Employee Volunteerism: Karen’s story
Karen Stewart is the Compliance & Documentation Specialist, supporting the Operations Team at the Valdez Marine Terminal. She’s known in Valdez as a volunteer extraordinaire, involved in a wide range of community efforts and projects. Steward spoke about what motivates her to give back to her community:
Finding something I am passionate about was easy to do in Valdez. I wanted to do something good for others and the community. I want to make it a better place to live. I want to help change peoples lives for the better.
I have been on several boards during my 24 years in Valdez, including the World Extreme Skiing Championships (WESC) where I was president for 5 years. WESC catapulted Valdez in a new direction, into helicopter and snowcat skiing and hopefully — someday -- a ski resort. That would be a dream come true.
I sat on the Valdez United Way (UW) Board for nine years and acted as president and vice president. We were able to do so many great things for the more than 46 non-profit organizations in Valdez. It was certainly gratifying to see so much good done with the money raised during the fall campaign. It could not be successful with out the generosity of Alyeska and our contractor partners.
I became involved with Junior Achievement (JA) in 1995. I was the program coordinator for Valdez for 16 years. It was a wonderful opportunity to become involved with the Valdez school system and make a difference in a young person’s life. As a consultant for JA, I was able to spend time in the classroom and have hands-on learning time with students from kindergarten through sixth grade. I also raised funds to support for JA in Valdez, and connected with professionals in the community to teach the classes. Alyeska played a strategic role in JA by sponsoring the program and allowing their employees paid time to teach the five classes in the JA program.
I have been on the Valdez Museum and Historical Archives for ten years. The board is a very active and hard working. Not only is the board active in decision making and policies, there is always something going on at the museum. We’re working on hosting exhibit openings, a revitalization program, the Exxon Oil Spill Exhibit, and we are currently developing a new aviation exhibit.
Fundraising is a big part for a non-profit. I have chaired the annual museum fundraiser, 'The Roadhouse Dinner,' for ten years, and have helped to raise thousands of dollars for this very active place. It has been fun and a lot of work. Alyeska has been helpful in contributing $500 to organizations that employees give more than 50 hours of volunteer time to, and through my volunteering and keeping track of my hours, the museum has benefited from Alyeska’s philanthropy program.
Currently I am chairing the Gold Rush Days’ committee called the Golden Rock Awards, promoting community beautification through the art of gardening. Gold Rush Days is the first weekend in August and money raised during this weeklong celebration goes to the Valdez Scholarship Fund.
So there you have it. There is so much to do in Valdez if you like to get involved and give of your time. I enjoy volunteering, chairing committees, and making a difference in an individual’s life and the community.
Alyeska supports environment through various programs
June 30 marked Carol Comeau’s last day as Anchorage School District Superintendent, and she ended her career in the same place she started it: on an elementary school playground. Comeau joined volunteers from the Parks Foundation, including a group from Alyeska, as they renovated the North Russian Jack Springs Park. The park needed a makeover and is receiving new playground equipment later in August.
This is just one example of numerous efforts by Alyeska throughout the year to protect and improve Alaska’s environment. Alyeska invests in many environmental projects and organizations throughout the year, including the Alaska Botanical Gardens in Anchorage, the Calyspo Farms School gardens and Project Green Star in Fairbanks, the Eagle River Nature Center, Bird TLC, the Prince William Sound Science Center in Valdez, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage and the Valley Center for Recycling in Mat-Su.
Saturday’s event focused on cleaning up a well-loved park and celebrating the career of Comeau, who started her career with the Anchorage School District as a playground attendant at Ocean View Elementary. During her 35 years with the district, she worked her way up to the superintendent role.
At Saturday’s event, supporters thanked her for her years of service, many bringing school supplies to donate to one of her favorite initiatives, Helping Us Give School Supplies (H.U.G.S.S.). The Anchorage Park Foundation has also established the "Russian Jack Springs Park Playground Fund" and is accepting ongoing community donations..
Alyeska volunteers who signed on to assist on Saturday said it was rewarding spending several hours giving back to the community and improving the environment for park users.
Corporate Communications Director Michelle Egan helped plan the event.
“I worked with Carol for 10 years before coming to Alyeska, and found this event to be a really fitting way for her to say goodbye to the community,” Egan said. “Those who work closely with her know she is especially passionate about the early developmental childhood years which made this project a great fit.”
Helping hands in the museum community
Alyeska volunteers headed to the Valdez Museum June 28 to help install photos and finish landscaping projects before Fourth of July community events began. Alyeska is a long-time friend to this Valdez community institution, sponsoring exhibits, its annual Roadhouse fundraiser and the student art show each spring.
“Over the last 15 years, Alyeska really has made a difference at the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive through sponsorship dollars and volunteer hours,” says Patti Relay, Executive Director. “Bottom line, we could not have done it without Alyeska and its employees.”
Helping the Valdez Museum is just one of the ways Alyeska partners with museums and cultural centers around the state.
In Fairbanks, Alyeska has been an important contributor to help build exhibits in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor’s Center. The center celebrates the Athabascan culture and educates visitors about how residents live and work in the Interior.
Alyeska recently donated an intricate beaded belt by Athabascan elder Hannah Solomon for display at the Center. Alyeska also supports the newly formed Cultural Endowment Program there, and a periodically supports the University of Alaska Museum of the North with funding to support special exhibits.
Alyeska Pipeline has supported various exhibits and the renovation at the Anchorage Museum. In 2011, Anchorage donations included a contribution to the Alaska Museum of Natural History and to the Anchorage Museum, where an entire display dedicated to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System is visited by thousands of people every year.
Committed to the Alaska Native community
Every fall, Alyeska Pipeline employees have a proud presence at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Their involvement runs the gamut - from staffing booths, to bundling up in arctic gear and greeting attendees at the door, to speaking to the audiences or serving on panels at the Elders and Youth Convention.
Providing support for AFN aligns with Alyeska’s commitment to supporting the Alaska Native community – a commitment that has existed from the pipeline’s inception, when Alyeska committed to recruiting, training, employing and promoting Alaska Natives.The agreement has helped forge a strong relationship between Alyeska and the Alaska Native community and is one of the things that makes TAPS unique.
“Alyeska preserves historical relationships with organizations that greatly benefit our Alaska Native people, communities, and the State of Alaska as a whole,” said Tabetha Toloff, Alaska Native Program Manager. “It’s important that as ambassadors of the company, Alyeska employees are connected to the rich history and relationships that have helped shape our corporate culture and reputation of being committed to our stakeholders.”
As part of the program, Alyeska also supports scholarship funds and education efforts, and invests resources in exposing these professionals to different aspects of the business, preparing them for and helping them advance within the industry.
The annual AFN event – an impressive gathering of residents from across Alaska – remains a good opportunity for TAPS employees to interact with the community and show their support for their neighbors.
"Alyeska employees are encouraged to participate with partnering organizations during events such as the Elders and Youth Conference and AFN Convention,” Toloff said. “Giving back to our stakeholders through acts of servant leadership is just one way we are able to say thank you for all that Alaskans have done to help shape the future of our people and great state.”
Alyeska continues investing in a long-standing partnership with the Alaska Federation of Natives through a commitment of $473,000 over five years.
Employee volunteerism: Betsy’s story
Alyeska Oil Movements Director Betsy Haines is an active board member for the YWCA Anchorage, motivated by a personal commitment to empowering women and youth.
How long have you been involved in the YWCA and in what capacity? I have attended the YWCA Women of Achievement luncheon, at the Alyeska sponsored table, for more than 15 years. Every time I attended I was so inspired by the women who were highlighted. I started to look into the mission of the YWCA and was equally inspired; I joined the board two years ago.
Why are you so committed to the YWCA? I have always been committed to helping girls and women improve their lives. Throughout my career I have looked for opportunity to use my experience and skills in differing areas whether it is helping Girl Scouts, the school district, women in Alyeska, Habitat for Humanity or elsewhere. I have also been involved with the Gold Nugget Triathlon whose mission is to improve the lives of women and girls through athletics.
The mission of the YWCA is very similar and equally powerful: “eliminating racism and empowering women.” I wanted to be a part of that mission because it is so important to the women and girls of our community and state.
What do you want others to know about the work of the Y? The YWCA is headed in a direction that excites me and many others. We have a new Executive Director who is amazing and inspiring and already has challenged the organization to expand from a local Anchorage view to a statewide view. We have three “signature” programs: Women’s Economic Empowerment, Women’s Wellness, and Youth Empowerment. I have focused my attention on the youth programs and with great support from Alyeska we fund Girls and Boys Circle programs at the elementary schools around Anchorage and in particular at our business partner school, Russian Jack. The work of the YWCA can help change the lives of our youth for the better!
How does your involvement with the Y align with your role at Alyeska? I believe in giving back to my community and here at Alyeska our matching gift plan, our school business partnership and time we are allowed to support community events is a real benefit and one I don’t take lightly. As budgets tighten up around the state, I feel fortunate to work at a company that still supports the community and it is part of my job to direct that support to areas where I have the energy and interest to match.
Health Fair delivers to Prince William Sound
For the communities of Cordova and Whittier, the tug/barge Krystal Sea/Cordova Provider is a common sight, shuttling supplies and fish between the two communities. But for eight days each spring, the vessel has extra special cargo--two nurses, a gaggle of wellness care providers and a mammogram van--as it makes its way around Prince William Sound for the Alyeska Traveling Health and Safety Fair.
For over ten years, the Alyeska-sponsored event has brought vital health and wellness services to communities of Cordova, Whittier, Chenega Bay, Tatitlek and Valdez. Medical professionals set up testing equipment so that community members can learn their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other important health information. Volunteers also head into classrooms to talk to kids about drugs and alcohol, suicide, nutrition and other issues brought up by teachers and community members beforehand. The mammogram van, brought along by the Breast Cancer Detection Center in Fairbanks, saves many women an expensive trip into Anchorage.
“The Prince William Sound Health and Safety Fair is an incredibly important resource for the residents of the Sound,” says Pam Shirrell, a public health nurse and long time co-organizer of the event. “Alyeska saw a need, and worked creatively to solve it. Ten years later, we’re still seeing positive outcomes in the communities from our time there.”
Alyeska Lives United!
Along the pipeline, the United Way campaign is a unified event for TAPS employees. Simultaneous campaign kickoff and closeout celebrations always draw dozens of employees who are committed to supporting United Way’s work. Often these events include representatives from nonprofits that are benefited by United Way.
Why do so many Alyeska employees feel so strongly about the United Way? “For me, it’s about sharing what I can to help build a stronger community and improve the quality of life for those less fortunate than myself,” Inventory Control/Warehouse Supervisor Cheryl Graan said.
Although the cause is a serious one, employees like to have fun while raising money. Valdez is host to a variety of events during the annual company-wide United Way drive each fall. Whether it’s a hot dog drive-thru fundraiser, or a community 5-K run, they know how to get in the spirit!
Anchorage sponsors a “Canstruction” event as part of their United Way campaign to generate non-perishable food items and monetary donations for the Food Bank of Alaska. Some examples of sculptures include the Statue of Liberty and, of course, scenic representations of the pipeline. In order to participate in the contest, teams raise funds to cover design and construction costs, as well as building and dismantling the sculptures. Last year’s winning sculpture was Food Bank of Alaska’s logo.
Fairbanks has a tradition of concluding their United Way campaign with a pie contest. Bidding for homemade desserts is fast and furious, with ROW/EP&C Director Lorena Hegdal’s blueberry dessert a traditional top finisher. In addition to raising money for United Way, events such as these help build employee morale and ensure Alyeska’s reputation as a good corporate citizen.
In recent years, employees’ donations have benefited the United Way organizations in Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Matanuska Susitna Borough, the Kenai Peninsula, southeast Alaska and Valdez. Alyeska employees’ contributions are matched dollar-for-dollar. In 2011, the company’s overall donation to United Way topped $573,000.
Alyeska invests in school-business partnerships
From Thanksgiving feasts to Santa Claus fly-ins to in-classroom volunteering and tutoring, Alyeska Pipeline and its employees are committed to supporting Alaska’s schools and students. In every community where Anchorage has offices, employees have connected with local students and teachers. They help with school events and tutor students in the classroom.
Alyeska’s philanthropy program supports the reading program and the robotics team at the Valdez City Schools. Volunteers in Valdez have delivered Junior Achievement curriculum in classrooms for more than 25 years, said Flora Teo, President of Junior Achievement of Alaska. More recently, Alyeska has partnered with Junior Achievement and funded programs for Hermon Hutchens Elementary school, ensuring that more than 250 young people in Valdez receive the benefit of a Junior Achievement volunteer in their classroom.
“Junior Achievement helps make education relevant, encourages young people stay in school, help educators achieve their goals in the classroom, and educates Alaska’s future business leaders on the free enterprise system,” Teo said. “The level of dedication Alyeska has to young people goes beyond their financial support. Alyeska supports volunteerism in the community by allowing employees to spend time in the classroom to present JA lessons, and to discuss the workforce and the free enterprise system with young people across the state. This investment will help ensure that the future workforce in Alaska will be educated and inspired to succeed in a global economy.”
In Fairbanks, Alyeska supports a school-business partnership with Ticasuk Brown Elementary in North Pole. For the past several years, Alyeska has matched donations for various philanthropy projects undertaken by the student council. This year, the school raised over $1,000 (which was matched by Alyeska) for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Alyeska also supports the Boys and Girls Home School in Fairbanks with donations for projects such as a student garden, a peace room, and a “peace pole.” In addition, Alyeska maintains a close relationship with the school in Stevens Village, a pipeline corridor village near the Yukon River crossing. Past collaborative efforts include support for age-appropriate workforce development activities while the students were visiting Fairbanks, money for moose hide and other supplies needed to refurbish the students’ dance costumes, and money for books and other library supplies. And of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the toys and fresh fruit delivered annually to the children of Stevens Village, Rampart and Wiseman via helicopter by Alyeska employees and contractors disguised as Santa and his elves.
Anchorage-area employees have partnered with Russian Jack Elementary School for years – dating back to when the Anchorage headquarters was located beside the school. About a dozen volunteers every year spend time in the school, reading with students who need extra help.
“When I was a child in third grade, I had reading problems,” said Mike Levshakoff, Public Relations Coordinator at Alyeska. Encouraged after he read a long novel, Levshakoff started reading avidly and by fifth grade, was reading above grade level. “So that’s why I read with the kids,” he said. “I know not everyone has had an experience where reading was enjoyable.”
Many employees recall when the Russian Jack Elementary School burned down in 1998. Alyeska let the school use space in its headquarters for classrooms. Today, Alyeska still delivers a Thanksgiving feast to the students each November – always a highlight of the year for employees and students alike.
Alyeska employees Relay for Life
On June 22, Alyeska employees in Valdez spent hour-long shifts walking around the high school track as they participated in the American Cancer Society’s 24-hour Relay for Life in Valdez. This important event--held around Alaska and the country over the course of several weeks--raises money for cancer research and resources for those recently diagnosed.
“I think almost everyone knows someone that has been affected by cancer,” said Jenette Vlasoff, an Alyeska employee who organized the company’s Relay for Life team this year. “It’s important that Alyeska is out there in the community showing support for our friends and family members who have been affected by the disease.”
As well as organizing a team of employees to participate in the 24-hour relay, Alyeska supports the Relay financially in both Valdez and Fairbanks and supports cancer research funding and treatment resources in other ways. For instance, Alyeska sponsors a table at the American Cancer Society’s Anchorage Food and Wine festival, a major fundraiser for the non-profit in Alaska.
The company is a long-time sponsor of the Breast Cancer Detection Center in Fairbanks, and contributed funds so BCDC could purchase a new mammogram van, an important resource for Alaskan residents in smaller communities without access to a medical facility.
“Supporting the fight against cancer is a great example of how Alyeska contributes both money and volunteers to important causes,” Valdez Communications Manager Kate Herring said before leaving to walk laps around the track as part of the Valdez Relay for Life team.