Four women honored by AWARE

For the past 20 years, AWARE has honored many of Juneau’s unsung heroes during its annual Women of Distinction Banquet.

“There are people all the time in our town who are doing fabulous work that most of us or many of us have no idea about. We see people, and they’re just going about their business and little do we know the depth and breadth of what they’re contributing,” AWARE Executive Director Saralyn Tabachnick said.

AWARE honored Marie Darlin, Justine Muench, Missouri Smyth and Kristi West on Saturday at Centennial Hall, with more than 400 people in attendance. The banquet is also a major fundraiser for AWARE, which stands for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies.

Tabachnick said the banquet allows AWARE to shed light on the work these women do for the community, work that is often behind the scenes.

“It is taken for granted that women do certain things in their lives, in the lives of their families and in the lives of their communities, but the connections and the hope that women bring to all that they do and the openheartedness that comes forth is a gift and a donation to all of our community,” Tabachnick said.

Tabachnick said the four honorees this year have all lived in Juneau for decades.

With a passion for education, Darlin has led a life of service. She’s contributed to the lives of children and is now a strong voice for the senior community. A long-time member of the Alaska Historical Society, Darlin was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in March 2015.

Muench has been involved with women’s and children’s issues for decades. With an education in nursing, she created a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program at Bartlett Regional Hospital, and KidSafe, a national childhood injury prevention program. She volunteers with AWARE’s Girls on the Run program.

Smyth has used music to improve the lives of the people around her. She’s a lifelong musician and music teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School. For the past 18 years, she’s been the artistic director and accompanist of the Alaska Youth Choir and has volunteered for several local music organizations and events.

West started out as a sports coach and moved up to Recreation Manager for Juneau’s Parks and Recreation department before finding her dream job — manager at the city’s Zach Gordon Youth Center. West lost her son, Nels, in 2013 and said that the kids at the youth center were instrumental in helping her through that difficult time.

“This is a very joyful group of women,” Tabachnick said. “Whatever hardships they’ve had in their lives, they’ve moved through with grace and beauty.”

The AWARE Board of Directors selected Darlin, Muench, Smyth and West from a pool of about 20 nominees. Nominations are held for two years.

Tabachnick said so many women in Juneau are already women of distinction.

“Follow your heart, do what brings you joy, share that with other people and then I think you’re a woman of distinction whether you get an award from AWARE or not,” she said.

You can become a member of AWARE by making a donation. AWARE’s services are free and confidential. Its crisis line, 586-1090, is open 24 hours a day.

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