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We all have a responsibility to help support our community

  • Author: Joe Marushack
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 14, 2019
  • Published November 14, 2019

Jane Straight, left, and Ariane Kelsey were among a group of people who prepared hygiene kits for adults and children at First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. For the 10th consecutive season, local churches, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC), the Municipality of Anchorage, and United Way of Anchorage will work in tandem to offer Emergency Cold Weather Shelter to families with children when regular shelters are full. From October 1 to mid-May, seven days a week, a different church will be open so homeless families don't have to spend the night in an unsafe place during the coldest months of the year. Families in need can call Alaska's 2-1-1 helpline. Last winter 2,023 shelter nights were provided to 84 families that included 131 children. (Bill Roth / ADN)

As a member of this community, I am personally very concerned about the needs of fellow Alaskans. I worry about the general increased demand for emergency services. This affects us all and takes a toll on the nonprofit and charitable organizations that serve low-income families, the homeless and other populations in need. I think a lot about critical needs in our community and how to meet them. And although I am proud of the myriad ways my company supports the community, I also think it’s personal involvement that can move the needle and make a difference — especially for the United Way of Anchorage. That’s why, as president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, I accepted the invitation to chair this year’s campaign.

I like a boxing metaphor as much as the next person (perhaps more), and so I’ll say that the goals of United Way of Anchorage are not for lightweights. Broadly, we want to help improve individual lives on a scale that transforms our community for the better and makes a difference long-term. That’s why, even though we knew this was going to be a challenging year, the Anchorage United Way campaign cabinet of 24 business leaders decided to increase the fundraising goal to $5.5 million. These leaders are heavyweights in United Way’s corner, and I am grateful for their service to the organization.

Most of us are aware of the lively public discussions about our state and its issues. Regardless of where you fall on the issues, I hope we can agree that for those of us involved in United Way’s 2019 Community Campaign, this is no time to falter in the work; it’s time to strike a decisive blow.

Specifically, we aim to reach and maintain a high school graduation rate of 90% or better, provide housing for people experiencing homelessness (including the hardest to house), guide people to health care insurance and increase the financial stability of those in need in our community. And we stay the course with this work through all economic and political seasons.

We can see the needs in our community. United Way is in the fore of meeting them — as an organizing force, including its permanent supportive housing pilot and the Emergency Cold Weather Shelter system; in direct service, such as the Alaska 2-1-1 help referral line and health care navigators; and in its traditional role as a fundraiser for dozens of nonprofit partners. And this is just the short list. No other nonprofit organization combines the long history, depth of experience and wide range of United Way.

So, it’s no coincidence that ConocoPhillips and its employees have given more than $1 million a year to United Ways in Alaska for 16 consecutive years. We are fully engaged again in 2019. We know that our donations, vocal support and volunteer hours count. We believe that when United Way rallies the community, our better selves can step up front and center.

In supporting United Way, ConocoPhillips or any other businesses may gain goodwill for their efforts and donations, but the reason for this commitment is to help our fellow Alaskans in the community. We don’t just do business here. We live here and we have the means to make a difference. Not all of us can be the front-line teacher, case manager, health care navigator or calm, caring voice on a 2-1-1 call. But we can be a resource for the people who do that hard and vital work.

For those who prefer business terms, we’re investing and inviting you to join us at any level you can. You’ll love the return on investment for the $5.5 million we hope to raise. The due diligence on United Way’s work past and present should encourage investors:

  • United Way’s most challenging initiative, the permanent supportive housing pilot, means more people with housing, supportive services and off the street.
  • Back on Track, United Way’s partnership with the Anchorage School District and Covenant House Alaska to help struggling students graduate, has logged 215 graduates in less than three years. That means more young people ready for better opportunities and a stake in the community — and a stronger work force.
  • United Way of Anchorage was again named the state’s sole recipient of a $100,000 federal grant to deploy health care navigators to help Alaskans gain medical insurance. That means more Alaskans can be healthier at less overall cost.
  • The Emergency Cold Weather Shelter system, a partnership with Abused Women’s Aid In Crisis, the Municipality of Anchorage and 11 area churches, will again ensure that no child has to sleep in a cold car or worse this winter, even when regular shelters are full and the family is homeless. That means that in Anchorage, there will always be room at the inn for a family in need.
  • In 2018, more than 4,600 people decided to Live United and invested almost $5.3 million to maintain these works in progress. Let’s all live a little more united, punch above our weight, give everyone the chance to be a contender, and accelerate the progress in 2019.

    Joe Marushack serves as president of ConocoPhillips Alaska and is a United Way of Anchorage board member.

    The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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