With You, Anything is Possible

There was still snow on the ground when I landed at Fairbanks International Airport the night of Thursday, April 22, 2021. The weather was cold but not as cold as I have been told it will get. The following Monday, I attended my first leadership meeting as Love INC’s newly minted Communications Director. I wasn’t scheduled to start officially until the following week but couldn’t miss the opportunity to get to know the people that would become my coworkers, mentors, and friends.

The leadership meeting was interesting. Jason and his team were busing figuring out how to handle the pool of thousands of applicants who applied to the Rent Relief Program operated by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. Dean was busy directing the Loving Families program and Val was trying to sort through hundreds of applicants submitted to us for rent relief. Selena wasn’t present during the meeting; she was in the process of transitioning into her new role as Volunteer Coordinator and Receptionist extraordinaire. Chana, oh Chana, to this day she is the same as she was the first moment, I met her: busy cutting checks, balancing the ledger, managing HR, working with our invaluable troop of donors, and making things work financially.

Donahue with fiancée Stefanie.
Donahue stands with son’s Aiden and Maddox shortly after arriving in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Complex work but necessary work.

The work from the moment I started was complex. So many stories of need – people who were suffering from unemployment or underemployment – mostly due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Countless telephone calls from people in need. Requests for food boxes, clothing, furniture, rental relief, assistance with electric bills, and so much more. I remember the phone ringing constantly and while I was comfortable answering the telephones, I found the despair and frustration in the caller’s voices’, quite unsettling. They needed us and they had nowhere else to turn. Fortunately, we were here.

I can remember a few situations that I encountered in my early days here that were especially memorable. I remember Dean taking a call before we even were open for business from a man who moved to Alaska hoping to leave his past behind and build a new life, in his brother’s memory. He struggled with addiction. With the promise of employment, he left Seattle and flew through the night, only to find that the job he thought he had was no longer there. He was stranded at the airport with nowhere to turn. He spent the last little bit of money he had on his airfare to Fairbanks.

He walked for miles and miles then encountered a woman at a gas station that thought we could help. He made the call just before 8:00 in the morning and Dean answered the call. The man didn’t need much, but Dean was able to help with what he did need, and the man went on his way. Such a small sample of how the staff here goes above and beyond to make things work. Before the work day even begins, they’re already working. It’s amazing. They just make it happen. Even before or after normal business hours. I call it going the extra mile.

Donahue threw the first pitch during A Night with the Goldpanners, sponsored by Hawk Shop & Pawn.
Our Love INC van advertises that we’re in the game. A Night with the Goldpanners.

I’ve seen women who have left abusive relationships with their kids and the clothes on their backs, nothing more. They needed all the help and support they could get to start over and in the meantime, to simply survive.

I’ve seen people on the verge of eviction who suddenly found the support they needed to pay their rent and figure out how to work two or three jobs to make things work financially for them. Through God’s grace, they found help, support, and guidance from the people that work here. Without you, that wouldn’t be possible.

I’ve seen others whose electric bills were so far past due that the utility was forced to disconnect their service. They were behind because of underemployment or unemployment in most cases. Again, they found relief through the programs and people that work here. Again, without you, that wouldn’t be possible.

The stories are never-ending, like Virginia Meredith’s story of how she went from the client receiving services from Love INC to an employee of Love INC some 20 years later. A memory she said will last a lifetime.

A unique, unfamiliar experience to an experienced PR guy

Personally, I don’t even know where to start. The experience here has been unlike anything I have ever experienced before. My background is in Public Relations and Communications. My education is in Psychology and Mass Communication. Before moving to Fairbanks, I operated a midsized Public Relations Firm that specialized in Crisis and Risk Management. Daily, I got to experience the underside of life: workplace violence, shootings, product failures, and recalls. Don’t get me wrong, there were many bright spots as well: working with nonprofits has always been rewarding, but I can’t think of a time where my business was purely focused on serving people in need.

As a Christian, I wanted to be in an environment that would be rewarding, challenging and focused on serving people. I needed God to be an active part of my life. I too needed to heal from the realities of this world. The realities of what broken feels like. The realities of daily trauma, pain, and suffering. Here, each day we gather together as a staff to participate in devotion and prayer. Hearing the stories of my coworkers and sharing my own has been the most amazing experience that words can’t describe. It’s cathartic, healing, and hopeful.

Executive Director Jason Kempthorne poses for a quick photo with John, a man we helped with his electric bill.

Program Director Dean McDaniel talks with a donors representative about a donated Ford F-150.

In the environment we are living in, where fear of illness is present every day and life’s anxieties loom large, it’s comforting to know that Love INC is here for so many people in what is now, my community. It’s even more rewarding to be a part of it all. Even if it’s just a small part, a prayer, or a gift of time or resources. There’s real value here. Above all, there is real, genuine, hope.

The big part is what you do. Your donations of time and resources make all this happen. They keep the phones on, lights on, payroll paid, and our building paid for. More, they fund everything about this organization. Your gifts make a difference, a real difference, a difference that can be seen by the smile on a person’s face, or felt when you get that special hug.

It’s a difference you have to feel to understand and without working here on a day-to-day basis, I’m not sure how to describe it to you in a way that is just or equitable or even remotely close to what it feels like in person. I hope that by sharing this with you, that you can feel the arms of the people we serve, wrapped around you with thanks and gratitude. You showed up, you made a difference, you … changed a life.