Suicide has affected almost all of us here in Alaska in one way or another. A family member, a friend, a colleague or someone who has touched our lives has grappled with the pressing issue here in our state. We all watched in growing grief and fear as four young people committed suicide in Hooper Bay in the fall of 2015. Many wondered what they could do to help prevent future suicides, but were left suspended in a feeling of powerlessness influenced by the statistics shared about suicide in Alaska – the second highest rate in the country at 23 per 100,000, with suicide in Alaska Native men nearly four times the national average. Undeterred by the odds, leadership at GCI, deciding that they could not stand by, took action.
GCI’s leadership team, deeply affected by the suicides across the state, and inspired by their participation in the Anchorage Rotary Suicide Prevention Project, developed a plan to focus their 2016 philanthropy on a program to support locally based suicide prevention projects. Because they are in the business of communications and not grantmaking, they reached out to The Alaska Community Foundation to develop a comprehensive statewide grant program.
The Alaska Community Foundation was a natural partner for this work. The previously established Teen Suicide Prevention grant program is currently in its fourth year. Because suicide tears at the very fabric of our tight-knit communities and is indicative of larger social issues, The Alaska Community Foundation is committed to continuing our focus on this issue.
Additionally, The Alaska Community Foundation’s goal is to connect people who care with causes that matter. Alaskans create community by stepping up when they see a neighbor in need. It is one of the hallmarks of Alaskan’s commitment to their community. The Alaska Community Foundation is a partner in this effort because we provide donors an easy way to provide support for suicide prevention and other related causes. Individuals, nonprofits and corporations, together or individually, give through the foundation to support the work of charitable organizations across the state whose mission they believe in. Our donors have awarded more than $50 million in grants and scholarships over the last twenty years, so when GCI was looking for a partner in grantmaking, they came to the Alaska Community Foundation.
To carry out GCI’s vision, a team of experts in different aspects of suicide prevention looked at gaps in funding and opportunities for significant impact across the state. In September 2016, nine grants were awarded to organizations in communities spanning a diverse cross-section of Alaska. Selected programs included a wide range of prevention strategies, from teaching traditional crafts to at-risk youth to expanding mental health initiatives. The results from these grants are already starting to make an impact. A village in Western Alaska has experienced a dramatic increase in community connection after Tribal Council members participated in a training focused on healing lifelong trauma. Youth in Fairbanks are working together to create connection through skateboarding.
Alaska faces unprecedented economic challenges, and we will see growing need in our communities. These challenges are also the source of unprecedented opportunity. While Alaska navigates a new path forward, it is important to ensure that those characteristics that make Alaska unique are preserved and strengthened. The Alaska Community Foundation is proud to partner with businesses and leaders like GCI to make a difference in our state.
Please think about how you can get involved in a statewide efforts that support suicide prevention. How will you step up to support your neighbor? There are nonprofits in your communities that are addressing issues related to suicide prevention who need your help. Partner with GCI and the Alaska Community Foundation to increase the impact and reach of your gift. How will you build a stronger future for your community?
For those experiencing or know someone experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Nina Kemppel is President & CEO of The Alaska Community Foundation.