56605 Sitka Drive
Otis, OR 97368
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January Director's Journal

The transition from one year to the next is a busy time for all nonprofits, Sitka included. Amidst the bustle and activity, I feel a pressure building behind my upper ribs like a gulp of swallowed air.

Sitting down in a quiet place to write this journal entry, I exhale and a flood of memories from the past year surfaces: acts of kindness and courage, generous listening and shared wisdom, the silent and supportive acts of people who spiral everyone around them upward like thermal winds under the wings of sea birds.

The trapped-air feeling is unspoken gratitude for these hard-to-put-words-to gestures by people who don’t seek praise.

In the coming weeks, as Sitka closes the official books on the financial year, we will share Sitka’s 2022 Impact Report with all of you, including programmatic, financial and operational progress and results and a look at the year ahead.

In this more personal space, I would like to voice gratitude for just a few of the people who inspire and move me more than they know because I don’t thank them enough.

In 2019, Nicola Harrison applied for a job at Sitka, and families in our coastal community will be forever grateful that she did. At the time, it was a leap of faith. Nicola was passionately serving as the Executive Director for Community Arts Project, the small and mighty Tillamook-based nonprofit for which Sitka assumed stewardship in 2020. The Youth Program has since grown to serve over 1,300 Pre-K to 8th grade kids across two coastal counties with the support of the Sitka community and Nicola’s guidance. As a result, the audience Sitka now serves has grown by over 30% and includes people at all ages and stages of life.

I am delighted to share that Nicola has accepted a promotion and will now serve as Sitka’s Assistant Director.

Thank you, Nicola. Your moral compass points true north, leading me and the team we serve forward in action toward our mission on a daily basis. You model optimism and true grit no matter how challenging the professional or personal circumstances are.

Assistant Director Nicola Harrison

These past years have indeed had their challenges. On the hardest days and in the most nuanced of circumstances, Martha Richards, Executive Director of the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, has served as a personal coach and mentor. Each time I reached out for moral support I was sure she would be too busy. Undoubtedly, she was, but that never stopped her from being there when it was her voice of good-humored wisdom or tough love I needed most. I am just one of hundreds of nonprofit and social good leaders that Martha serves in this way, making us feel that she has all the time in the world for us and assuring us that we are on the right track. After many years of service and immeasurable impact, Martha’s last day with the Miller Foundation is this month.

Martha, you are a personal inspiration. Nonprofit professionals work so hard, and yet, with just a few perceptive and supportive words from you, we feel seen and heard, and we reaffirm our vows to serve the public good. Thank you for believing in Sitka and for helping so many arts and culture leaders and organizations serve Oregon with our all.

In fitting tribute, it is a joy to share that the Sitka community came together and met the Miller Foundation’s $50,000 year-end matching challenge. These funds will make an immediate impact in our work to share Sitka’s programs and natural resources with new and underserved audiences. This newsletter includes an early thank you, and we will share more details and thanks in the weeks ahead.

My intention here is not to acknowledge Nicola and Martha above all others but, rather, to make a New Year’s resolution to say thank you more often and with specificity, especially to those whose good work and deeds happen behind the scenes and under the radar, and who do so much for so many.

As we shared earlier this month, we are sad to learn that beloved artist-in-residence and longtime Sitka instructor and collaborator Larry Thomas passed away on January 6. You can read Sitka’s remembrance here. In researching his long and influential history with Sitka, I was especially moved to learn that Larry took part in early efforts to help Sitka serve youth in the local community by teaching drawing workshops at Nestucca High School.

Sitka's Tiny Stairwell Gallery will exhibit prints by Larry Thomas in 2023.

Nicola and I begin this New Year inspired by Larry Thomas’s legacy and committed to nurturing the next generation of artists and ecologists and championing art and nature access for all.

With gratitude,

Alison Dennis

Executive Director

Sitka Youth Program participants