Haven House and the Homer community at large will celebrate the 2018 Women of Distinction on Friday at Alice’s Champagne Palace.
This year’s honorees are: Woman of Distinction, Linda Chamberlain; Woman of Wisdom, Daisy Lee Bitter, and Young Woman of Distinction, Chloe Pleznac. This year’s Hero of the Heart is Lisa Talbott. The women will be honored at an awards banquet at 5 p.m. Friday at Alice’s Champagne Palace. Tickets are on sale at the Homer Bookstore and Haven House.
Serendipitously, and directly related to the Haven House mission, three of this year’s honorees work, have worked or speak out about the realm of abuse and work toward solutions and healing. All of them have worked or work to better the lives of young people. From the Anchorage school rooms of the 1950s to international initiatives in Finland to the local stage here in Homer, the following women have made their mark, and Homer has taken notice.
Woman of Distinction: Linda Chamberlain
Women of distinction are nominated and selected by Haven House for outstanding work in their community. Not only has Dr. Linda Chamberlain accomplished this, she’s also taken her work far and wide across the state, country and world.
Most well known for her work with Adverse Childhood Experiences, Chamberlain got her start in the field of public health purely by chance, as she describes it. While living in Anchorage (she moved to Alaska 28 years ago) Chamberlain met someone who spoke with her about public health and inspired her to go back to school.
While working on her doctorate, Chamberlain was in a serious ski accident which broke her bright leg and bones in her knee joint. She recovered at John Hopkins and had been about to start her doctoral research. Asked what she wanted to focus on, she answered: trauma. The formation of the Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project became Chamberlain’s eventual dissertation, and she would go on to direct the project for 24 years.
“It was my calling,” she said.
From there, Chamberlain has branched out into certifications in different forms of physical and emotional healing, and participated in a new Fulbright Scholarship project that took her to the Arctic. She and others selected focused on how to solve issues in the world’s eight arctic nations, including Alaska, and Chamberlain was the only one focusing on trauma while working in Finland.
“The North experience is a much higher prevalence of these issues,” she said. “That’s the hard part for Alaska. But doing this work in Alaska, just as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better place to be.”
While Alaska does face several systemic issues in areas of violence against women and children, Chamberlain said the state is also unique in that, under the right leadership, it’s willing and able to get a jump on things and make a difference.
“What I see in other places with a lot of different layers … (is) they may have more resources, but it’s harder for them to get off the starting block,” she said.
Though Chamberlain travels often, when she’s back in Alaska she’s thinking about how to continue growing and learning in her field. She’s always interested in where the gap in services is and how to fill it, she said.
Homer, particularly, is a good example of the type of community that takes information about the impact of trauma and runs with the solutions, she said.
Chamberlain has spent time training in different modalities that she says harness the brain and body processes that promote the brain to heal. These include Catacitar and Feldenkrais, which focus on using body-based strategies to help heal the brain and promote wellness. She’s also a tension and trauma release exercise practitioner.
“I love my work,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”
When Chamberlain’s in Homer, she’s enjoying time with her sled dog team at her home off East End Road. The dogs have not only served as a way for her to take a break from work, but as an analogy she’s used when training other organizations in terms of proper leadership.
Chamberlain is currently working on a children’s book based on the sled dogs, with the working title “Why the Huskies Howl.” The book will teach children simple ways of using breathing techniques and other methods for being mindful and becoming their best selves.
Another item on her bucket list, Chamberlain said, is to share the new information she learns about trauma and healing with the community around her.
Young Woman of Distinction: Chloe Pleznac
For every Woman of Distinction who has put in her time and work bettering the community, there’s a younger woman coming right up behind her. This year that’s Homer High School senior Chloe Pleznac.
A peer education through the R.E.C. Room for two years, Pleznac has taken her personal experiences and her passion for public speaking and creative expression and turned them into a way to help guide her younger peers.
Pleznac, born in Homer, began showing a tendency toward the dramatic from and extremely young age. By the time she was 2-years-old, she had begun picking up her father’s guitar and jamming out angsty little rhymes like “bad dad!”
“As soon as I started forming vocabulary, I’d be able to, like, I’d just make songs about the things around me,” Pleznac said.
Picking up on her creative inclinations, Pleznac’s parents encouraged her with more formal music education. She has written songs and poetry ever since, and even performed in a band with some other girls in high school for a time.
Part of what Pleznac says has helped her mature and get involved in helping others is the fact that she was homeschooled for much of her education. Being surrounded by more adults than the average student, she said she became more articulate and mature at a younger age.
Friends of parents also helped nudge Pleznac toward things that might interest her and help her grow, like drama, another passion of hers. Pleznac has also participated in the high school’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team, where she really honed her public speaking skills.
A significant event in Pleznac’s life as a middle schooler also helped cement her desire to advocate and educate other students. She entered public school to attend the sixth grade at West Homer Elementary, during which time she said she experienced sexual harassment from another studnet.
When the teacher’s solution was to have the student apologize, Pleznac said she didn’t view that as enough. She said she didn’t know the right words to assign to the situation, but that even at the time, she knew it was wrong.
“I honestly am not the kind of person that believes that any kind of sexual harassment or objectification of women is OK,” she said. ” … Even though this was just a small little thing that happened in sixth grade and honestly I’ve moved on from it and I know it was a small thing, seeing my peers and my close friends suffer with it has really inspired me to want to take those steps forward and protect them as much as I can.”
Pleznac took a Promoting Health Among Teens (PHAT) class through the REC Room, and immediately became interested in the subject matter and in being able to teach it herself. She became a peer educator her sophomore year. Pleznac said she saw value in sharing her own story with the younger students she taught.
“They see me being honest and real with them, and they feel, you know, a little bit more open and able to share with me,” she said.
At the same time, Pleznac said her age also helped her connect with the students she was teaching on a deeper level.
“It’s been hard sometimes, because of course sometimes you want to be like, oh, I’m a kid, this is kind of funny,” she said. “… And I try to embrace that, because kids are going to laugh, and kids are going to think that it’s funny. You’ve just got to meet them where they are.”
Pleznac has been accepted to several universties for her college education. Right now, she’s considering taking two years to earn credits at Kachemak Bay College before going on to study film. She’s particularly interested in documentary film making.
“I used to write screenplays when I was 9,” she said. “… The idea of being able to tell stories visually and … the magic of being able to like — it’s almost like a stream of conciousness … you’re looking at things out of someone else’s eyes. I think that’s really powerful.”
Pleznac said it’s important to honor powerful women, espeically young ones, because they are “up and coming.”
“A lot of times it can seem like we don’t have a lot of female role models to look up to, both in society in the town,” she said. “I feel so lucky to know some of these strong, powerful women in this town. I think as peers, it’s really important to have people who are close and accessible and maybe more open to speak to you.”
Woman of Wisdom: Daisy Lee (Anderson) Bitter
A staple in both Homer society and in the greater fabric of the state of Alaska, Daisy Lee Bitter brings her 90 years of knowledge to this year’s Woman of Wisdom award. A science teacher for more than 30 years in Anchorage, Bitter pioneered the education program for Alaska Native students there, as well as the education program for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, which she also had a hand in forming.
She was also one of very, very few female principals in Anchorage at the time.
Born in California, Bitter got her bachelor of arts degree in 1945. She graduated Summa Cum Laude. She later earned her master’s degree in teaching after having moved to Alaska with her husband, Conrad, in 1954. Bitter had met her husband after he was discharged from the U.S. military, having been stationed in Dutch Harbor, California and in Europe.
“He proposed to me when I was in high school, but I wasn’t ready to get married. I was determined to go to college,” Bitter said. “And I was afraid if I got married we’d have a family right away and I’d never get to go to college. So he waited about four years. Then I saw what I thought were other women going after him, and so I decided, well, he was the right guy so I better tell him ‘yes.’”
Bitter has already had the honor of receiving the Homer Public Library’s Lifelong Learner Award, as well as the Governor’s 8 Stars of Gold Award. She’s also gotten awards from the Alaska Conservation Society and in 1986, was named Homer’s Citizen of the Year. Bitter was inducted to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
“It’s different. I’m glad that some of the people that I’ve worked with over the years thought maybe that was true,” she said of being considered a Woman of Wisdom.
Bitter also participated in sports pre-Title IX, where she was selected to be on the Anchorage Women’s’ All-Star Softball team.
“They weren’t fair to women in sports,” she said. “… Until that (Title IX) went through, you know, they didn’t get an equal shake.”
In addition to her academic endeavors, Bitter has always been an avid gardener. She’s written several magazine articles on gardening and the environment, in addition to her several books on various topics, and she still hosts a radio program on KBBI, Kachemak Currents, dedicated to nature.
The owner of the Kachemak Seascape peony farm on her property, Bitter has also been named a Master Gardener.
Bitter said she hopes young women in the community will be empowered by her success.
“I hope that they say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it too,’” she said.
Hero of the Heart: Lisa Talbott
In addition to the Women of Distinction, Haven House recognizes a compassionate individual who is dedicated to the organization’s mission. This year, that’s Lisa Talbott, a pastor at Homer United Methodist Church, chaplain for the U.S. Coast Guard, Relief Chaplain for South Peninsula Hospital, and much more.
Talbott, who moved to Homer from Anchorage just five years ago, said she was not expecting the honor as she still feels like “the new kid” in town.
“I am honored and humbled both by it,” she said. “I was actually kind of surprised by it.”
In addition to her spiritual work, Talbott serves on the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) of the Southern Kenai Peninsula steering committee. This out of all she’s done in and around town, is something Talbott said she’s especially proud of.
The community’s Opioid Task Force was born out of MAPP, as were several other initiatives and ideas. Having that follow through to actually work toward a solution after discussing a problem a community faces is essential, Talbott said. MAPP enforces the idea that multiple people and organizations is the way to tackle social problems, she said.
Talbott said she also appreciates that members of MAPP focus on spiritual wellness in addition to emotional, intellectual and other realms of health.
“I had felt a calling to serve people since I was a very small child,” she said.
Yet, it would be several years before Talbott ever held a leadership position in a church. She was raised in a denomination in which women were not allowed to hold such positions, and subsequently satisfied her need to serve by becoming a middle and high school teacher for 10 years.
Though she was in a classroom and not at the front of a church, Talbott said she still feels as though her work with young people was a kind of ministry. If she saw that students weren’t getting enough meals, she kept extra food in her classroom. If they had had a particularly rough night at home, she would allow them a quick nap.
“I was doing a lot of ministry with my kids in that, if they needed a coat, I would find them a coat,” Talbott said.
It was actually tragedy that brought Talbott back to the church and reignited her calling to serve. Her youngest stepdaughter died of cancer, after which she and her husband started going to church again in Anchorage.
There, Talbott met an inspiring female church leader who would later become her mentor.
“When I saw a female pastor step into the pulpit for the first time, there was just a gigantic click in my heart that, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing,’” she said.
Talbott explained that in the Methodist church, pastors are appointed to serve their communities in addition to the people who walk through the church doors, hence her great involvement in Homer life.
“It is essential to have women in church leadership,” she said. “I believe that we are all created in the image of the Divine, and like pieces of a puzzle or a mosaic, it takes all of us to make up that image. We cannot see the face of the Divine until we see the divine in every face.”
Of receiving the Hero of the Heart award, Talbott said she thinks part of it has to do with how open she has been about hardships in her own life, including abuse. Since she now feels she’s in a safe place, Talbott said she also feels it’s her duty to speak out and share her story for those who don’t yet feel like they can.
To her, getting the award “really speaks to the courage that it takes to be vulnerable, but also the willingness to be personally vulnerable, to move the conversation forward.”
It’s important to honor and empower women in the community, Talbott said, because it’s lets others know that the community values all its citizens. She said the Women of Distinctioin awards indicate that Homer understands that to empower women, one does not have to disempower men.
“There’s enough power to go around,” she said.
Talbott said she wants to encourage people to support Haven House and its mission.
“They do incredible work of helping families in crisis, and at the same time they also work to raise a healthier next generation,” she said.