‘The impact is profound’: Historic, charitable giving lifts Alaska up

SPONSORED: An increase in personal philanthropy in Alaska last year, buoyed by Hilcorp’s unique model of employee giving, is bringing profound impacts to local organizations.

Presented by The Alaska Community Foundation

After a series of storms devastated communities across Western Alaska last fall, residents have faced colossal damages and emotional strain as they rebuild their lives.

News coverage showed Alaskans losing their homes, their roads washed away, and belongings destroyed — and in a silver lining, people across the state and world saw the damage and stepped up to help, said Nina Kemppel, president and CEO of The Alaska Community Foundation.

“We started receiving donations immediately,” Kemppel said.

Within weeks, roughly $1.8 million was raised through the Western Alaska Disaster Recovery Fund, which allowed the foundation to support the hardest-hit communities during initial phases of recovery.

“But the donations just kept coming in,” Kemppel said.

In all, more than 2,800 people donated to the fund for Western Alaska to help communities rebuild.

Last year, Alaskans stepped up to help each other in historic ways, too, despite economic uncertainty nationwide.

In 2022, “We saw people give back more than I have ever seen,” Kemppel said.

From the support received in Western Alaska, to one company’s groundbreaking program for employee giving, to Pick.Click.Give., personal philanthropy had profound impacts on local communities last year.

‘In total shock’: A unique model of giving brings millions to Alaska

The Alaska Community Foundation builds philanthropy in the state by connecting charitable organizations with those who want to give back to meaningful causes.

In 2022, the foundation helped facilitate the transfer of millions of dollars to local nonprofits after Hilcorp announced it was giving up to $25,000 to eligible employees to direct to causes of their choosing.

“It is a remarkable model,” Kemppel said. “One that is very unique in Alaska, and I think unique across the country, because it actually places the responsibility for giving back into the employee’s hands.”

The Alaska Community Foundation manages each employee’s charitable fund, which makes the process simple for everyone.

For Hilcorp employees, the news was mind-boggling.

“I was completely in total shock,” said AJ Alston, a Hilcorp technician who has been working on Alaska’s North Slope since 2011.

For Alston, the decision left him with a sense of “deep admiration,” and a new understanding of how deeply the company cared for its employees.

“It’s not just lip service,” Alston said of the company’s values.

The donation gave him and his wife a chance to sit down and brainstorm causes meaningful to them. Alston’s list is lengthy and varied.

As a retired Army veteran himself, “I give back to veterans as often as I possibly can,” he said.

He gives to the Boys and Girls Club of Alaska and K9s for Vets. He contributes to the American Cancer Society, as he lost his mother to cancer when he was 14 years old.

“It’s nice to be able to pay it back,” Alston said.

For Victoria Askin, Hilcorp’s program gave her family a chance to honor her late son and support future generations of students. Askin is a meter technician, and her husband also works with Hilcorp.

Together they put $20,000 into a scholarship fund in memory of their second son, Cael Askin, who had Asperger’s Syndrome and passed away at 25 during a seizure.

“We wanted to do something that was meaningful, that would help somebody else,” Askin said. “This perfectly fit the bill.”

For the next 20 years, a scholarship of $1,000 will be awarded to a homeschooled Kenai, Nikiski or Kenai Central High School student who has an individual education plan for a learning disability. The first scholarship will be awarded this year.

“That’s a pretty good feeling,” Askin said. “You know that’s going to be there to help somebody.”

All told, Hilcorp made available $16.7 million for philanthropic causes across the state in 2022, most of which has already been distributed, Kemppel said.

In addition, Hilcorp has an annual employee giving program. Each year up to $2,000 in individual donations are matched by the company, giving employees $4,000 to direct annually. This, too, is managed by The Alaska Community Foundation.

“The impact is profound,” Kemppel said of the company’s philanthropic efforts. “I don’t think we’ve seen anybody do something this significant.”

Support for local cancer patients: ‘It’s historic, really’

For the American Cancer Society in Alaska, Hilcorp employee grants totaled more than $143,000 last year.

The American Cancer Society is well-known as the second largest funder of cancer research in the U.S., but the nonprofit also provides crucial services locally, American Cancer Society Director Charissa Habeger said.

“We have programs and services that are free for all Alaskans facing cancer,” Habeger said.

Among these are free transportation and lodging programs, including rides to-and-from treatments, flights, and hotels. This assistance is available for Alaskans statewide. It can have a massive impact on families living in both rural and more populated regions.

All Hilcorp employee grants to the American Cancer Society in Alaska will stay in the state to provide free services to people diagnosed with cancer — around 3,700 Alaskans every year.

“The amount of funds they gave in 2022 is incredible,” American Cancer Society Director Charissa Habeger said. “It’s historic, really.”

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank also received a boost in funding for the many programs it provides residents thanks to Hilcorp’s employee giving program.

With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, “all of a sudden, there were a whole lot of people in need,” said Kenai Peninsula Food Bank Executive Director Greg Meyer.

Unfortunately, that need has not decreased. Every year the food bank provides 25,000 meals at its Fireweed Diner and distributes 2 million pounds of food to families and organizations locally.

“People depend on the diner every day for a meal,” Meyer said. “We hear daily from people that depend on the food bank and they’re not going to make it without that extra help.”

The food bank provides a crucial stop gap for those who need help, and not just meals — from split firewood to “birthday bags” which have everything parents need for their child’s party.

“Every child deserves to have a fun birthday party,” Meyer said. “It’s one of those things we need to do.”

Meyer hopes people will see how powerful even small contributions can be.

“People maybe underestimate the power of their gifts,” said Meyer. “I hope they don’t because they mean everything to us. That’s what keeps us going.”

Pick.Click.Give.: For some nonprofits, ‘it’s what allows them to keep the lights on’

Another program that saw great success in 2022 was Pick.Click.Give. This program allows Alaskans to donate a portion of their Permanent Fund Dividend to charitable and educational organizations while filing for their PFD.

For many Alaskans, Pick.Click.Give. is the first time they’ve given to charitable causes.

“It’s really easy to do,” Kemppel said. “Most people are filing online for their PFD anyway.”

The Alaska Community Foundation manages the program, and more than 600 organizations participate each year, Kemppel said.

In 2022, the program received its second-highest amount of donations in its history. More than 25,000 Alaskans gave to Pick.Click.Give., together raising more than $3 million for participating nonprofits.

“For some organizations that received their Pick.Click.Give. donations, it’s what allows them to keep the lights on,” Kemppel said.

“It really is a wonderful program and a really easy way for people to give back,” Kemppel said.

In her role at The Alaska Community Foundation, Kemppel sees how even small donations have a ripple effect on the community — not just in the direct impact to an organization, but how giving can inspire others, as well.

“Alaskans supporting Alaskans,” Kemppel said. “It’s a belief we all have.”

And after such a massive year for philanthropy, “I am absolutely inspired,” Kemppel said.

This story was sponsored by The Alaska Community Foundation thanks to a grant from Hilcorp. The Alaska Community Foundation inspires the spirit of giving and connects people, organizations, and causes to strengthen Alaska’s communities, now and forever.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with The Alaska Community Foundation. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.