Dick Wells has shown that business leaders can make a real impact when they roll-up their sleeves and become involved. He has given literally thousands of hours over the past three years to lead Anchorage’s Promise and Anchorage’s Youth Service Day and he has significantly changed the way young people are engaged in their community. He has involved his entire business in supporting the community and gives his 20 employees time-off to volunteer. An Anchorage resident since 1976, he is a father of six children and ten grandchildren.
In 2002 Wells led a community effort to coordinate a community forum to hear from youth, what young people in Anchorage needed. After receiving feedback from young people themselves and analyzing the results from previous youth summits, it was clear that action, and not more talk, was needed around youth engagement. To facilitate this action, Wells and other volunteers created an independent non-profit agency called Anchorage’s Promise. From the beginning Wells has served as president of the board for Anchorage’s Promise. Under Wells’s leadership, Anchorage’s Promise has established partnerships with the city, schools and businesses as well as dozens of local nonprofits to lead and implement the largest youth service event in the state of Alaska and the second largest youth serving event in the entire country.
Wells’s leadership through Anchorage’s Promise and Anchorage Youth Service Day has accomplished many things. In 2003, Anchorage’s Promise led the tenth largest National Youth Service Day effort in the country – engaging nearly 1,700 youth participants in 18 service projects citywide. In 2004 they held the largest single-day youth event in the state of Alaska bringing together 12,000 people for Anchorage KidsDay and engaging almost 10,000 youth in volunteer efforts. In 2005 they led the second largest National Youth Service Day effort in the country—engaging over 15,000 young people in service. (Number of volunteers involved in all projects implemented by coalition members: 16,587 and the number of volunteers who were youth: 15,121).
From 2004 to 2005 they tripled the number of participants and increased volunteer involvement by 300%. They were also successful in engaging projects from other parts of the state including Fairbanks, Kotzebue, and the Mat-Su Valley. Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau stated that Anchorage’s Youth Service Day is “the most diverse family event in Anchorage”. Through a special partnership with the McLaughlin Center, the local juvenile detention agency, youth offenders were also engaged in volunteer events. Working with Youth Service America, Wells led outreach to Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office that resulted in her sponsoring the National Youth Service Day in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Wells personally met with her at her D.C. office to accomplish this. Many youth and adult participants expressed a sense of feeling of being more connected to their community as a result of Anchorage’s Youth Service Day. Many youth commented that they enjoyed being asked to help in the community and really liked seeing their hard work make a difference. Using an innovative approach, Wells wanted to make sure that young people could get to the volunteer events and worked with the mayor to arrange for city buses to give young people free rides to service projects.
For 2006, Anchorage’s Promise was designated by Youth Service America to be the lead agency for Alaska Youth Service Day. They plan to expand on their previous efforts and aim to coordinate the largest youth service event in the entire country!