Haven House honors Homer women of distinction

South Peninsula Haven House invites the community to celebrate the 2017 Women of Distinction during a dinner and auction Friday, April 7, at Alice’s Champagne Palace. Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale at The Homer Bookstore or by calling Haven House at 235-7712.

The event honors women of all ages who contribute to the community and encourage women as leaders. This year those being honored are Kelly Cooper, who has been named the 2017 Woman of Distinction; Lyn Maslow, the Woman of Wisdom; Casey Marsh, the Young Woman of Distinction, and Donna and Bernie Gareau, who jointly share the honor of Heroes of the Heart. Haven House has provided the following information about those being honored:

Woman of Distinction: Kelly Cooper

Among the Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of distinction is “the quality of being something that is special.” Kelly Cooper fulfills this meaning to a T. For more than 40 years, Kelly has been committed to public service, serving as a leader and enriching the communities she’s called home, and she has been doing so with an unwavering enthusiasm.

When told that she was nominated for the Woman of Distinction award, Cooper said she had two thoughts: “First, that I’m not a distinctive woman, and second, that the other women who have won this award have set a high bar. I’m just an average woman in the community who is really passionate and believes that everyone should give back.”

Cooper spent her freshman and junior years in Wyoming, serving on the high school student council, rising to leadership positions at the school and state level in Future Business Leaders of America and Future Homemakers of America.

During the 1990s, she worked as a realtor in Colorado and Wyoming, sat on the Board of Realtors and was one of 15 realtors in the state selected to participate in a three-month leadership program.

When she and her husband, Jim, moved to Homer in 2002, Cooper put her people and business skills to work as a personal and commercial lines agent for Homer Insurance Company from 2002-2005 and a commercial insurance account executive for Wells Fargo Insurance Services from 2005-2011.

In 2010, her husband was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer and for the next eight months, she set out to learn everything she could about this cancer and treatments available. Jim Cooper died in January 2011, and from this experience, Kelly Cooper made it her personal mission to raise awareness. She became part of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and became involved in Homer’s Relay for Life, part of a nationwide fund­ and awareness-raising effort sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

In 2012, Cooper launched her own business, Glacier View Cabins, a seven-cabin resort on East End Road.

In 2015, she opened her second business, Coop’s Coffee.

In addition to her professional life, she has been extensively involved within the community as a volunteer.

Between 2003 and 2005, she coached the Homer Boys &Girls Club basketball team. In 2011, she successfully coordinated efforts between local businesses and community organizations to keep the struggling organization going. From 2012 and 2013, she served on the Kenai Peninsula Boys &Girls Club Board of Directors.

Between 2007 and 2011, she was on the Homer Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, serving as president in 2009.

From 2008 to 2014, she served on the South Peninsula Hospital operating board and was board president in 2010. Among her many accomplishments was facilitating the hospital’s purchase of a new MRI machine.

Between 2012 and 2014, she served on the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation Board. During her time there, she helped to create the reflection room, a peaceful place for patient families to reflect, pray or meet with a chaplain while their loved one is being cared for.

Cooper has been serving on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, District 8-Homer, since 2014. She was chosen by the nine-member body to serve as chair of the assembly’s finance committee, as the president pro tem and as a Health Care Task Force member. In 2016, the assembly selected Cooper as its president.

“I feel like I’m just an average, every woman, so receiving this award, I think it’s kind of a signal to the volunteers in the community that we do make a difference, that we are filling a huge need and that our efforts are being noticed, even though that’s not our goal. If we could get everyone to volunteer for one a hour week, imagine what we could do,” said Cooper.

Woman of Wisdom: Lyn Maslow

Mentor. Leader. Teacher. These are just a few of the words that describe Lyn Maslow.

An outstanding educator who has always worked hard to be inclusive of all children in her general education setting, Maslow has enjoyed combining hands on projects with educational standards, providing a classroom that was a vibrant and exciting place for learning.

Raised in southern California, Maslow obtained a bachelor of arts degree in neuroscience, then her teaching certificate. In 1980, at the age of 24 and eager to experience Alaska, she traveled to the Inupiaq village of White Mountain east of Nome for her first teaching job. She taught six students, kindergarten through third grade her first year. She says she loved the freedom and flexibility to create programs that matched individual needs.

She met her future husband, David, a fellow teacher, and she taught for several more years before taking a leave of absence to get her master’s degree. She returned to teach in the rural communities of Golovin and Brevig Mission. While in Brevig Mission, she earned a special education endorsement through the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The couple moved to Homer in 1989 where Maslow first taught part time at Paul Banks Elementary School, then bounced between teaching at Paul Banks, Homer Intermediate School and Homer Middle School. When West Homer Elementary opened in 1995, she settled into teaching third and fourth grades. In 2013, she received the BP Teacher of Excellence Award for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

She has always loved teaching and loved being able to differentiate between what each kid needed and what each kid was passionate about, helping them tap into their own strengths. While at West Homer, she worked to make education relevant and meaningful, encouraging children to explore their curiosity and develop higher level thinking skills. She coached students in the Battle of the Books, encouraging a love of reading. Her development of the West Homer Elementary School homestead unit gave students a lasting understanding of the local history of their community. And the Potato Project, the installation of permanent potato beds at West Homer Elementary and the Pratt Museum, with students harvesting potatoes and donating them to the Homer Food Pantry, helped students connect to their community. In 2013, she received the BP Teacher of Excellence award for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Maslow retired from teaching in 2015. Only two years into retirement, her boundless energy for children continues. She organized a group of volunteers and led the project to create the interpretive nature trail that runs behind West Homer Elementary. The accessible trail is a schoolyard habitat, emphasizing the importance of conservation and providing children an opportunity to appreciate the environment in their own backyard.

She has developed an after school homework/tutoring program for students and helped create the Preludes Program at Paul Banks Elementary, putting violins into the hands of all Kindergarten and first grade students, based on a research-based program that has demonstrated the positive impact string instrument playing has on cognitive development.

Maslow is a person who can take an idea and develop it into a sustainable program that builds a better life for Homer’s youth. Her enthusiasm is contagious, engaging others in collaborative efforts in a positive, fun loving manner.

When hearing of her nomination for Woman of Wisdom, Maslow said she has always been in awe of the women of Homer.

“Homer is a pretty special place. There are a lot of amazing women doing amazing things. They are tough, strong, independent and great role models and it’s hard for me to see that I do anything different than other women are doing. As women, I think it’s a back-story — we’re building on each other’s work, depending on each other to make it all work. No one is more exceptional than the other.”

Young Woman of Distinction: Casey Marsh

Through her tireless efforts, commitment to volunteerism and drive to impact positive change, 18-year-old Casey Marsh is helping others in our community thrive.

Born in California, Marsh and her family moved to Anchor Point when she was 11. She was homeschooled through a local Connections program through her middle school years and then attended Homer High School because she wanted to have the public high school experience. She graduated from Homer High last April and is currently working on an associate’s degree at Kachemak Bay Campus.

Marsh has taken the lead on organizing many yearlong events, Facebook Live awareness events, donation services for teens and holiday events to help homeless youth and families in our community. Her commitment to helping those in need is exemplary.

A few years ago, when Marsh noticed that some of her peers were struggling with inconsistent housing, drug use and adverse situations, she organized an event to let these young people know that they weren’t alone and that people in the community wanted to help them. In November 2015, working with local youth advocate, Janet O’Rourke and the Youth Recreation and Enrichment Coop (R.E.C. Room), the first “Homeless, Hungry and Hopeful” campout took place in WFKL park. Throughout the 22-hour sleep out, with people singing and playing guitars beneath trees decorated with Christmas lights, between 20 and 30 community members interacted around a makeshift campfire, with around 10 individuals staying the entire night. Local businesses donated pizzas in the evening and coffee and doughnuts in the morning, and a few people stopped by and made cash donations to the cause.

This event brought awareness to the number of homeless teens in the area, but that wasn’t enough for Marsh. A few weeks later, eager to make more of an impact, she secured and distributed donations of toiletries, basic clothing, backpacks, sleeping bags, pillow, toys, tents, canned goods and non-perishable food items from individuals and businesses in the community to be given out to the homeless during Black Friday. This first distribution was held at the Salvation Army and last year’s was expanded to the Elks Lodge. Marsh refers to this as a Reverse Black Friday, a day, which traditionally symbolizes consumerism in the United States, when she solicits donated items to be given away for free. “Homeless, Hungry and Hopeful’ is an example of her desire to put others before her sense of self. Her ability to organize collaborative efforts among multiple businesses and organizations in the community to get behind her efforts and do their part to help young people in need is inspiring.

In addition to spearheading the Homeless, Hungry and Hopeful project, Marsh has been a volunteer firefighter, works with her mother’s cleaning business, is taking EMT training, began as an intern and is now a reporter for KBBI, and she has recently published her first novel, “Skull Diver” — a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel.

Marsh is modest about her accomplishments and credits many local people as her role models, including her family and numerous friends. She is attuned to the acts of kindness that others have demonstrated and emulates those deeds and her determination to help her community become a safer place for individuals who are struggling is evident and inspiring. She offers a promise for a better tomorrow.

When she heard she was being nominated for the Young Woman of Distinction award, Marsh said, “I’ve always pushed myself to do more so I can feel like I’m doing something other than just waking up, going to school or work, eating, sleeping and repeating. Making a difference in somebody else’s life helps me feel useful in my own life and I try to be the role model that I would want for myself.”

Next week: Read about Donna and Bernie Gareau selected by the Haven House staff as Heroes of the Heart.

Haven House honors Homer women of distinction