorage. That assistance also kept 1,200 staff jobs open, and was vital in ensuring safe, healthy care for kids while their parents worked.
– Late last summer, we joined hands with the Municipal Department of Health in a federally funded COVID-19 program to make sure all Anchorage residents had accurate, up-to-date information and access to vaccines, testing, and other health care. Twenty organizations in Anchorage received Healthy Communities grants, primarily aimed at underserved residents.
– Home for Good, the initiative to provide supportive housing for the most persistently homeless of our neighbors, is probably the toughest challenge that United Way of Anchorage has taken on. With partners including landlords, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska Community Foundation, Southcentral Foundation, Alaska Behavioral Health, and the Municipality of Anchorage, as of November 30 we had 45 people in stable or temporary housing, and are working with another 12 people to get them into housing.
Further, United Way of Anchorage has been at the table as the municipal administration, the Assembly, and nonprofits have worked through turmoil and contention to come up with a compromise plan to reduce homelessness in Anchorage.
– Looking ahead, in the early months of 2022, we’ll refine and finalize a new strategic plan, and with the Anchorage School District, launch the successor to the decade-long education work of 90% by 2020 in a new initiative called Cradle to Career.
That’s a sampling of what should encourage us all from 2021 – I’ll stop the bullet list here, so I don’t turn this into a preview of our annual report.
The end-of-year message that I see and aim to share is about all the candles we continue to light together against the darkness, an enlightened sense of purpose that has long been a mainstay of our community.
The tougher the challenges, the deeper the darkness, the more precious that light.
And the more precious to us our partners and donors who help to keep it burning. We gratefully count our partners in the dozens – hundreds, if you count all we connect with in any way. Two are mainstay organizations with the generosity and wherewithal to fill gaps, enhance missions, and help keep everyone’s eyes on the prize – the Rasmuson Foundation and Alaska Community Foundation.
United Way of Anchorage and its partners continually evolve. We’re in that process now as we craft a new strategic plan. As we become more aware of all the elements that make up our community, all the unmet needs and underserved people, we become more deliberate and directed in our actions ¬¬to meet those needs and serve those people.
But without that constant light evolution stalls and initiatives wither. The same spirit that inspired the creation of what became United Way of Anchorage in 1956 has inspired Restaurant and Hunger Relief, Home for Good, Camp Fire’s Learning Pods, Healthy Communities COVID-19 grants, the expansion of our Healthcare Navigators program, and our sharpened sense of the need for equity in all our work.
That same spirit is what allows us to acknowledge our disagreements, some deep and passionate, yet persevere and succeed in the search for common ground where we can act together.
This isn’t just the spirit of the season just past, but the spirit for all seasons.
Thanks to all of you reading this, the spirit is alive and well for us at United Way of Anchorage. The candles burn with a steady light, so we’re of good heart in the first days of 2022. Happy New Year.