About the Oomiak Foundation
In the spring of 2000, Matthew Cooper, an 8-year old boy from Humboldt County in California was receiving chemotherapy at Duke Children’s Hospital in North Carolina. The medical care Matthew needed was not available in Humboldt County, an isolated area 300 miles north of San Francisco with limited pediatric facilities. His parents had brought him to Duke–as they had many times before at enormous expense and hardship–for treatment. During this time, David Friedman, the composer for the new holiday musical King Island Christmas, written with Alaskan librettist Deborah Brevoort, was making a visit to the new hospital where songs from the show were being performed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
David gave Matthew a copy of the King Island Christmas CD, produced with an all-star team including 12-time Grammy producer Thomas. Z. Shepard, Emmy-winning orchestrator Peter Matz, a 36-voice chorus and such Broadway notables as Chuck Cooper, Marin Mazzie and Paolo Montalban. Matthew was mesmerized by the true and inspirational story of a group of Alaskans who band together to carry an oomiak (a walrus-skin boat) over a mountain to fetch their beloved priest who was stranded offshore in an arctic storm. He was particularly moved by the star of King Island Christmas–the Oomiak– performed by a little girl. In the “Song of the Oomiak” she mourns her former life as a walrus and yet rejoices in her new incarnation as a boat.
From this simple encounter in the hall of Children’s Hospital, and the power of a song, the Oomiak Foundation was born. Wendy and Dan Cooper, Matthew’s parents, had been struggling with the costs of transporting Matthew across the country for medical care. Although insurance covered his medical expenses, it didn’t cover air fare, hotel rooms and lost wages from time spent taking him to Duke which was the only place in the US that could provide the treatment he needed. They decided to establish a foundation to help other families needing to travel outside Humboldt County to get medical care for their children and decided to name it the Oomiak Foundation after King Island Christmas. What’s more, the metaphor of the oomiak’s journey over the mountain was particularly resonant for Humboldt County, an isolated region surrounded by mountains.
Almost immediately, the Northern California community threw their support behind the effort. The Humboldt Light Opera Company with the support of the College of the Redwoods, and local media sponsor, NBC-affiliate KIEM, produced King Island Christmas with 50 volunteer singers in 2000 and 2001, raising nearly a quarter of million dollars –an extraordinary amount considering that the sparsely populated Humboldt County has the second highest unemployment rate in California due to severely depressed timber and fishing industries. The community also made a quilt that tells the story of King Island Christmas, which was auctioned off to raise funds. King Island Christmas is a story about a community sticking together during times of trouble, and Humboldt County has taken the show’s message to heart.
King Island Christmas has been taking audiences by storm ever since it made it’s first appearance in Alaska in 1997. Winner of the 1997 Frederick Loewe Award & the 1998 Dramatists Guild Musical Theatre Program Award, King Island Christmas was chosen as Voice of America’s featured holiday presentation for international broadcast for two years. Rave reviews have appeared in Billboard, Family Fun Magazine (Editor’s Pick), Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal among others.
Providing assistance to families who must travel outside Humboldt County to obtain necessary medical treatment for their children.
Brochure may be downloaded by CLICKING HERE
(PDF File – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader Click Here for Free Download)
Developed by the Oomiak Foundation.
Article from the Time-Standard describing the founding of the Oomiak Foundation.
Article from the Humboldt Beacon describing how King Island Christmas helped inspire the Oomiak Foundation.
Article describing how the Humboldt Light Opera Company received rave reviews for its presentation of King Island Christmas, which raised funds for the Oomiak Foundation.