LIVE UNITED – so much more than a tag line as we close the decade of a tumultuous 2019. Instability in our economy and politics, news of BP selling its Alaska assets, and the aftershocks of a major earthquake created an air of uncertainty, even fragility.
But the perspective in the rear-view mirror reaffirms the commitment United Way of Anchorage has made to you: Resolve to reach ambitious goals, build multi-sector comprehensive approaches to get there, and hold steady no matter how bumpy the road.
So, in 2019 we drove on.
With your sustaining support, we practice a different model than many. The common charity model is donor-by-donor funding program-by-program. Programs compete for funding, each vying to outshine the other. Each trying to pinpoint a single input that led to a miraculous outcome or trying to reduce a complex problem to some cool new “innovation.”
In our view, this leads to a bevy of fragmented programs. Each is helpful at a point in time to those who get served, but the whole is often not greater than the sum of its parts.
Together, we aim to do good that both meets the need of the hour and reaches across generations. Helping an individual is fulfilling and manageable. Scaffolding supports around the many afflicted to improve all of their lives is hard. Fixing systems, building networks, and sharing accountability for results – it’s not nearly as sexy as the shiny new idea. But it’s smart. And it yields better, more lasting population-level impact.
Here’s what taking that long view and building better systems has done to effect change:
Education – 90% Graduation by 2020
Talk about a long view – In 2005, the graduation rate was 59 percent, a number that galvanized the Anchorage community into action to set the moonshot for 90% Graduation by 2020. In 2019, Anchorage achieved a four-year graduation rate of over 84 percent, a gain of 25 points.
That didn’t happen by chance.
It took a decade of attention and muscle to collaborate, cheerlead, cajole, and align the efforts of many into a coordinated practice to get the right support to the right child at the right time from early childhood to senior year. And, it’s a testament to the committed efforts by you, the 90% by 2020 Leadership Team, many community businesses and partners, the Anchorage School District and Board, and the entire Anchorage community.
In 2019, we continued to focus on struggling households and students, particularly those economically disadvantaged. Imagination Library gets a book a month to about 2500 children from birth to age 5 in our low-income neighborhoods. One of best things a parent can do to imbue a love of learning is to read aloud. A book a month gives plenty of pages to turn.
In 13 elementary and middle schools, we supported kids to reverse chronic absenteeism. These children not only significantly improved their attendance, they then outpaced their schools’ overall attendance rates.
We’ve helped 338 seriously at-risk high school seniors earn their high school diplomas, often against harrowing odds. Hundreds of additional 9th to 11th grades students recovered credits and received wraparound supports that afforded them the opportunity to rejoin their peers at their home high schools.
The whole definitely exceeds the sum of parts. Not only did the graduation rate rise three more points this year, the rate for economically disadvantaged students rose four points!
Housing and Financial Stability
That same approach of clear goals, a common methodology, constant adaptation, and cross-sector partnerships is being brought to bear to improve the lives of those experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness and instability.
Starting with emergency cold weather shelter, 2019 marked a full decade of volunteers drawn from 11 area churches who provide sanctuary for families when other shelters are full. Over the decade, 582 families with 847 adults and 881 children have bedded down in safety and warmth, rather than sleeping in a car or perhaps worse.
2019 saw the launch of a pilot project for a planned three-year initiative to move 150 persistently homeless people from the streets to stable housing. These are our neighbors who cycle in and out of prison, homelessness and crisis care; many suffer mental and physical illnesses and addictions. Home for Good aims to break the cycle with permanent supportive housing — combining housing with intensive case management — and uses a financing mechanism new to Alaska called Pay for Success that links payment to performance.
And, 2019 saw the 100th family experiencing homelessness get rapidly rehoused and supported to regain their footing. This work, in partnership with several Anchorage providers, began four years ago. Almost 70% of the families remained housed after one year of services.
2019 saw Alaska 2-1-1 kick into high gear. The simple yet powerful statewide helpline connects Alaskans with over 800 public and private agencies and more than 1100 services. A service like no other in Alaska, Alaska 2-1-1 partners with providers from Utqiagvik to Ketchikan.
From the continuing impacts of the earthquake, to the shock wave of frightened callers following the governor’s vetoes in June, to bucking the national trend of decreasing health insurance enrollment, Alaska 2-1-1 was the first stop for many Alaskans who needed to know where, when, and how to get help.
Our call specialists provided answers. In turn, those who called provided a real-time, on-the-ground picture of pressing needs in the state and how Alaskans were trying to deal with them. Alaska 2-1-1 is both a responder in crisis and a measure of its extent.
Often under the radar, Alaska 2-1-1’s call specialists respond with calm, care, and knowledge to everything from everyday requests about job counseling to desperate calls from families on the brink of eviction. That’s the work we began with 2-1-1 in 2007 and have continued through 2019.
This is by no means a complete picture of our work in 2019. But it does illuminate that as alluring as the new shiny object may be, it is the steady, resilient, staying power that produces tangible results.