Visiting the Yukon-Koyukuk Elder Assisted Living Facility in rural Alaska

The Yukon-Koyukuk Elder Assisted Living Facility (YKEALF) successfully completed its New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) seven-year compliance period and has exited the transaction. I recently traveled to Galena, Alaska, to celebrate this accomplishment.

This facility was the vision of a consortium of five tribes along the Yukon River to provide a home in their community for elders to age with grace instead of moving away from their families and communities to Fairbanks or Anchorage. The facility opened in July 2011 and used the NMTC subsidy for energy upgrades such as a wood pellet boiler and rooftop solar panels as well as for ongoing training and operational needs.

In May 2013, an ice dam on the Yukon River caused a catastrophic 100-year floodThe entire town of Galena was evacuated including all of the elders residing in the elder facility. Thankfully all residents made it out safe, but the flood destroyed YKEALFs boiler and left 18 inches of water that covered the entire facility. It was unclear if the facility could ever reopen again. Thanks to the hard work of YKEALF’s director, Agnes Sweetsir, the facility reopened in only four months.

I traveled with Greg Bland to Galena on July 31 to celebrate YKEALF’s accomplishment with representatives from each of the consortium’s five tribes: Nulato, Ruby, Louden, Koyukuk and Kaltag. We shared a home-cooked meal made by the YKEALF staff and heard from many community members how proud they are of the elder center.

The most frequent refrain was that the facility had become much more than a care center for elders. It had become a community hub! High school kids from the local magnet school frequently come to have lunch with elders, and generous neighbors stop by to deliver wild game and smoked fish.

The consortium also gathered that day to honor the unexpected passing of a council member who was instrumental in the success of the facility. Staff members planted some Tartarian honeysuckle and berry bushes behind the elder center in her name. Greg and I were honored to help with the planting (see photo below) and to be able to witness the community come together that day to celebrate and remember a life.

Travois is proud to have worked with YKEALF, Agnes Sweetsir, the center’s staff and the village consortium’s leadership on this project. Because of their hard work, YKEALF is now a leader in dementia care in rural Alaska and has plans to expand in the future. Agnes Sweetsir has also taken the lessons learned from her work with dementia patients and is helping spread that knowledge around the state. We are so thankful to have been part of such a wonderful team.

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