Becoming "AWARE" about Women of Distinction

    Executive Director Mandy Cole draws from a bucket to pick the winner of a door prize. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Saturday night was AWARE's 26th annual Women of Distinction gala honoring Susan Bell, Jeni Brown, LaRae Jones, and Kate Wolfe for their accomplishments serving Juneau's community.

    It was held at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.

    Tickets were $100 a piece, and all the proceeds support safe shelter and services for people who have been subject to sexual or domestic violence.

    The night kicked off with a dinner, enjoyed while watching the first showing of the KTOO film about Kaasei Satú, a healing totem that stands near Twin Lakes.

    Music was provided by Tom Locher and Clay Good.

    Mandy Cole, Executive Director of AWARE, thanked Juneau for their support. She said while many people may hear about domestic violence and abuse cases, they are the ones that meet them firsthand.

    Rose Khamis gave a special talk for her AWARE experience. She fled Sedan to come to Nevada, and then fled Nevada to Alaska with her four children to escape domestic violence, where she discovered AWARE.

    "We were trying to get away from my husband. We looked at the map of the United States and saw the furthest state," she said. "All the kids put their hands on the map, and it just happened to be Juneau, Alaska."

    Below: Khamis received a standing ovation. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    All four women of distinction delivered speeches before accepting their awards.

    Bell was Vice President for Goldbelt and she joined the McDowell Group in 2001-now named the McKinley Research Group.

    "Helping people to achieve their social, economic and cultural goals is just really tremendous. I really credit, Jim, under his leadership, there was a very deliberate expansion in the services that our firm provided to serve clients in health care, social services and education. As we did that we served many of you in this room, and we always have over the 50 years," she said. "But that meant that we attracted more people that really had specialized skills in that area, and it's reinforcing you get more projects, you get more people and you get recognized for that work. So again, I just know that much of what I'm being recognized for tonight is a shared accomplishment. And as I said, we celebrated our 50th anniversary last year."

    She shared at the gala that she will be starting a new chapter with the University of Alaska helping to plan an Arctic Leadership Program. This is important to her since she is from Nome and of Inupiat heritage.

    She also takes pride in being a cofounder of the Kluane to Chilkat Bay Relay, which travels the Haines Highway.

    Below: Bell accepts her award. (Photo credit/Jasz Garrett)

    Brown gave personal insight into her journey of becoming the woman she is today.

    "This is when I decided that I wanted to stay sober and stay here in Juneau. My mindset was, if I can't get sober, where I'm at now, how can I get sober anywhere else? Drugs and jail are in any city, but my family and friends are here," she said. "This is where I caused the most damage and I wanted to be a solution and no longer the problem. I have now turned my life around and spend time helping my fellow people find their way out of the darkness."

    She is now six years sober, and currently the Family & Community Engagement Specialist at the community and behavioral services department for Tlingit and Haida. It was at Haven House that she began her healing journey.

    Below: Brown stands with some of her family at the gala. She has a large Tlingit family from Hoonah. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    "My family made me the Tlingit warrior I am today," Brown said.

    Jones shared how her work began as a human rights activist after retiring in 1999. From 1976 to 1999, Jones worked in Human Resources for the State of Alaska, first for the Office of the Governor and then for the Department of Fish and Game.

    "I had a dear friend that was on the Planned Parenthood Board of Directors for the state of Alaska. She called me up and said, are you interested? We need somebody that knows a little bit about personnel, would you be interested? And I said, I certainly would," she said. "I looked around and said, well, I can't do just that. I have to do something locally, too. So, I joined the Juneau Pro Choice Coalition."

    For years she has led marches and rallies for reproductive health rights and ending violence against woman.

    She played a vital role in opening the Planned Parenthood Juneau clinic.

    Jones is also an active member of Alaska Women's Lobby, PFLAG, Juneau Pride Chorus, and the Juneau League of Women Voters.

    "To our grandchildren, I want you to know that LaRae cares about the world she's leaving you behind," Jones said.

    Her husband Loren's dinner went for $1,800 dollars Saturday. Loren gave a heartwarming introduction for his wife.

    They have been married for 53 years.

    Below: Other live auction items included four pieces of Northwest Coast art that went for $600, and a purse with fringe for $350. The big item of the night was UA President Pat Pitney's bid of $2,100 for Alaska Airline tickets wherever they fly.

    Senator Jesse Kiehl presented the live auction at the event. A dessert silent auction was also held along with door prizes.

    Representative Sara Hannan and Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon were also in attendance at the gala.

    Above: Jones (left) accepts her award. Below: Gretchen Powers holds her cake she baked for the silent auction. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

    Wolfe gave the final speech.

    "During my 36 year career in this community, it has been a privilege to listen and talk with our fellow citizens. Every story, dream, challenge, and aspiration has given me the tools to help each person and family flourish," Wolfe said. "While heart wrenching at times, watching their steps to success has been an inspiration to remain passionate about my profession and begin each day renewed."

    After moving to Juneau in 1986, Wolfe committed her career to being an advocate for people with disabilities at REACH, and now she is the Prevention Program Manager at Family Promise in Juneau.

    Wolfe's cousin Derek was diagnosed with an intellectual and development disability in 1961. She saw how society treated him and the potential and intelligence he had. It was growing up with Derek that inspired her to work on the destigmatization of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

    Family Promise's mission is to build community and end childhood homelessness in Juneau through case management and financial support.

    Below: Wolfe accepts her award. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)

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