This is a tough year. Anchorage residents are in need like never before. Belts are tightening at our companies. Everyone is feeling some level of anxiety. Makes you wonder what any one person can do.
The answer is a lot, when we stand up, stand together, and respond. When we channel our energy, voices and resources in a common direction, we can move our community forward in these hard times. Here are just two recent examples of how community action can evolve into a social movement:
United Way of Anchorage rallied the community around keeping our youth on-track to graduate. The result: In the past year, Anchorage Police Department reported a 17 percent reduction in juvenile arrests and the Anchorage School District reported a 5 percent increase in graduation rates. By removing negative influences from our youth's lives and replacing them with positive adult mentors and meaningful activities, more youth are graduating and setting the foundation for successful careers.
United Way also unified the community around boosting incomes for low-wage families. The result: Last year, 3,700 hardworking Anchorage residents received more than $750,000 in earned income tax credits and saved $525,826 in tax preparation costs at six free tax preparation sites. This means more money for basic needs and keeping those Anchorage families on the edge of homelessness housed, warm and fed.
That power of coming together to make a real difference is why I stepped up to become chair of this year's United Way of Anchorage Campaign. And that's why, at the recent Campaign Kick-off event, I announced a bold goal for this campaign season: $11 million. It's an ambitious goal in these tough times, but it's what we need to make progress on preparing our youngest for school, keeping our youth on track, and keeping our neighbors housed, fed and healthy.
I've seen inspired giving before, and I've felt its power. I was in South Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit. Around 800 of my coworkers at Shell Exploration & Production lost their homes or had homes that were damaged and unlivable. So it was a major surprise when I learned that giving from the employees of Shell to United Way increased significantly that year. In fact, it was more giving per capita than we'd ever seen in our company's campaign. People who were rebuilding their lives and homes, and the homes of others, were finding the time and the will to go online and give, and that was truly moving.
I'm confident that we have that capacity to give in Anchorage right now. We have to. Winter is coming and we all have friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even family who will need our help. And I'm confident because I know that Alaskans always rise to the occasion. We lift one another up no matter what is going on with the economy or the weather.
I feel the energy of a building movement when I'm in the community. I see the impact on a young person's life because I mentor youngsters and volunteer with homeless youth. And I am even more motivated when I know my efforts are part of a movement far bigger than me. By taking a stand for our youth, I know we can change the future into a better life for us all.
Raising $11 million is a bold goal. So is raising graduation rates and reducing homelessness. I'm confident Anchorage can accomplish them all.
So please think of all the ways you can help. Give from your wallet. Give your time. Give your voice, speaking for a cause and helping people learn about valuable resources provided by United Way, like the free Alaska 2-1-1 health and human services line and free tax preparation sites around Anchorage each tax season.
Achieving ambitious goals is possible. And so is making Anchorage the community of our dreams.
Rick Fox is United Way of Anchorage's 2009 Campaign Chair and Alaska Manager of Shell Exploration & Production.
BY RICK FOX