Petter and Janet Jahnsen have been named the 2022 recipients of the United Way of Anchorage Alexis de Tocqueville Society Community Service Award.
Fifteen years ago, Petter and Janet joined the Tocqueville Society, a group of generous donors in the Anchorage community. From this group the Tocqueville Society Community Service Award is presented to a member or members of the society who best exemplify the spirit of giving and volunteering to build a better community in Anchorage.
Petter and Janet have been quietly filling that role in the community for more than 30 years.
That was when Petter first joined the board of an organization with a mission that he and Janet care deeply about—Hope Community Resources.
Petter and Janet became involved in the Tocqueville Society through the invaluable network of funders and supporters that power United Way’s work. They are involved in many different organizations but give special support to United Way through the Tocqueville Society because they recognize that “there are all these entities that need help in a united fashion. It is hard to know where are all the needs are, and that is where United Way steps in.”
Petter and Janet direct most of their giving to the community fund for the greatest impact. The community fund is United Way’s flexible, quick response fund that leverages its role as a connector and amplifier in Anchorage and across Alaska. United Way programs approach the community as a whole and unite specialized organizations to come together to solve the toughest problems in our community.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Petter and Janet’s contributions were used to launch the Restaurant and Hunger Relief Program to feed the hungry, keep workers employed and keep local businesses afloat. When the earthquake hit in 2018, their funds were used to pay for a robust local response, including making sure that United Way’s 2-1-1 team had the resources it needed to instantly connect residents with the most current
help available during that emergency. And now, when more Anchorage residents than ever need a roof over their head, it is helping fund the Home For Good program to permanently house those who have been unsheltered for years.
These donations allowed United Way to “close the gaps” when they appeared. They also fund programs to weave together neighbors and support to build a strong, resilient, and vibrant community.
Most recently, community funds helped Launch Cradle to Career Anchorage, a collaborative program uniting education organizations throughout the city around one goal—making sure that every one of our children is successful. This new initiative creates a rich tapestry of support for local children, giving families the resources they need to teach, stepping in when they struggle, and staying engaged until they are on their own path to success.
Petter’s long career as a self-described “investment geek” has given him skills that are in high demand in the non-profit world. It’s allowed him to complement his and Janet’s generosity by working with organizations to make sure that their money is working effectively for the people that they serve. His investment and financial advice is valued by numerous organizations across Anchorage that have used it to multiply their impact in the community.
For Petter, two things motivate his volunteer work and allow him to have an impact in every corner of our community. The first is an unshakeable belief that there is no problem too intractable to work on – “I get accused of being too optimistic.” And the second is a willingness to always lend a hand however he can – “my wife says I say yes to too many things.”
His willingness to say ‘yes’ is a blessing for United Way and so many fantastic organizations around Anchorage. In addition to his membership in the Tocqueville Society and tenure on the board of Hope Community Resources, he has volunteered for the University of Alaska Foundation investment committee, serves as President of the board of the AWAIC Foundation and is involved in the Anchorage Downtown Rotary.
Janet has been his constant partner in giving and identifying worthy causes across Alaska. As an occupational therapist and technology consultant for the Anchorage School District, she helped generations of Anchorage
children by pioneering innovative ways to help children. Early in her ASD career Janet became inspired to see how technology could improve outcomes for children’s lives.
Janet has brought that innovation and problem-solving to their giving, working to “find folks with a good heart” who are doing innovative work on many different issues.
Petter and Janet are motivated to give something back to their community because of how fortunate they have been in their own lives. Petter’s parents are immigrants from Norway and he recognizes that “I have been frankly very lucky in life, I really have. I know people who have not been.”
Though Petter has for years passed along his luck through work and generous donations, he has eschewed the spotlight. Petter and Janet are focused on the work and the impact. Despite their low-key approach, it’s impossible to miss the impact that they’ve had throughout Anchorage. Alaskans with disabilities, students in Anchorage, and everyone in between can find a reason to thank Petter and Janet for the work that they have done for our community.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that “I have seen Americans make a great deal of real sacrifices to the public welfare; and have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend a faithful support to one another.” Petter and Janet have long embodied the helping spirit that Tocqueville wrote about Americans almost 200 years ago. Tocqueville would have instantly recognized the faithful support they offer their neighbors. Their giving spirit helps their neighbors, inspires their friends, and keeps the society named for Alexis de Tocqueville vibrant and relevant all these years later.