By Tanguy Libbrecht, CEO/American Red Cross of Alaska
Photos by Ralph Radford, Tanguy Libbrecht, Anne Johnson & Andrew Bogar/American Red Cross of Alaska
Floyd Pitts, Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer for the American Red Cross National Headquarters made a visit to Alaska in mid-July, to meet with and learn from volunteers, board members, staff members and our partners around the state. We began the trip in sunny Fairbanks in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center with introductions by an Athabaskan Chief, gathered in Anchorage at one of the most diverse middle schools in all of America, journeyed to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley where we enjoyed an informal, educational conversation with a dozen area volunteers, and finished in Juneau with a moving presentation in a traditional clan house, topped off by a volunteer picnic in the rain, with eagles flying overhead and harbor seals chasing salmon in the waters next to our picnic shelter.
July 15, 2019 | Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
We started off our Fairbanks visit with a Meet & Greet Coffee Hour with Floyd. Fairbanks City Mayor Jim Matherly and his chief of staff attended as well as three members of the city diversity committee, Sara Harriger, Executive Director of the Morris Thompson Cultural Center, and Fairbanks-area volunteers Ray and Tammy Miller and Rosita Wilburn.
Following the meet & greet, we gathered in the classroom space where Floyd gave a presentation to 21 attendees, including local partners from the United Way of the Tanana Valley, the Fairbanks Community Food Bank and others, Mayor Matherly, members of the diversity committee, and Red Cross volunteers and staff members.
To start us off, Tanana Chiefs Chief/Chairman Victor Joseph welcomed Floyd and spoke of the long history of the people of the Tanana and Nenana rivers and thanked Floyd for coming. I then thanked our partners and volunteers and acknowledged and thanked the tribe for allowing us the honor of presenting in a place that is on their traditional lands.
Following Floyd’s presentation, he attended the Cultural Connections show, which is performed by Alaska Native teens. Floyd and I very much enjoyed this show and he stayed afterwards to chat with them about opportunities for youth with the Red Cross. Floyd enjoyed the cultural experience so much that he purchased a pair of moccasins. When asking Elder Dixie Alexander how to keep them clean, she simply said, “Don’t get them dirty!” A good-natured end to a very successful day!
July 16, 2019 | Clark Middle School
This successful event was attended by about 40 volunteers, staff members, board members and community partners. Welcome remarks were given by myself and Clark Middle School Principal, Cessilye Williams.
Anchorage volunteers Bruce and Terri organized a team of about 6 volunteers and did a great job setting the room prior to the event, including setting up a mock shelter where attendees could experience the unique nature of the inside of a Red Cross emergency shelter by checking in at the shelter registration desk – where everyone is welcome, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or citizenship status; walking through the dormitory area; and grabbing a snack from the cafeteria area before finding a seat for the discussion.
Red Cross of Alaska Board of Director’s Diversity Committee Chair David Wulf and his wife Shelley made all the arrangements for the purchase and cooking of lunch for the event, and along with Board Diversity Committee Members Brenda Franz and Shawn Murphy, set up the grilling station and serving area.
Floyd’s presentation was very interactive, calling on the crowd to comment and participate. Floyd heard thoughtful comments from a diverse representation of our community and shared Red Cross diversity pins with the attendees.
July 17, 2019
On Wednesday, we met Disaster Program Manager Bill Morrow and his volunteer team for lunch in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. We had a vibrant discussion with the volunteer team about what makes the Mat-Su Valley unique, and what their specific challenges are. Floyd really enjoyed this up close and personal interaction with Bill and the team. Afterwards, Bill gave us a historical tour of Palmer, Wasilla, Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine.
July 19, 2019 | Walter Soboleff Building, Wayside Park
Floyd’s presentation in Juneau took place at the Walter Soboleff Building. The Walter Soboleff Building includes a clan house, which was given the name Shuká Hít (Ancestors’ House) during the grand opening ceremony in 2015.
Juneau volunteer leader Chip Wagoner helped to execute this successful event, where 46 people were in attendance, including the Mayor of Juneau, a representative from the legislature, the University of Alaska, Sealaska Corp, the United States Coast Guard, Juneau School District, Juneau Emergency Manager Tom Matisse, Alaska Steamship Response and SEOC Liason, members of the Alaska Native community, Red Cross volunteers and staff members, and many other area non-profit partners and community leaders. Floyd’s presentation and discussion was very well received with quite a bit of interaction and appreciation from the attendees, many of whom stayed beyond the original one hour time commitment.
That evening, Chip and Disaster Program Manager Andrew Bogar organized the annual volunteer appreciation picnic, which took place at Wayside Park. Hamburgers, hot dogs and grilled salmon were served, and volunteers graciously brought some potluck items to share. Though it was a rainy evening, this proved to be quite the scenic backdrop with bald eagles flying overhead, salmon being caught off the rocky beach and a harbor seal patrolling the area. Floyd spoke to the group of about 26 attendees and answered their questions in this intimate, scenic setting. Andrew presented Floyd with a gift from the volunteers – a beautiful framed poster of Alaska Native values.
Both events were a great success and a fitting ending to a week of diversity and learning. Floyd openly shared that he learned a lot about our unique challenges, our communities and our diversity.
“I have learned so much from donors, volunteers and staff during this trip. I will NEVER forget my trip to Alaska,” Floyd Pitts said.
Thank you to each and every volunteer, staff member and community partner that made these statewide events possible!