During our quasquicentennial (125th) year we have heard from a number of people who were involved with the merger of the three original organizations that became Alaska Children’s Services (ACS) in the early 70s. Before having these conversations I had imagined what might have taken place to bring the merger about. What I didn’t know was that my imagination didn’t take me far enough.
I imagined that there was a financial necessity based on the economy of our state before the oil money started flowing. I was right about that. I imagined that there were needs for services for children and families in our state that were not being met. And I was right about that too. What I didn’t imagine was how deep and desperate things were and how hard the people in those three organization were working to help build a better future for the children and families of our state.
By the time John and Dorothy Molletti, founders and managers of Anchorage Children’s Christian Home, Ken Fallon, Executive Director of Lutheran Youth Center, and Dick Gilbert, Executive Director of the Jesse Lee Home, got together in 1966, there was a very strong realization that the therapeutic services for the children and families of Alaska were completely inadequate. Desperate measures were needed. But they were not thinking about merging to begin with. Their first efforts were political; they knew that the state was constitutionally responsible for children’s well-being within the state. They also knew that the state was paying pennies on the dollar for their care. The three organizations came together to demand and eventually obtain more adequate funding for their services. Beyond the funding of their own programs, these four individuals came together to stand up for improvement of all children’s services throughout the state.
I was told by Ken Fallon on the phone last month that it was this sentiment that made them begin to look inward. They knew it would take years of hard work to get the state to turn its focus on developing a system to adequately take care of Alaska’s most needy children, but they could do something themselves that wouldn’t take state action. Dick Gilbert said it this way in an email. “We could do so much more together than apart.” This started the discussion, first between the four of them and later between their separate boards and finally between their national affiliate boards that formed Alaska Children’s Services, now AK Child & Family.
Sadly, both Dorothy and John Molletti have passed away, so we do not have the benefit of their perspective. Ken and Dick have both given the Mollettis a lot of credit for their work on the merger. Dick gives Ken the credit for pushing the idea of merger first. Dick became the first Executive Director, and Ken the first Program Director. After a few years, Ken left for a job in the lower forty eight. He was replaced by Lynn Gaylor, another person we have heard from of late. Ken eventually returned to Alaska to help set up some of the first chemical dependency treatment programs, this time working within the state system. When I ended my call with Ken after talking about all the things we are doing and still wish to do, he told me that helping to create our organization “was the single most important thing he did in his entire career”.
We have some great shoulders to stand on, and some high expectations to live up to. I know the children and families of Alaska owe a lot to those individuals…..as do all of us.