Parnell joins community discussion

Gov. Sean Parnell offered his support and community members young and old came up with an action plan at the “Voices Over Violence” meeting sponsored by South Peninsula Haven House on Oct. 17. It was the second meeting organized by Haven House following the Sept. 8 teen drinking party that resulted in three being charged with second-degree sexual assault of a 17-year-old boy.

That party, as well as another one since then, has resulted in the disciplinary action of multiple Homer High School students. Details of the Sept. 8 incident are still under investigation by the Alaska State Troopers. 

“I’m really here as an outgrowth of why these dialogues are happening, because of what happened in this community,” Parnell told the Mariner Theatre audience of 50-75 youth and adults. “I’m here to say I can’t solve it for you, I can’t fix it, I can’t make it right, but I can support you in making sure a sexual assault like this doesn’t happen again in this community.”

Parnell’s comments came at the beginning of the meeting and were followed by Jessica Lawmaster, executive director of Haven House, dividing the audience of 50-75 youth and adults into discussion groups. Attending with the governor were Parnell’s wife, Sandy, Cindy Sims of the Governor’s Office, and Special Assistant Katie TePas, coordinator for the Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Initiative.

In 2009, the governor committed the state to taking the necessary steps to end Alaska’s epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Parnell’s Domestic Violence-Sexual Assault Initiative, known as “Choose Respect,” focuses on prevention and intervention, support for survivors and law enforcement. The initiative’s original 18 partner communities have since increased to 120 across the state.

“Whether it’s Homer, Anchorage, Kipnuk, Kodiak or all around the state, we deal with these issues daily,” said Parnell. “Every day we have an opportunity to not shove something under the run, but to actually have a dialogue, so thanks to Haven House for having the courage to do that, to show up tonight and say that domestic violence and sexual assault are not who we are, that we believe in the value of human life, the value of other human beings and that we will stand for other Alaskans in their time of need.”

Parnell praised Haven House and those attending Wednesday’s meeting for their dialogue on sexual assault and domestic violence and promotion of “justice, healing and restoration.”

“This is really a ‘Y’ in the road for Homer, Alaska. It’s important. The choices you make here tonight mean something to your future, for Alaska,” said Parnell. “I’m here to support you and to offer my voice in support of never, ever, ever seeing another family destroyed by violence or sexual assault. That’s really my mission and now it’s a mission you share with me.”

The audience then divided into groups to discuss community- and school-based prevention and school policies.

One group examined existing efforts such as those organized by MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships), the Homer Prevention Project, parenting classes and early childhood support. Also discussed was bringing to Homer the Green Dot program, a comprehensive approach to violence prevention based on the peer and cultural influences. 

“As a result of that conversation, Haven House is working with the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and the developers of Green Dot,” said Lawmaster. 

In November, community members will meet with visiting representatives of the council and Green Dot to discuss bringing the program to Homer.

Another group addressed incorporating education on healthy relationships and bystander intervention into school curriculums. Programs such as Green Dot, Fourth R and Coaching Boys Into Men were discussed. Fourth R is a program that includes students, teachers, parents and the community with the goal of reducing violence and risk behaviors. Coaching Boys Into Men is a program to help coaches talk to athletes about respect for women and girls, emphasizing that violence doesn’t equal strength. As a follow-up, coaches are invited to attend an Alaska Coaching Boys Into Men training in January. 

Implementing school policies supporting a culture of non-violence and zero tolerance for bullying at school was addressed by another group.

“(They) identified teacher, coach and staff trainings on bullying, including tangible skills as an important first step, along with health education every year at the high school, and strengthening the sense of the community at the schools,” said Rachel Romberg, victims services program manager for Haven House.

Also identified was a “cloak of confidentiality” the group said existed at the high school. It keeps students from feeling safe talking to adults about issues of concern and, in return, makes it difficult for adults to offer help. It also fosters a mentality that asking for help is a betrayal of friends or will result in getting in trouble.

Youth at the meeting discussed what would make the community safer and more engaging. They looked at existing support, as well as barriers, and championed a center with space for sports, arts, music, homework, tutoring, dances, games and more. They also discussed school dances and how to make them safer.

“The general consensus was that, while there are many activities available for teens, there aren’t any safe, sober, interesting places to just hang out and meet up with friends on evenings and the weekends,” said Romberg.

Lawmaster urged the community to continue advocating for change by participating in the MAPP initiative, Homer Prevention Project, follow-up meetings hosted by Haven House or other efforts that might arise as a result of recent meetings.

“We also encourage folks to contact us and volunteer,” said Lawmaster. “It takes a whole community to cultivate respect and safety for our youngest and our most vulnerable citizens.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached art