Meet Your Neighbor: Haven House Women of Distinction awardees

Haven House recognizes women who are passionate about serving the community and inspiring those around them

South Peninsula Haven House invites the community to celebrate the 2023 Women of Distinction on Saturday, April 1. This annual event recognizes women of all ages who contribute to the community and inspire those around them. Being honored this year are: Woman of Distinction Tela O’Donnell Bacher; Young Woman of Distinction Jordan Barrowcliff; Woman of Wisdom Angie Newby; Hero of the Heart Adrienne Sweeney; and Shining Star Jessica Poling.

Woman of Distinction: Tela O’Donnell Bacher

Born and raised in Homer, Bacher is a 2004 Olympian in Women’s Wrestling, has a Bachelor of Art in Psychology, and is a gender equality advocate. Raised by a single mother, she started wrestling while in middle school and went on to place at the Alaskan High School Wrestling State Championships, the second female in Alaskan history to do so at the time. Dedicated to empowering girls and women to live to their full potential, Bacher coaches Homer High School wrestling, is co-founder of Wrestle Like A Girl, organizes wrestling camps across the United States, traveled to Pakistan last year in coordination with the U.S. Department of State to support a Gender Based Violence initiative, and this week, leaves for Mongolia on a state department-funded sports diplomacy exchange.

“Wrestling is the vehicle I’m good at and through which I’ve learned that with a little to a lot of effort, you can make a difference in your community and the world around you,” Bacher said. “What starts with little sparks of passion and dedication can develop into a wildfire.”

Since 2016 when Wrestle Like A Girl was founded, wrestling has become the fastest growing sport in the nation, from 14,000 girls wrestling seven years ago to more than 53,000 today.

Bacher shared that she is a product of the community that has encouraged and supported her, including Rotary, small businesses, teachers, neighbors and other community members. She is committed to helping others find their own path forward, even while being a leader isn’t in her comfort zone.

“I’m pretty shy, so being in a leadership role doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s really important to me that there are both male and female leaders and role models in the world and I’ve learned that I have some skills as a leader,” she said.

One of her skills is identifying and helping others see their own strengths and nurturing them to do what they do well and to use those skills to make a difference.

“We need people who are willing to speak their mind and who can articulate their ideas and connect with others,” she said. “When we come together to work towards a common goal, that’s when we succeed.”

Young Woman of Distinction: Jordan Barrowcliff

Born and raised in Homer, 17-year-old Barrowcliff is dedicated to sharing her passions with other youth. A hockey enthusiast since a young age, she volunteers as a student coach with the Homer Hockey Association, working with the Microbells Program, the 8U Mites Team, the Glacier Girls hockey program, and the Glacier Kings hockey team, and was voted Homer Hockey Association’s student volunteer of the year the last two years in a row.

“As a junior hockey coach, Jordan is an extraordinary leader for the Glacier Kings and always strives to be a positive role model for the younger kids,” said one of the individuals who nominated Barrowcliff for the award. “She takes time to help the hockey players learn new skills and does a lot of one-on-one interaction with them. Jordan is also great at demonstrating what it’s like to be a positive team player and work through problems on ice. Taking so much time out of her teenage life to dedicate to other youth makes her extraordinary.”

In addition to hockey, Barrowcliff enjoys horseback riding and volunteers at the Ninilchik Junior Horse Camp. She herds cattle, does ranch work and competes in rodeos and fairs where she has won buckles and awards, both as a barrel-racer and in pole bending. Riding and competing with others’ horses, last year she got her own horse — a rescue named Winter — who she has been busy building a connection with. This summer she plans to teach riding at horse camps and is eager to help others with their own troubled horses.

Passionate about animals, Barrowcliff works at Kachemak Bay Animal Hospital as a kennel tech. As she prepares to graduate Connections Homeschool this May, she plans to continue coaching hockey, riding horseback and competing, and would like to one day open her own equestrian facility, offering boarding, training, riding lessons, and equine therapy.

“I enjoy teaching others what I know and volunteering in the community is really important to me,” Barrowcliff said. “If I can help kids be confident on the ice or on horseback, then that makes me really happy.”

Woman of Wisdom: Angie Newby

Newby moved to Homer in 1982 and a year later started her own real estate company, Homer Real Estate, thanks in great part to the encouragement of other women in the community.

“So many established homesteader women, like Gert Seekins and Margaret Pate, took me under their wing,” Newby said. “I’m so appreciative of how women in our community support one another. And I love how Alaska is a state where women operate heavy equipment, fly planes, own banks, and are in high levels of government, succeeding based on their skills.”

Newby has a long history of mentoring women who walk through her doors and works hard to foster an environment that allows for creativity and nurtures confidence-building.

“I like to see my people run with an idea if they think it will support our business climate and I enjoy helping them discover and develop their strengths,” she said. “People come to work for me from all sorts of different situations — broken marriages, a lack of confidence or goals — and leave pursuing real estate or following other passions.”

Newby loves to make things happen and does so by volunteering on boards. She has in fact served on nearly every board in the community, currently president of the South Peninsula Hospital board.

“I’ve always been involved in a million things and I usually fly under the radar,” she shared. “I like to be a spark plug behind the scenes.”

Genuinely interested and inquisitive about people, Newby is a great promoter of volunteerism. Not tied to her business, she just happens to be a business owner and a volunteer.

‘There’s no better way to meet your neighbors and be part of helping your community thrive than being involved in volunteer activities,” she shared. “I’m glad there’s such a healthy environment here in Homer and I’m happy to be a part of that.”

Hero of the Heart: Adrienne Sweeney

The owner of A.J.’s Steakhouse and the Driftwood Inn, Sweeny likes to think there’s always room at the Inn. She and her staff, her husband Alex, and their daughters Eleanor, Lillian and Lexi work together to lend a hand. Sweeney works with Haven House, the Homer Food Pantry, and South Peninsula Behavior Health Services to help individuals and families in transition and steps in to help when needed.

A fifth-generation Homer resident and inspired by her upbringing, she wants to both help her community and inspire her children and grandchildren to be involved in their own communities. Sweeney’s Great Grandmother Lillian Walli’s father came to the area in the late 1800s to work summers at the Libby & McNeil Cannery, homesteading at Stariski in 1914, and in Homer in 1928.

She is proud to be the daughter of Steve and Marie Walli and the great granddaughter of Lillian Walli, known to many as “Ma Walli” who ran the general store in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, and who extended credit at the store and often housing.

Sweeney continues the tradition of being a good neighbor.

“In today’s society, there’s this idea of people staying in their own lane and not seeing what’s going on around them,” she said. “My desire to help is partly my upbringing. My siblings and I were raised to treat others as you would want to be treated through goodwill and hospitality. And it’s partly this community that is so positive and that has so many people stepping up to help when the need is there.”

Shining Star: Jessica Poling

This year, Haven House gives special recognition to a community member who has gone above and beyond to help keep the community safe through her work with the Homer Police Department.

“We are so happy to honor Jessica for her dedication to the safety and well-being of others,” Britt Huffman, Haven House board president, said.

Originally from Ohio, Poling moved to Homer six years ago with her disabled mother, whom she cares for.

A private person, Poling witnessed and experienced domestic and personal violence growing up. Inspired by the positive interactions with law enforcement and good care she and her mom received at women’s shelters, she wanted to give back. Her journey into law enforcement began at 19 years old when she got a job as a dispatcher and recognized her ability to work well and think clearly in stressful and high-pressure situations.

“I had no idea what I was getting into with dispatching — serious calls coming in that I had to deal with quickly while talking to the police and with phones ringing all the time,” she said. “I fell in love with the work and it pushed me to go further.”

Poling became a police officer when she was 22 years old, working as a sergeant with the Arizona Navajo County Sheriffs Department. A special investigator with the Homer Police Department, she prides herself on paying attention to what the community needs, and appreciates that the community members she serves are also her neighbors.

“Being connected to and caring about the people here is very important to me,” she said. “I work with fantastic people on the multidisciplinary teams when it comes to Sexual Assault Response Team/Domestic Violence and the Child Advocacy Center response.

“We as the police department have a great working relationship with the advocates at Haven House and the forensic nurses at South Peninsula Hospital. I couldn’t do my job without their support and the work they do for the mission. Homer is blessed with fantastic and knowledgeable people who care deeply about serving the citizens and those in need.”

Celebrate and learn more about these women during this year’s award’s ceremony, Saturday, April 1, 6 p.m. at Land’s End Resort, which will include dinner, a silent auction, and a quilt raffle.

Tickets can be purchased at the Homer Bookstore. For more information on Haven House, their work, and programs, visit

Photo by Joshua Veldstra/courtesy 
Angie Newby is photographed in summer 2022. Newby is the 2023 Haven House Women of Distinction “Woman of Wisdom” award recipient.

Photo by Joshua Veldstra/courtesy Angie Newby is photographed in summer 2022. Newby is the 2023 Haven House Women of Distinction “Woman of Wisdom” award recipient.

Photo by Eleanor Sweeney / courtesy 
Adrienne Sweeney is photographed in September 2022. Sweeney is the 2023 Haven House Women of Distinction “Hero of the Heart” award recipient.

Photo by Eleanor Sweeney / courtesy Adrienne Sweeney is photographed in September 2022. Sweeney is the 2023 Haven House Women of Distinction “Hero of the Heart” award recipient.

Photo provided by Tela O’Donnell Bacher 
Tela O’Donnell Bacher coaches wrestling in September 2022 at Newhalen School in Dillingham. Bacher is the 2023 Haven House Women of Distinction “Woman of Distinction” award recipient.

Photo provided by Tela O’Donnell Bacher Tela O’Donnell Bacher coaches wrestling in September 2022 at Newhalen School in Dillingham. Bacher is the 2023 Haven House Women of Distinction “Woman of Distinction” award recipient.