Rasmuson Foundation 2021 Sabbatical Program awardees

Leaders of three Alaska nonprofit organizations and a tribal housing entity have been named as recipients of a 2021 Rasmuson Foundation Sabbatical Award. They are seeking time with family, opportunities for staff to grow, and a chance to decompress.

Each recipient will have three to six months in the coming year to unplug from demanding jobs to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. Awards of up to $40,000 are grants to the individual’s employer to help cover the leader’s salary and costs of travel and other experiences during the months off work.

The Rasmuson Foundation Sabbatical Committee, which includes prior recipients, recently met to select the 2021 awardees.

Each recipient brings a long history of community service. They demonstrated a pressing need for time away and established that their organizations will benefit by allowing others to step up. They identify the opportunity for staff development as one of the key benefits.

“It’s never easy running a nonprofit organization, and the pandemic has amplified the challenges. One applicant mentioned how COVID has increased the work and stress, while taking some of the joy out,” said Roy Agloinga, a Rasmuson Foundation program officer who has overseen the Sabbatical Program since 2015. “We all are missing close personal connections. Time away from work during a sabbatical will help these valued nonprofit and tribal leahttps://www.rasmuson.org/grants/sabbatical/ders reconnect with family and find other ways to refresh and recommit to essential work in health care, housing and the arts.”

Since the first awards in 2005, the Foundation has funded 96 sabbaticals counting the 2021 cohort.

Meet the 2021 sabbatical recipients:

Odette Butler, executive director, Breast Cancer Detection Center of Alaska, which provides mobile mammography services regardless of ability to pay. Butler has led the center since 2005. She has considered seeking a sabbatical before, but the timing was never right. Preparing for the time away will provide a needed push for her to create protocols for duties and priorities. During her sabbatical, she is eager to spend time in New York visiting her parents (after quarantining for 14 days), then visiting her children and grandchildren. She also plans to take culinary classes and relax. “It is a chance of a lifetime,” she said in her application.

Olen Harris, executive director, North Pacific Rim Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing options focused on Alaska Native individuals and families in the Chugach region. Harris has led the housing authority for 23 years and recently completed a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Alaska Southeast. He plans an extended family trip to Thailand with his wife, who is from Thailand, and their two daughters. He also plans to bring his family to some of the region’s villages, so the children can experience the culture, resources and diversity. He looks forward to not just time off from work, but a chance to reflect and refocus energy to continue to innovate and better serve the communities of the Chugach region, which includes Prince William Sound, Seward and lower Cook Inlet.

Jessica Peña, executive director, Fairbanks Arts Association. She is a practicing artist who has been with the arts association for the last eight years, helping it become a partner in arts innovation and promotion of the arts in Interior Alaska. During her sabbatical, she will focus on her family, her health and her art. Once travel is safe, she plans to take her partner and children to her maternal ancestral lands in Norway. She also plans to visit Ireland, another ancestral homeland, and learn more about the government’s “Creative Ireland Programme,” which centers arts and creativity in the lives of young people. She expects to return with healthy new habits and a fresh focus to serve the arts community for many more years.

Elizabeth Ripley, CEO, Mat-Su Health Foundation, which invests in programs and services to improve health and well-being for people in the Mat-Su. Ripley has led the organization since 2008 during a time when the health foundation’s ownership interest in Mat-Su Regional grew, returning more money to the community for scholarships and projects. The pressures of the pandemic have added to an already demanding job. She is looking forward to returning with a reinforced sense of purpose and strength — and new focus on health equity. During her sabbatical, she hopes to spend time in social bubbles with her husband, children, first grandchild and aging parents, relax on various trips including rafting the Colorado River and, if COVID allows, visit a cousin in Germany as well as go on an African safari.