AAPHD Immediate Past President Kathryn Atchison's introductory remarks

Today, AAPHD is making history. Over the past 24 years, the AAPHD Public Service Award has been presented 19 times, to 21 different individuals. These individuals represent leaders who have made great strides in helping the US people achieve better oral health. They have done this through a variety of means: through policy, advocacy, even from the platform of the Surgeon General's office. Today, we are recognizing a new model for improving the public's health, through the Rasmuson Foundation. In Tuesday's philanthropy session, we heard how we should consider the three roles that foundations can take to help their partners: sharing the stewardship for a problem, how foundations could work with a professional organization to assemble dual resources to attack a problem, and acting as an agent of change to make systems change.

In October, 2006, we had enacted a policy stating that AAPHD was supportive of the DHAT as a workforce model and demonstration, and in particular of objective evaluations of this and other workforce demonstrations. In the spring of 2007, a small group of us, including Larry Hill, Amos Deinard, and I were invited to join a delegation to go to Alaska and see the depth of the oral health problem there. We saw the geographic challenges, we saw the enthusiastic community support for the economic development created by having their own clinics to man with trained care providers, we saw the hope, and we saw the continuing need for multi-level service providers, including dentists and dental hygienists.

But, what greatly impressed me was the Rasmuson Foundation's process of working with the community to determine the community's needs and their persistence in working with the community to act as a change agent. Despite challenges, the Rasmuson Foundation stood strongly as supportive of the community working through its problem, finding solutions, and finding partners from other foundations to partner in the solutions. To quote from Rasmuson President Diane Kaplan's message in a press release entitled "Fighting Tooth and Nail for Change: Special Challenges in Rural Communities, "We've learned that foundations must prepare for controversy and opposition in tackling entrenched problems such as poor oral health care in rural locations. Foundations must work to use their leverage beyond the delivery of grant dollars. However, despite everything you do to prepare, don't be surprised if the opposition is stronger than you anticipate. Solutions are never easy as they might appear. …change is hard". For accepting the challenge and the responsibility to help the people of Alaska, we would like to recognize the Rasmuson Foundation with the AAPHD Public Service Award.

Representing the Foundation today is Joel Neimeyer. Joel started his engagement in this activity as a Civil Engineer who had previously worked in water fluoridation in Alaska. Joel was also the tour guide who took us on this personal visitation to the villages of Alaska, and to consider first-hand the importance of a DHAT, and to frame it a little broader, an extension of provider roles in Alaska.

Rasmuson Foundation Program Officer Joel Neimeyer's acceptance remarks

Today, I would like to share with you several stories with a common reference point – a small Inupiat Eskimo coastal village called Unalakleet – which means "where the south wind blows."

I first visited Unalakleet in 1985 as a greenhorn project manager working on a community water project. I was not the first of my family to visit the community. About 100 years ago my grandfather, Mikkel Sara, a young reindeer herder, from Akiak – a Yupik Eskimo village about 150 miles south - was the first to visit Unalakleet.

My grandfather's family was one of thirteen Sαmi families from Norway brought to Alaska in 1898 to teach reindeer husbandry to Alaska Natives. I am certain that my grandfather found many of the attributes I found – friendly people who were not afraid of hard work, a rich subsistence lifestyle relying on fish, and marine and land mammals, and a common concern for the well-being of all community members.

Some of you may have heard of Unalakleet – it is the first coastal checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail and in March 1985 just one month before I first visited the community it was the site of a significant historical moment for the sled dog race. When the lead group of mushers arrived in the community – coming out of the hills to the east of the community - they were heading into a fierce ground blizzard. All the mushers decided to hunker down and wait out the storm. Except for one – a young woman named Libby Riddles. She went out onto the offshore ice and braved the storm – leaving behind all the men who never caught up. She was the first woman to win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. When I visited the community a month after her victory I reflected on her decision to go out on the ice - alone in the middle of a howling ground blizzard - a solitary journey to the next checkpoint. Seeing the environment that she conquered, I concluded that Libby demonstrated amazing courage. Unbelievable courage.

I reflected on the type of courage necessary to go out on the ice when I first met Aurora Johnson two years ago. Aurora is an Inupiat Eskimo from Unalakleet. Her challenges were different – but she to - went out on the ice. She volunteered to participate in what we in Alaska having been calling "a local solution for a local problem". Aurora was in the second cohort of DHAT students to travel to New Zealand – spending two years away from family and friends. Today she now serves her village of 800 providing needed oral health care.

The Rasmuson Foundation funds in Alaska and we take pride in the success of those we invest in – we are proud to have participated in Aurora's success, and the opportunity for the village of Unalakleet and the surrounding four villages that now enjoy better oral health due to her courage. We are proud to collaborate on the dental health aide therapist workforce model with ANTHC, the Alaska regional health corporations, and our fellow funders such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, RWJF, Bethel Community Services Foundation, the Murdock Charitable Trust and so many others. All of the stakeholders working on the success of the DHAT program have demonstrated courage on their own respective journeys out on the ice.

I want to thank the AAPHD for recognizing the Rasmuson Foundation with the Public Service Award. It is in the spirit of Aurora Johnson and all the other courageous health care providers – past and current - who have dedicated their professional lives to serving rural Alaska villages that we accept the award. We encourage each of you to reflect on how you can individually go out on the ice and improve health care access in your respective communities – whether they are in rural settings, poor urban communities, or on the cold western edge of Alaska in a village with an Inupiat Eskimo name that means "where the south wind blows". Thank you.