The 1990’s brought a period of growth to RurAL CAP’s community and child development programs. RurAL CAP introduced several national community service programs to rural Alaska, began providing direct services to the most difficult homeless population in Anchorage, and started two nationally recognized child and parent development programs.
Continuing a tradition that began in Alaska in the 1960s with the VISTA volunteer programs, RurAL CAP became one of three Alaskan agencies in 1994 to sponsor AmeriCorps, a new national community service program. RurAL CAP has since created four AmeriCorps programs and a VISTA program that provide direct services to rural Alaskans in the areas of education, public safety, human needs, and the environment.
The Child Development AmeriCorps program, started in 1994 as RurAL CAP’s original AmeriCorps program, later came to be known as the ARCTIC Program (Addressing Rural Challenges Through Intergenerational Cooperation). It served as a way for local people to address the child development needs identified by their communities. Each year, 10 ARCTIC members were recruited locally and dedicated their year of service to supporting healthy activities for youth, fostering child literacy, sponsoring parent trainings, hosting elder and youth events, and educating children about fire prevention. Although no longer in existence, the ARCTIC AmeriCorps program made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of Alaskans.
Originally started by the US EPA, the Alaska EPA AmeriCorps program came to RurAL CAP in 1996 and is now called the Rural Alaska Village Environmental Network Youth Development AmeriCorps Program (RAVEN YDA). The 20 members in the RAVEN YDA program are recruited from rural communities across Alaska. They serve their communities by improving solid waste management, sanitation, energy conservation, and other local environmental issues through community-based education and direct service activities.
Annually, up to 80 students participate in the Students-in-Service AmeriCorps program. Since 1999, RurAL CAP, in partnership with the social work department at the Universities of Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks, has provided undergraduate and graduate social work students with the opportunity to earn a partial education award by completing community service in conjunction with their practicum requirements. In 2001, the Students-in-Service program was expanded to include the University of Alaska Anchorage, School of Nursing.
In January 2004 RurAL CAP began the BIRCH (Building Initiatives in Rural Community Health) AmeriCorps Program. Fifteen BIRCH Members from rural communities across Alaska work with health providers and community residents to identify the highest priority health issues in their communities. The BIRCH AmeriCorps Program strengthens communities by expanding opportunities for people of all ages to be involved in community activities and decision making. Drawing upon the unique cultures and lifestyles of rural Alaskans, BIRCH AmeriCorps members support community members, youth, elders, families and communities in building local solutions to local health and wellness issues.
Each year up to 11 new Village Council Management Program (VCMP) VISTA Members are recruited from their local communities. VCMP VISTAs work with their local city or tribal council to develop grant writing programs, provide computer training, and sponsor computer networking activities.
Since RurAL CAP began sponsoring AmeriCorps and VISTA programs ten years ago, 470 Members have come through the programs with 86% of the Members graduating and receiving an education award.
Child Development Center
RurAL CAP’s Child Development Center opened its doors in 1995 in an effort to provide high-quality, full-day, year-round child care for Anchorage area families. The program focuses on each child’s development and interests, family involvement and staff development.
One of only a dozen National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited programs in the Anchorage area, the Child Development Center provides exemplary services to children six weeks to six years old.
While the Child Development Center incorporates the Head Start philosophy, it is not a Head Start program. The Center offers sliding fee scales to benefit low-income families.
Recipient of the John G. Gunter Blue Ribbon Best Practices Award from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Homeward Bound is a community reintegration program targeting homeless chronic alcoholics. It is one of only three known programs anywhere in the United States that engages, detoxifies, and provides transitional housing with ongoing case management, life skills, advocacy, and self-empowerment training. With a 25 bed transitional living program and dedicated staff, Homeward Bound provides chronic homeless alcoholics with the tools and resources needed to move from decades of homelessness to stable, meaningful, and personally satisfying reintegration into the community.
Community Bound began in 1999 as a complimentary component of Homeward Bound that focuses on employment and housing. Under the guidance of staff, program participants receive individualized employment training, an individualized money management plan, help returning to their community of choice, rental assistance (if needed), and up to 24 months of intensive case management follow-up services. Community Bound also helps clients to volunteer in the community. By participating in the volunteer program, the clients receive free training, a sense of accomplishment, and a chance to interact with someone completely outside their realm of comfort. In 2004 alone, Community Bound participants volunteered a total of 5,000 hours.
Averaging five speaking engagements per month, the Speakers’ Bureau was developed to educate, inform and enlighten the community on issues pertaining to homelessness, cultural identity, and human experience.
Parents as Teachers
A nationally recognized program, Parents as Teachers (PAT) is an early childhood parent education and family support program designed to help all parents give their children the best possible start in life. Started in 1999, RurAL CAP’s Parents as Teachers program provides parents with information on child development, prenatal through kindergarten entry, and involves parents in learning activities with their children that encourage language and intellectual growth, and physical and social-emotional skills.
One of RurAL CAP’s fastest growing programs, in 2004 PAT served over 300 families in the communities of Alakanuk, Chevak, Emmonak, Haines, Hydaburg, Ketchikan, Kluti-Kaah, Kodiak, Marshall, Mountain Village, Noorvik, Savoonga, and Toksook Bay.
The Beginning Alcohol Basic Education Studies (BABES) program was developed in the Lower-48 in 1979 by a nursery school teacher and a recovering alcoholic. Through puppets and storytelling, BABES helped children look at life situations that are not always easy to approach, offers hope in seemingly hopeless situations, and assists children to accept and live in reality. The program’s storytelling methods are similar to traditional Native teaching practices, which contributes greatly to BABES enthusiastic acceptance and success in Alaska.
“In the Spirit of the Family” was also introduced through RurAL CAP in 1990. Developed in Canada by the National Native Association of Treatment Directors, this family systems training program applies traditional Native family and community values, beliefs, and practices to examine and develop healthy whole family systems, rather than focusing on individual dysfunction.
The Emmonak Preschool Intervention Project began in 1991 as a five-year demonstration project funded through the federal Office of Substance Abuse Prevention. Through a cooperative effort between the people of Emmonak and RurAL CAP’s Alcohol Prevention and Child Development departments, the project develops a vision of health based on the “Spirit of the Family” model.
RurAL CAP’s Early Decisions Project develops, tests, refines and distributes individual Fetal Alcohol Syndrome prevention tools for use by FAS/FASD service providers, health care providers and schools, and prevention programs. The goal is to educate young women about the risks of alcohol to an unborn child, including the time before they know they are pregnant. Through the Early Decisions Project, RurAL CAP has developed a popular website (www.earlydecision.org), distributed the video, “The Final Score,” created the Early Decisions teaching unit, and developed educational posters and note cards. RurAL CAP is in the final stages of developing a computer game that will educate youth about the harmful effects of alcohol.