During my freshman year at Homer High School a youth-run group was formed. Its focus turned outward, to the needs of our community, at a time in our lives when self-absorption ruled.
The Homer Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee, or YAC, provided support to organizations that served youth in healthy, affordable and easily accessible activities. There were 10 of us the first year, spanning middle through high school.
With guidance from Homer Foundation members Bonnie Jason and Joy Steward, we learned the important aspects of grant making and fund development.
In turn, we learned how philanthropy related to building a better community and how, despite our youth, we could effectively contribute to these improvements.
In Homer’s community, I’ve felt philanthropy occurring in multitudes. People give to each other in important ways — and not just monetarily. Individuals regularly contribute what resources they have — time, knowledge, creative energy, voice — to those without.
I’ve been lucky enough to receive wisdom passed on to me by teachers, children in the community, coaches, and parents who aren’t even my own. It has been said that it takes a community to raise a child, and in Homer I’ve felt this sentiment practiced. Giving resourcefully and pitching in seem to be essential elements of our community’s foundation.
My introduction to philanthropy through YAC and the Homer Foundation continued to influence me after leaving Homer for college. My sister and I started our own small business, called Salmon Sisters, while away at school, and one of the keystones to our vision was that we would be able to give back to organizations and causes that were important to us.
With Salmon Sisters we promote awareness for sustainable fisheries and healthy oceans with apparel and art so our lifestyle as commercial fishermen is long lasting. We have partnered with organizations with similar visions like the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Great Land Trust. We give a percentage of our sales to these organizations in order to support their efforts in maintaining and promoting healthy fish habitat.
I’ve realized that we can play a positive role in our community even when we are absent from it. My sister and I have not forgotten the ways Homer supported and inspired us while growing up there, and we attempt to remain stewards of the place that raised us. This spring we helped support the Drew Scalzi Memorial Maritime Scholarship, established to help young adults pursuing a career in the maritime field or who are from fishing families in the Homer area.
This year the scholarship was awarded to a young man who is the first male in his community of Russian Old Believers to go to college or trade school. This, to us, is a great reward for giving.
More than giving money, philanthropy seems to be about looking outward rather than inward — about offering something that is going to help someone else, and is going to make lasting change. It’s about noticing the world around us and giving to its needs, within our means.
Emma Teal Laukitis was raised on a homestead near False Pass. She has lived in Homer during winters, but has returned to the Aleutians to commercial fish with her family each summer. She recently graduated from Williams College, where she studied English and studio art. She and her sister Claire are about to celebrate the second year as small business owners, and look forward to a creative future with their company, Salmon Sisters.