When the community gets together Friday to celebrate the 2017 Women of Distinction, they also will honor the 2017 Heroes of the Heart — Donna and Bernie Gareau.
Selected by the staff of Haven House, this award recognizes a compassionate individual or individuals who are dedicated to the Haven House mission, which is “to support and empower people impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault and to promote healthy families.”
Donna and Bernie Gareau, this year’s Heroes of the Heart recipients, arrived in Homer 10 years ago. Originally from Massachusetts, they first visited Alaska in 1995 and after eight vacation trips to various parts of the state decided to move to Homer when they retired.
The couple spent most of their lives living in New England surrounded by their extended family and 39-year-old son. They moved to Chicago “on our way to Alaska” where Bernie worked as the manager of a large printing company and Donna enjoyed her days as a crossing guard for the local elementary school. “I’ve always loved kids, so doing something for children has a special place in my heart,” she says.
Donna first started making Teddy Bears which she called “memory bears” out of old shirts for friends and family members whose loved one had passed away. As she says Teddy Bears “don’t criticize and are simply there for you to hug during times you need it the most; they also provide someone to talk to.”
Donna has been making 7-9 bears a year for the past seven years. She donates them to Haven House who gives them to children seen at the shelter.
“My heart goes out for the kids who come to the shelter, but I’m grateful they have a safe place to stay,” she says.
Donna is now also making “weighted” blankets for the children. The weighted blanket is filled with special plastic poly pellets that are sewn into compartments, which distributes the weight evenly. The deep pressure of a weighted blanket helps the body to relax, feel more grounded and safe.
The Gareaus love their home and yard. In addition to her sewing projects, Donna grows lots of flowers for the yard from seed in her greenhouse. They live a self-described “quiet life” enjoying their new home town and the rest of the Last Frontier.
Also being honored Friday during the 2017 Women of Distinction dinner and auction are Kelly Cooper, Woman of Distinction; Lyn Maslow, Woman of Wisdom; and Casey Marsh, Young Woman of Distinction.