Voices of Alaska: Pulling together to strengthen family and community

  • By Donna Walker
  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015 4:39pm
  • Opinion

Fortifying Alaska’s families and building community are priorities of mine as I serve with great honor and deep gratitude as Alaska’s First Lady.

As the honorary chair of the Alaska Children’s Trust, I am thankful for the important work being done by this and other organizations to prevent child abuse and neglect. Toni Mallott and I recently co-chaired a fundraising event that generated over $50,000 in donations to support the Trust’s efforts to combat this crisis. As a result of the generous ticket purchases and sponsorships of the statewide inaugural balls, we are also making contributions to emergency shelters and other deserving non-profits. Other opportunities to host private fundraising drives for organizations experiencing diminished public funding are in the works. It is assuring to see individuals and businesses step up to help carry the financial load we all are shouldering in these challenging financial times.

It is not only with our treasure that I encourage Alaskans to pull together to help fill the resources gap, but also with our time and talents.

Since the First Lady Volunteer Awards were founded by Bella Hammond a quarter century ago, hundreds of Alaskans have been honored for their volunteerism which is the backbone of our communities. In fact, the very first time I met Mrs. Hammond was in 1978 when she came to Valdez to present one of these awards.

I am proud to continue this tradition of thanking Alaska’s volunteer army and recognizing a few extraordinary individuals who give their all. I invite you to participate by going to volunteerawards.alaska.gov and nominating someone in your community who demonstrates a personal commitment to long-term volunteer service, and who has had a significant impact on the lives of Alaskans. The nomination period ends March 2nd. Awardees are chosen by a committee of Alaskans and will be honored at a luncheon and ceremony at the Governor’s House in May.

To support and encourage our volunteers, I look forward to serving alongside them year round as I travel the state. Won’t you join me in the soup lines, shelters, hospitals and senior centers as we offer a hand up and encouraging word? Or consider being a role model as a coach, classroom aide, church nursery worker or take an elderly neighbor a meal or carry their trash can down the slippery driveway. Just think what a difference we could make if every Alaskan volunteered just one hour a week!

And when I think about strengthening our communities, the Bridge Builders organization always comes to mind. Established in 1996, this grassroots, award winning program helps to build “a community of friends” among all racial and cultural groups in Anchorage. As we build on the Walker/Mallott administration’s “unity” theme, another of my goals in my service to Alaskans is to take the proven success of Bridge Builders statewide in order to strengthen the unity in community. We will start in Juneau this month as a number of community and cultural leaders meet with me and Bridge Builders’ board members to develop a strategy for strengthening the Juneau community while celebrating the many things that make us unique, yet uniquely Alaskan.

Over Fur Rondy weekend, on Saturday, February 28, from 11 to 4 pm, Bridge Builders of Anchorage will welcome everyone to the Anchorage Museum for the 9th year of “MEET THE WORLD IN ANCHORAGE.” It is an excellent example of a gathering that may be adapted to celebrate the diverse spectrum of families in most Alaskan cities. Approximately 40 different cultural heritages will host informational tables and over twenty music and dance groups will make this a joyous and welcoming time. I will have a table too and have invited every mayor in Alaska to attend and stop by my table. I extend that invitation to everyone. We can assist you in connecting with the cultural groups in Anchorage who have interested friends and relatives in your community.

Part of all of our assignment is to craft ways we can improve life in Alaska – even as we downsize budgets. A large element we can impact is how Alaskans of all cultural backgrounds work together to make this a better state for ourselves and our children.

Donna Walker is married to Governor Bill Walker. She is a mother, grandmother, attorney and businesswoman who has served in many community, school and church volunteer roles.

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