Joy Lyon, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children since 1996, left the post on Sept. 1,—precisely 25 years after she first stepped into the role. At her retirement party last week, friends celebrated her love of Dolly Parton and her work to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to children in Juneau and other parts of Southeast Alaska. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

An ode to Joy

Longtime early childhood advocate retires

As children across Southeast Alaska returned to school this fall, longtime early childhood education advocate Joy Lyon, embarked on a new adventure — retirement.

Lyon, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children since 1996, left the post on Sept. 1,—precisely 25 years after she first stepped into the role.

In a phone interview Monday morning, Lyon said she is looking forward to more walking, catching up on sleep, doing yoga and seeing her children and grandchildren more often. She said she’s also looking for a new hobby but hasn’t found it yet.

“It feels really good because I know the organization is in a really good place with current leaders,” Lyon said.

Blue Shibler, formerly the group’s human resources and special project manager, is Lyon’s successor.

[Plane determination: Teen contends with weather, forest fires while flying around the world]

Bringing Joy

Last week, several of Lyon’s friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate her career.

“Her efforts over the past 25 years have shaped and transformed early childhood in Juneau, Southeast, statewide and nationally. She is without a doubt the children’s champion,” said Lisa Arehart, a longtime friend, and colleague who helped organize Lyon’s party.

In a phone interview Monday, Arehart said that she met Lyon in 2004 and that Lyon became her mentor in short order.

“Joy talks the walk. She tells you what she’s going to do and then does it,” Arehart said.

At the party, longtime friend Claire Richardson talked about Lyon’s calming presence on local families with young children.

Richardson recalled becoming a new mother and the anxiety she felt after she encountered some complications. She said that at the time, she wasn’t letting anyone hold her baby.

“Joy comes over and plucks up the baby,” she told the crowd. “I felt relieved because my child was safe and I could breathe. How many others had the same experience with Joy? From my heart to yours, thank you so much.”

A full career

Lyon has a background in social services. However, when she first arrived in Juneau, she started working as a carpenter’s apprentice and helped to build Juneau’s AWARE shelter.

She said that after the birth of her son, she became interested in early childhood education because of the sheer volume of learning that takes place during that time in a child’s life. The realization served as her catalyst back into social services and a career helping families with young children.

In 2018, Lyon won the Sandra J. Skolnik Public Policy Leadership Award. This national award is given by Child Care Aware of America each year to recognize the accomplishments of those who contribute to Child Care Aware of America’s vision: “Every family in the United States has access to a high-quality, affordable child care system.”

Over the years, Lyon has testified to the Alaska Legislature on early childhood education issues many times and has written about the topic in the Juneau Empire’s opinion section. She has led initiatives such as the annual Step Up For Kids rally, the Kids in the Capital annual event and local advocacy campaigns in Juneau.

A key player in Best Starts for Juneau’s Kids, Lyon has worked to address Juneau’s education and childcare shortcomings.

[Turning the clock way, way back]

Get on board

Bringing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to children in Juneau and other parts of Southeast Alaska is one of the many projects that mark Lyon’s tenure at the helm of the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children.

The Imagination Library mails enrolled children a new book each month from birth to age 5. Lyon said the local project started about 15 years ago.

“She’s (Parton) is a real hero of mine because of her philanthropy and her work getting a book in the hands of young children,” Lyon said. “The books really open up their world and connect adults and children through time together.

Instead of retirement gifts, Lyon asked that well-wishers donate to the local arm of the effort at aeyc-sea.org/imagination-library.html.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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