The CIRI Foundation President and CEO Susan Anderson likens herself to a fairy godmother. “It’s not quite as simple as showing up and waving your magic wand, but when you get to come to work every day and actually change lives, what more could you ask for? It’s pretty amazing.”
A private foundation established in 1982 by the CIRI Board of Directors, The CIRI Foundation (TCF) has contributed more than $29 million for the Alaska Native beneficiaries of CIRI to participate in post-secondary education. TCF offers funding for postsecondary education through scholarships, vocational training grants, individual fellowships, research and other education projects. A variety of village and tribal scholarships and grants are available as well.
“We have scholarship recipients who come and literally say TCF has literally changed their lives, and it has changed the lives of their family members,” Anderson said. “The recipients are doing all the hard work, but we get to help them along the way.”
For 35 years, TCF has helped fund the education and career development of original CIRI shareholders and their direct lineal descendants. But as CIRI shares continue to be gifted and inherited, the number of Alaska Native shareholders who are not original enrollees or direct lineal descendants has been increasing. To better serve this growing population, TCF created the Raven Fund in 2015.
“The Raven Fund is our way of kind of ‘pulling everyone into the hug,’” Anderson said. “It’s like a concentric circle – CIRI folks are in the middle, Alaska Native people are out from there, Alaskans are out from there and the world is out from there. The way our board has been looking at it is, how and what we do is in service to our people. If there are other people who happen to be helped along the way, then sure, why wouldn’t we do that?”
Program Officer and CIRI descendant Kyla Morris has been with TCF four years. A scholarship recipient herself, she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in communication and leadership from Gonzaga University.
“This is a great place to work – the people here are very supportive of you going to school while working,” she said. “It’s a very busy job when we’re up against scholarship deadlines, but it’s a very rewarding job. We get to see so many people from different walks of life, from high school students going to college for the first time to parents going back to school after 10 years. The other day we had a mom, a daughter and a son, and they were all going to school together in the same program.”
Program Assistant Stacey Lucason echoes Morris’ sentiments. “TCF is a nice place to work, even when it’s busy and there’s a lot going on, because we’re doing stuff that’s important and makes people happy and improves their lives.”
Lucason received funds herself while attending the University of Alaska Anchorage as a double major in philosophy and biology with a minor in Alaska Native studies. “(The scholarship) made such a difference in the amount of time I was able to focus on school,” she said. “When I first started attending college, I went to school part time and worked full time, and school was definitely that back-burner, second-priority thing. When I was able to switch to attending full time, I was able to actually get involved with the campus community and I met so many more people. It felt like, this is how college is supposed to be.”
Individual TCF scholarship and grant opportunities include:
- General scholarships: Awarded to CIRI original enrollees or direct lineal descendants, up to $5,000 per academic year for full-time students and up to $4,500 for part-time students.
- Vocational training grants: Awarded to CIRI original enrollees or direct lineal descendants, up to $4,500 per calendar year for students enrolled in a technical skill-training program.
- Raven Fund: Applicants are eligible for up to $2,500 per term for full-time students and up to $2,250 for part-time students, or up to $4,500 per calendar year for vocational students.
“The 35th anniversary of TCF is really an amazing legacy for CIRI as well as for TCF as a private foundation entity,” Anderson said. “Twenty-nine million dollars and 15,000 awards – that’s a huge amount of funds and people who have been changed through education and training.”
For information about The CIRI Foundation, visit www.thecirifoundation.org.