Juneau celebrated Women’s History Month with a recognition of four people who make their community a better place.
Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE) held its annual Women of Distinction Celebration Saturday night. This year’s Women of Distinction were Francine Eddy Jones, Susan Macaulay, Jorden Nigro and Janine Reep, who universally said they were honored to be celebrated.
Although Reep, who worked at Alaska Legal Services as an Assistant Attorney General for Child in Need of Aid cases and the Office of Public Advocacy, said the best congratulatory text she received gave her kudos for being a “Woman of Disruption.”
“There’s many things in this world that need to be disrupted,” Reep said.
Much of her acceptance speech focused on the importance of social justice and acknowledging that while the sentiment “All men are created equal,” is beautiful it does not reflect the reality of being born poor or to a family of color or a marginalized population.
“I was born into a very fortunate world,” Reep said. “My problems were never going to be big problems, and I knew it.”
Reep, who retired from state service in 2012 but is an active board member of Facing Foster Care in Alaska — a nonprofit group run by current and former foster youth — advocated for others living with more empathy and making a positive impact in the lives of others.
“You don’t have to fix everything to improve someone’s life,” Reep said. “The smallest acts of caring are sometimes enough to turn a life around.”
Nigro, who has worked with Juneau Youth Services, SAIL, Zach Gordon Youth Center, also spoke to the importance of focusing on shared humanity as well as consistently showing up for causes in which you believe.
“Show up, be seen, see others, feel each other’s pain, feel each other’s joy, repeat,” Nigro said.
Nigro, who is on the board for the Glory Hall, Juneau’s homeless shelter, also took her time at the lectern to reflect on feeling besieged by self-doubts upon learning she had been selected to be a Woman of Distinction.
“I’ll spare you the list,” Nigro said. “It’s kind of depressing.”
Instead, Nigro focused on gratitude and the daunting task of crafting a speech.
“I thought about the words, and I thought about this life, and I settled on a dress,” Nigro said dryly drawing laughs.
She thanked her family for their support when she is racked by anxiety and for their love and support.
Jones, who has served as the Director of the Tribal Family and Youth Services Department for 22 years and is dedicated to embracing and implementing the spirit and tenets of the Indian Child Welfare Act in Alaska to better serve Alaska Native families, also heaped effusive praise on her family.
“First, I’d like to honor the honor of my parents,” she said.
Jones, who is part Tlingit and part Scotch-Irish, said she grew up in Sitka in a time when she was considered a “half breed” without being fully accepted by some Alaska Natives or white people.
“However, we grew up knowing the Alaska Native Sisterhood and the Alaska Native Brotherhood and were raised with a strong foundational values,” Jones said.
She became emotional when thanking her husband of 36 years, Laird, for being “always by her side and providing endless love,” and her other immediate family members.
Macaulay, the night’s fourth Woman of Distinction, now lives in Montana and was unable to attend in person. She did record remarks for the event, but technical issues prevented them from being heard.
It was announced the video would be shared on AWARE’s website.
However, attendees were still able to find out about the determination and compassion that people associate with Macaulay, who was serving in the Air Force when she was severely injured in a car accident and subsequently spent 10 weeks in a coma.
Jamie Bursell provided an introduction for her absent friend and also accepted the award on her behalf.
“For her anything was possible,” Bursell said, and shared stories of seeing her friend, who used a wheel chair, ski and go on a wild downhill tricycle ride.
Macaulay found a passion in volunteering at Riverbend School and played a role in getting donations that started the school’s breakfast program.
“Having a disability does not mean you cannot make an important contribution to your society,” Bursell said. “Susan Macaulay is a Woman of Distinction because of the volunteer service she’s given to our town here in Juneau.”
One more brave, strong woman
In addition to the night’s emcee Kris Sell, AWARE Executive Director Saralyn Tabachnick and honorees, Kathryn Beers shared her personal account of how AWARE made a difference in her life during the awards night and fundraiser for AWARE.
Beers recounted a harrowing story that began with an abusive upbringing that segued into an abusive marriage.
In 2014, after telling her then husband to leave, Beers was attacked, and her life changed.
“In a moment of weakness, I called for help,” Beers said.
When police arrived, Beers said she felt guilty and to blame for the abuse she suffered.
However, the responding Juneau Police Department officer kept encouraging Beers to go to the hospital.
That officer, John Cryderman, was in attendance Saturday and surprised Beers with a bouquet once she finished her speech.
Once off stage, Beers told the tall Cryderman that he did a good job of keeping a low profile throughout the night.
Beers’ story didn’t end with her hospital trip.
While the time in the hospital was a blur, Beers said she met an AWARE advocate.
“She told me that I was brave, that I was safe, and it was not my fault,” Beers said. “It was almost annoying how they kept repeating that.”
At the time, Beers didn’t believe it, but she said with an advocate at her side through counseling, court appointments and more the message began to sink in.
“They never asked for anything in return,” Beers said.
Beers is now a college student pursuing a degree in psychology.
“I am brave,” Beers said. “I am safe, and this is not my fault.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.