The $25,000 prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognizes communities working to elevate public health. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Screenshot)

Sitka has become the first Alaska town to receive the Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The $25,000 prize recognizes communities that take a holistic approach to public health. Sitka had to go up against nearly 200 other applicants. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a short video introducing Sitka as one of five communities to win this year’s Culture of Health Prize. 

More than 180 communities applied for the $25,000 prize.

The Sitka Health Summit Coalition submitted the multi-round application on behalf of the town. Doug Osborne, a health educator at SEARHC and member of the Coalition, says getting the recognition– and the $25,000 — is just the beginning. 

“The cash is really nice, but that’s just one part of it. I talked with somebody who won and he said the main thing is that it opens up doors,” Osborne said. “So it’s really a very exciting time in Sitka to see how we can leverage this and how we can really accelerate the work that got us to the prize.” 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a health-focused philanthropy based in New Jersey. 

This prize is designed to recognize and reward communities that support health in a way that’s fair and open to everyone, with an emphasis on collaboration. 

That means looking at hospitals and access to medical care, but also taking into account other factors that make up the foundation’s definition of a healthy community. Joe Marx, Program Communications Director at RWJF, said one thing that made Sitka’s application stand out was the work being done to address the intergenerational trauma of colonization. 

“Really, I think, stepped up in recognizing some of the historic trauma that has happened to the indigenous community in Sitka,” he said. “And making sure that those voices were at the table for conversations about healing, really acknowledging what some of that historic trauma was like.”  

In a press release announcing the award, the foundation also cited the Wooch.een Preschool, Sitka’s Indian Child Welfare Act partnership, and the new teen center as important efforts to support the well-being of young people.  

Osborne says the whole town deserves credit, both for helping out with the application and for putting Sitka in a position to compete for this prize in the first place. 

“The majority of the town, in one way or another, has been a part of this. This is not — certainly not any one organization or group. This is the town’s prize. So thank you, Sitka,” he said.

Osborne says there will be a community-wide celebration on December 12th, and that the Coalition will ask for public input in deciding how to spend the money. 

The four other winners this year are Gonzales, California; Broward County, Florida; Greenville County, South Carolina; and Lake County, Colorado.