Helmsley Grants $20 Million to EMI for Improvements to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in Rural Alaska

Published Mon, Jun. 14, 2021

Helmsley and EMI work to build community health in rural Alaska

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust today announced a new $20 million grant to Engineering Ministries International (EMI) for improvements to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in rural Alaska. This three-year grant will support efforts for sustainable and affordable water and sewer services at the state, regional, community, and household level. The work includes installing and improving remote monitoring equipment in 139 communities statewide to improve operation and maintenance of water and sewer utilities; establishing a regional utility assistance program in partnership with the Norton Sound Health Corporation to benefit 15 target communities in the Bering Strait Region; and construction of community and household water and sewer projects within the targeted region.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that approximately 3,300 rural homes lack access to safe water and basic sanitation. For domestic water supply, many of these residents have no other option than to haul water to their home with a five-gallon bucket. For toilets, a separate five-gallon bucket (commonly called a honey bucket) is used in the home and dumped outdoors when filled.

In 2021, nobody in the United States should have to live without running water in their homes, especially amidst a pandemic.

EMI has worked in over 100 low- and middle-income countries around the world and is familiar with the tremendous WASH needs in many of these locations, which are similar to the needs in parts of Alaska.

“We are excited about partnering with the Helmsley Charitable Trust to make a positive impact in these remote, rural communities,” says John Dallmann, president of EMI. “Sustainability and affordability are some of the greatest challenges for WASH community development in any context,” according to Jason Chandler, EMI’s WASH program manager. “Appropriate design and technology are critical to success, but even the simplest solutions will ultimately fail if they are not addressing a felt need in the community and cannot be maintained long-term, which is why we are so pleased to have local support and enthusiasm for this effort.”

In remote areas of Alaska, these challenges exist and are particularly compounded by harsh Arctic conditions. To keep water from freezing at 50 degrees below zero and contend with permafrost, unique system design and installation are required that can come at a very high cost. Some of the greatest difficulties are the continual operation and maintenance of these systems.

EMI is working alongside the Norton Sound Health Corp. (NSHC) and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to help address these challenges. The NSHC and ANTHC are the regional and state nonprofit Tribal health organizations working in the Bering Strait region to meet the unique health needs of Alaska Native and Native American people. This includes the need for water and sewer services in rural communities and homes. According to John Nichols, the Rural Utility Management Services director for ANTHC, “Alaska has worked for decades to provide sustainable and affordable water and sewer services to its rural communities. In 1995, the Alaskan governor promised to ‘put the honey bucket in the museum.’ While many communities have been provided services, 32 Alaskan communities still rely on honey buckets.”

Norton Sound Health Corp. President and CEO Angie Gorn went further to say, “In the Bering Strait region alone; 370 homes lack potable water, and over 450 homes have no water or sewer. This is a silent public health crisis and many of these deleterious health impacts could be prevented if all residents had access to basic sanitation. This funding opportunity will help our communities repair aging systems, prevent emergencies, and make progress toward the dream of having piped water and sewer service.” Joanne Keyes, who represents the Native Village of Wales on the NSHC Board said, “We have been promised that our honey buckets will be hung in the museums, and my community is still awaiting this day!”

The need for water and sanitation improvements is one that Alaska’s own Rasmuson Foundation highlighted in 2019 when hosting philanthropies from around the country, including the Helmsley Charitable Trust. Many groups and individuals are unaware of how their philanthropic strategic interests align with community needs in the state of Alaska, and Rasmuson Foundation works to bridge that gap while making investments of their own.

“At Helmsley, we are committed to supporting holistic solutions that build health and resilience at the community level, and a safe, reliable water supply is at the heart of this,” said Walter Panzirer, a trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “In 2021, nobody in the United States should have to live without running water in their homes, especially amidst a pandemic. We are excited to support the transformation that EMI, the NSHC and the ANTHC have planned for families living in the Bering Strait Region.” Helmsley supports WASH improvements across sub-Saharan Africa, and during his 2019 Alaska visit Mr. Panzirer saw first-hand how great those same needs are here, too.

EMI is a Christian nonprofit made up of architects, engineers, surveyors, and construction managers. Since 1982, its worldwide mission is to develop people, design structures, and construct facilities which serve communities and the Church. It says “together, we are designing a world of hope.”

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the United States and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $3 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes.

Media contact:
Carey Meyers, cmeyers@helmsleytrust.org

EMI project contact:
Jason Chandler, P.E. jason.chandler@emiworld.org