A Letter to My Irish Mother

Dear Mom,

Today we would have celebrated your eighty-fifth birthday and perhaps as many as ten more if you had not been misled by your surgeon. As much as I am sorry for the unnecessary suffering you had to endure for the remaining nine months of your life, I am glad that I was able to help care for you and come to appreciate how much you always cared for me.

I remember one time just after your second surgery when we were visiting you and Pat kiddingly said, “Gee Mom, the things you will do to get your kids to visit you.” You smiled after she said that but I walked away feeling sad that there were times I avoided you because I did not want to share your company.

I am sorry Mom for all the times we argued and the many times when I should have just said I’m sorry, I love you. It bothers me to remember that we did not speak for the five months leading up to your surgery and that had I continued to visit you prior to that day, I may have been able to help you see all the risks involved in such a procedure.

I cried very hard in the waiting room that day because all I could think of was that you decided your children no longer loved you and that there was no need to share the facts about your upcoming surgery.

Still in all, you endured a great deal of suffering and never once indicated you wanted to give up in the face of extreme adversity. You fought the good fight and taught me that no matter how hard things get, we must never give up hope because without hope, there is only despair.

You often found the ability to smile during your tribulation and you always encouraged me to do the same so as to not take myself too seriously. Nothing is ever that bad and certainly not worth taking your life for. I remember a favorite quote of yours stated by Rose Kennedy “I’ll never be vanquished”.

Mom I want you to know that no man could have had a better mother than you. You too have taught me what is necessary to adhere to the principles of the faith and at the same time demonstrated (by example) what it is to maintain a strong and upstanding character even in the face of extreme suffering.

I think about you every day and am preparing myself for the day when you and I will be permanently reunited. Still, my heart aches with sadness everyday that you are not here because one of the very few people who truly cared about me is gone.

I love you Mom and I am sorry for all the times I caused you grief and anxiety like the times when you would ask me to do things around the house and I would complain like some lazy brat. The list of “jobs” was never that demanding and I should have jumped at the opportunity to help around the house.

I am sorry for any contempt that I may have had for you especially at times when you were trying to help me; like the time you were trying to convince me not to take my own life and all I responded with was blame and rage. Before I hung up the phone, I remember Dad saying to me “Mom loves you dearly”.

I am also sorry for not hugging you when you first received the news that you had colon cancer. I should have embraced you lovingly but instead, you had to endure the news alone. Just as with my letter to Dad, there are so many other things that I am sorry for but either I cannot remember all of them or it is getting too difficult to type while I weep.

There are some things I would like to thank you for as well. First and foremost, for being my mom who always looked out for me and if I needed something, would spend extra money to make sure it was the best thing possible.

I remember when I used to work the closing shift at Mcdonald’s and sometimes you would come to see where I was because you were afraid I would ruin my life by getting some girl pregnant. I remember feeling embarrassed that my mother would come looking for me but the janitor told me that some guys don’t have a mother who cares enough to look out for them.

Thank you too for staying in a marriage that had been difficult for you and Dad. A former professor of mine once said to the class that anybody who can survive marriage {especially after fifty years} ought to be canonized. You both have done very well in upholding your vow before God. You both have also done very well in raising us the best way you could as there has yet to be a perfect way of raising children.

I have come to realize that there comes a point when each of us (supported by our family) needs to take responsibility for our lives and play the cards we are dealt. Thank you for supporting me the best way you knew how. Thank you for feeding, clothing and sheltering me especially the times you came home from work and had to manage a house full of kids many times without Dad’s help.

I have your wedding picture in front of me and am always struck by how beautiful and gracious you are.

Well, the kleenex box is about empty and my eyes are not drying so perhaps it would be wise to end this letter. Always remember Mom that I love you very much and miss you even more. As JFK said about his mother, you are and always will be my wild Irish Rose.

Eileen (Moran) Bialek passed away on January 8, 2002.

Joe Bialek

(Your half-Irish son)

Cleveland, OH

Prepare, attract and retain quality educators for Alaska’s future

Alaska has high teacher and principal turnover that not only harms student learning and school success, but also wastes money.

Some disturbing statistics:

•The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) reports teacher and principal turnover rates averaged 25-30% each year since 2013.

•An ISER study estimated the minimum cost of teacher turnover to a district is $20 thousand per teacher.

•The Learning Policy Institute estimates the cost of principal turnover is $75 thousand per principal.

A more alarming fact: the teacher and principal turnover rate is nearly twice as high in rural Alaska compared to urban Alaska.

Why is this constant churn of personnel detrimental?

Consider what it takes moving to a new community; making friends, getting settled, feeling connected, and cultivating a sense of belonging. Now consider a young child who attaches to a particular teacher, only to have that teacher leave after only one year. This scenario repeats year after year.

How does this instability affect the child, classroom, school, and community?

Constant employee turnover takes time, money, and energy away from educating young people. Administrators in high turnover schools are in a perpetual recruit-hire-train mode, complicated by a national educator shortage, which takes them away from the primary mission of fostering a positive environment for learning. The endless stream of new teachers is a drain on seasoned teachers, who must continually mentor newcomers, taking them away from teaching and leading to burnout.

Not all turnover is bad. New ideas and fresh faces can energize any organization. Yet the high turnover levels we experience in Alaska leave substantial room for improvement. Causes include living and working conditions, leadership, workload, compensation, amenities, cultural differences, and other factors. Solutions for one community might not work in another.

Only 30 percent of Alaska’s teachers are “homegrown.” The rest come from Outside, which means most new teachers are grappling with adjustments like challenging weather, remoteness, darkness, higher cost of living, less access to health care, and steep cultural learning curves.

Of the teachers who leave Alaska’s rural schools each year, 80 percent leave the state entirely. Only 10 percent switch to urban schools. Research shows teachers educated in Alaska, stay in Alaska.

We strongly support the University of Alaska (UA) goal to triple the number of homegrown teachers by 2025 and the Educators Rising program, as well as additional educator supports now under legislative consideration, including national board certification for public school teachers (HB 128) and limited teacher certificates for instruction in languages other than English (HB 24).

What would a comprehensive statewide plan focused on preparing, attracting and retaining qualified teachers look like?

It would be collaborative and include teachers, district leadership, the university, and DEED. It would involve communities where parents and employers have a vested interest in fostering stable, high-quality schools. It would be a worthwhile endeavor.

With budget cuts sucking up all the oxygen these days, let’s not take our eye off this critical long-term goal.

Norm Wooten, AASB Executive Director

Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady, ACSA Executive Director

Sarah Sledge, CEE Executive Director

Presidential candidate Biden will not get my vote

I will not support Presidential candidate Joe Biden. Reasoning: Surprise! Presidential candidate Joe Biden has previously put Social Security cuts on the table. The American worker has paid for Social Security out of personal pocket; yet, Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden, who you’d expect to fight for core Democratic principles in resolving Social Security’s imminent cash crunch, including raising or eliminating the earnings cap, has called for Social Security cuts on three separate occasions over the past 12 years. The millennial worker will not have the option of using what Social Security was intended to be.

Gilbert Keywehak

Mt. Pleasant, MI

Alaska: Our quality of life is at stake

Discussion about the budget continues in the state Capitol and in public forums. Alaskans from every corner of the state are concerned about what proposed deep cuts to close a $1.6 billion budget gap would do to the quality of life we have worked so hard to achieve. We are weighing in on this debate as business owners and executives who regularly interact with Alaska’s great nonprofit institutions. We have something else in common. We are board members of one of Alaska’s oldest, and certainly its largest, philanthropic organization.

As Rasmuson Foundation trustees, it is our job to steward more than half a billion dollars generated by gifts from the Rasmuson family for the betterment of Alaska. We are responsible for awarding approximately $30 million in grants annually to address community needs and support the good work of nonprofit organizations, cities, tribes and the State of Alaska, all while managing the Foundation’s assets to grow over time. We are proud of the rigorous level of due diligence we employ both in our grantmaking and our investment management.

Rasmuson Foundation’s annual giving represents a quarter of all private philanthropy in Alaska — individual, corporate and foundation. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we’ve learned a few things we’d like to share.

We have heard repeatedly from some supporting billion-plus budget cuts that “the private sector should step up and fill the gap.” This isn’t possible. Total philanthropic giving in Alaska in 2018 added up to approximately $135 million. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the severe cuts being proposed to our health care, education, transportation, housing and cultural infrastructure.

Over time, government has developed an effective and rational way of supporting the services Alaskans expect. Through ongoing financial partnerships between the private sector and State, federal and local governments, as well as tribes and nonprofits, Alaska has built a world-class library network, a public/private health care system that is copied around the globe, an innovative and dynamic workforce, and a housing system for seniors and people with disabilities that’s not only cost-efficient, but which provides these vulnerable populations with dignity and compassionate care. In every case, appropriated funds from the State of Alaska leverage local revenues, national sources and private funds to achieve greater results.

When the 7.1 earthquake struck last fall, 10 private, public and corporate philanthropies immediately came together to provide $690,000 to support more than 50 nonprofits delivering essential services to Alaskans, as government worked its processes to provide long-term aid to families and businesses.

Homelessness is a complex issue that affects communities across our state. Past efforts to assist Alaskans without housing have been met with mixed results. In Anchorage, the city and 22 businesses and philanthropic organizations, took proactive measures by launching a pilot program called Path to Independence last October.

With each partner bringing their unique strengths, expertise and financial resources to the table, 52 adults and children have been housed in units owned by private landlords as of the end of April. Nineteen people have found a job. Private philanthropy provided temporary rental assistance for six months and funded support services for up to one year. As the successful pilot comes to completion, a substantial scaling up of this work is in planning to house and assist more of our fellow Alaskans with getting back on their feet. The combination of public and private resources is at the core of this work.

Yet innovative partnerships and philanthropy can only go so far. The $30 million Rasmuson Foundation awards annually is what it costs to operate one tiny piece of the state budget — the Department of Law’s Criminal Division, for one year. More broadly, the total annual philanthropic investment in Alaska of $135 million represents just 8.4% of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget cut — the equivalent of operating the Pioneer Homes and paying for statewide technology services for a year.

This brings us to our original point. If philanthropy and private sector partnerships can’t fill the gap, what will happen if the governor’s cuts are passed as proposed? We believe that what’s left of a heavily diminished nonprofit sector will be overwhelmed by increased need. We instead propose what we believe is a responsible way for addressing the deficit: a steadily scaled approach that brings state spending in line with revenue over the next few years, which in turn provides our nonprofits and communities across the state time to adjust to a new financial structure.

Philanthropy can work hand-in-hand with government but can’t replace it. Alaskans — our neighbors, friends and family members — will be impacted should the cuts advance as proposed. We should be very clear about what’s at stake for our way of life before going in that direction.

Rebecca Brice Henderson, Curtis McQueen, Jason Metrokin, Mike Navarre, Kris Norosz and Marilyn Romano

Rasmuson Foundation Board of Directors

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