We are pleased to welcome our former CEO, Jim Maley back to Alaska for our 25th annual Alaska Flag Day Celebration on Sunday, July 9th! Jim has been an integral part of the evolution of our agency and his dedication and care for children & families continues to be unwavering. Please enjoy the following interview with him, on his development of our first ever Alaska Flag Day Celebration, the agency & his passion for helping young people!
Don't forget to register for this year's event here: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07ee7e0heic0164da8&llr=7xgdmwxab
Tickets are just $5/individual; $20/family (any size!)
1. What have you been up to since your time at AK Child & Family?
Anyone who has spent much time around me over the years knows that, outside of my career, I have two passions in life – my family and music. My hope upon retirement was to continue that focus. My three sons were spread across the country in Oregon, Colorado, and Maine; and we own a home in Colorado. My family has grown significantly with the addition of three grandsons, bringing the total to five. My wife Susan and I spent considerable time providing day care for grandson Hudson from the time he was born to his present age of four. His brother Crosby came along 18 months later so I have two little ones that keep me hopping. The other three grandsons are spread out a bit further. Duncan, the oldest at 14 attends a prep school in New Hampshire, while his 12 year old brother is with his parents in Dubai, UAE. The youngest, Freddie, lives with his mom and dad in Maine.
I continue to enjoy live music and Colorado is an ideal place to do so. My son Paul plays regularly in two fairly well known bands, one of which made its debut at Red Rocks Amphitheater last spring. I try to see as many concerts of favorite musicians as I can.
Unfortunately, the last year has been a difficult one. Susan was in a car accident last Spring while visiting our kids in Maine. Following long stays in the hospital and rehab, she passed away in September. This has drawn our family much closer together and we feel blessed to have each other to lean on.
2. What are you most looking forward to when you return to AK this summer?
I spent nineteen years in this great state and count dozens of its residents as very close friends. I have missed all of them and look forward to reuniting and continuing our close friendships. Social media is a wonderful thing and I've been able to continue many friendships via that medium. That includes many, many colleagues who are carrying on with the mission of AK Child & Family. I believe the most important job I had at the agency was hiring the right people. Lots of those folks continue at AK Child & Family in similar or expanded roles. I am very excited to sit down with them and hear all about their challenges and successes.
3. What is your background, and did you always know you wanted to work with youth?
I grew up on a cotton farm in Oklahoma and spent the formative years of my youth in a very small town. I had several teachers who were big influences in my life and I decided early on that I wanted to be a teacher.
While in college, however, I took a job as a live-in dorm counselor at a residential treatment program. That experience opened up a whole new world for me. Unfortunately, this was during the Viet Nam era and so my life, along with millions of others was significantly disrupted. I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years as a teacher-trainer in the Dominican Republic. That experience provided me with a world view I had never been aware of growing up in rural Oklahoma. Upon return, I completed my graduate degree in Psychology.
I think the sense of satisfaction from working with kids and the adventuresome spirit I had begun to cultivate in the Peace Corps are the factors that ultimately led me to Alaska.
4. How did you become involved with AK Child & Family and what was your role?
In 1991, I was working in the Chicago area as COO of a residential treatment center. A flyer came across my desk advertising an Executive Director position in Alaska. I had never been to Alaska, wasn't sure I would ever want to live there, but thought an interview trip (if I were to get one) would be fun.
Two things happened next. I was one of the finalists for the position and became enamored with everything I learned about the agency then known as Alaska Children's Services, as well as its staff and Board of Directors. Second, I happened to come to Alaska on the weekend of the start of the Iditarod. Nothing can promote the spirit of Alaska like that event. In that visit my attitude changed from what I described in the paragraph above to “I want this more than anything I've ever wanted in my life!”
As Executive Director (now CEO), the Board laid out their expectations. First, reverse the nine year spiral of losing money and develop new, more stable funding sources. Second, continue to build on the quality care and treatment that the staff had already demonstrated by their recent accreditation by the Joint Commission. Finally, develop processes and procedures that will demonstrate the agency is successful in its treatment of children.
I think those three expectations – fiscal stability, quality care and treatment, and verifiable, demonstrated success – continue to be primary in the mission of the agency.
5. What was your favorite part about your time in AK and at AK Child & Family?
I really can't think of any time for which I don't have great memories. Of course, we suffered some setbacks at various times over the years, but with the quality of staff, board commitment, and overall community support, we continued to grow.
I can think of certain milestones that stand out. In my first three years we worked diligently with other community providers to convince the State to re-write regulations to make psychiatric residential treatment a Medicaid-reimbursable service. That was a major step. In the mid-90's we began exploring the development of community-based services. We began the program with one Case Manager and one Activity Therapist. Look where it is today!
A truly unique program that AK Child & Family has is the Spiritual Life program. Many religous-based organizations either tread softly or limit the scope of their programs due to the spiritual component of their services. To provide a completely voluntary program that is culturally-sensitive, accepting of all faiths, and totally supported by the four theologically diverse denominations that oversee the agency is an almost impossible task, yet the Spiritual Life Department has continued to demonstrate a level of excellence that has garnered many national awards.
The other thing that stands out in my mind is what great employees the agency has always had. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds have joined together in this little community at the top of the world for the sole purpose of helping kids learn to be successful. I know they continue to promote the core values of the agency (which were developed by a wide range of staff, not the leadership team). Because of my responsibilities in dealing with funding bodies, the state legislature, and our national Congressional representatives, I rarely could get directly involved with the students; however, I always felt secure knowing who was providing the quality care and treatment.
6. How did Alaska Flag Day become an agency event and how has it evolved to what it is today?
In 1990, the agency celebrated its 100th anniversary. Attending that event were some of the Jesse Lee Home's most notable alumni – Simeon Oliver, children of Benny Benson, and many, many others. It was such a success that the Board of Directors began looking for a way to perpetuate this type of historical gathering. A group of prominent Alaskans who either served on the board or were very supportive of the agency, began exploring options.
The following year, State Senator Arliss Sturgulewski, with the support and backing of prominent Alaskans such as Ernie Hall, Alvin Fleetwood, Kay Linton, and Governor Jay Hammond, introduced a resolution to the legislature that would designate July 9 as Alaska Flag Day. That group, along with the Board of Directors, began the planning and development of the first Alaska Flag Day Celebration on July 9, 1992.
Since that first event (I was a very passive, but supportive bystander) it has grown in every way possible. At the same time, it remains remarkably similar to the first one. Long time supporter Herbert Eckmann continues to supply the most delicious hot dogs anyone could imagine. The students still set up games and booths and demonstrate their most positive attitudes in helping younger children, showing empathy, and modeling fair play. There have been many Alaska heroes who have served as Honorary Chairs of the event, from Iditarod mushers to Olympic medalists, media celebrities, state and national legislators and governors, and community leaders.
7. Why should people attend our Alaska Flag Day celebration?
The very name of the organization – AK Child & Family – states exactly what is the purpose of Alaska Flag Day celebration. It is about children, it is about families gathering together to celebrate the heritage of the great State of Alaska and to honor a 13 year-old boy who had the insight and the foresight to predict what the Great Land would become.
In the sometimes jaded world in which we live, we often search for events and celebrations that can be enjoyed by every member of the family from infants to grandparents. There is great food, outstanding music, lots of fun and entertainment, and everyone you see there is having a great time for the same reason you are. Add all this to a minimal admission price and you can't pass up this great event.
8. What would you tell youth or families who are currently struggling with emotional health challenges?
The first day I came on the job at AK Child & Family, I asked a Treatment Counselor, “What are you doing for these kids?” Her response was both simple and profound, “I try and catch the kids being good.”
Everyone goes through difficult times at varying stages of our lives and often we feel inadequate because we don't know how to deal with the challenges. When enough of these situations have piled on, it is really easy to begin to doubt your abilities and your own self worth. When we feel bad about ourselves, it is easy to act in a way to demonstrate to others that we are no good, that we aren't worthy of caring, attention, or love.
The first core value of the agency is “Students First.” Everything that is done, every decision that is made is made to help the students reverse their self-destructive behaviors and learn to feel good about themselves again. And this is true for all of us, adult or child.