Women of Distinction to be honored next weekend

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the date of the Women of Distinction dinner and award ceremony. It will be held March 29.

From volunteers to change makers and beyond, Homer has a history of celebrating its accomplished women. The South Peninsula Haven House Board of Directors will honor its latest class of Women of Distinction on March 29 at Alice’s Champagne Palace.

For those who might not be able to attend the award ceremony and dinner, which begins at 5 p.m., the Homer News conducted interviews with each distinguished woman, so the community can get to know them a bit better.

Woman of Distinction

Cinda Martin, who’s full time job is at Wells Fargo Bank in Homer, is this year’s Woman of Distinction “for her work and passion working with numerous community groups, organizations, and causes in the Homer area,” according to the Haven House board.

Martin said she was shocked when she heard the news.

“In my mind I don’t really do that much, and there’s so many people that do an incredible amount of volunteering in town, and for such meaningful causes, so I just felt like, ‘you got the wrong person,’” she said with a laugh. “And they were like, ‘nope.’”

Martin has lived in Homer for 30 years and got her start in volunteering when her children were involved in youth hockey. She was instrumental in helping the Homer Hockey Association secure and finance the building that would become the Kevin Bell Ice Arena, before retiring her involvement with the association.

Also a member of the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay, Martin is all about forming partnerships and collaborations where they can be found. She also serves as secretary for the Homer Community Food Pantry board and as board secretary for the Homer Marine Trades Association, and has worked on projects in the past that combine the services of multiple groups.

For example, she started a project that brings food from the Homer Community Food Pantry into schools for students who need it — a project that also involved help from Homer Flex School, the Homer Emblem Club and the Homer Girl Scouts to carry out.

This year, Martin said she’s working with a nurse at West Homer Elementary School to expand the food program into summer months, with the Homer Public Library as an access point.

Martin’s work at Wells Fargo has also been an avenue for her to help organizations find grants for their service and community projects.

Schools and education are a focal point in a lot of Martin’s volunteer work.

“I’ve had a lot of blessings in my life. I’ve never seen hardship,” she said. “And so it breaks my heart when — you know, food is pretty essential. And having a good place to live is also. I just kind of feel that that’s where my heart is drawn.”

She said that, in the future, one of her ideas is to get more post-high school career education and training into local schools. A four-year college education isn’t for everyone, she said, and she’d like to see high school students counseled more, and earlier, about what their myriad options are after they graduate.

“I think there needs to be some education around seeking a career,” Martin said. “What do you like? What do you want to do? What schools will help you get there? Is going right after high school a good idea or a bad idea? How much is it going to cost? What is the best route to take? You know, just kind of make them think more about (this) stuff.”

Martin said being named this year’s Woman of Distinction is a “really huge honor” considering the amount of people who volunteer in this community.

“I am really humbled,” she said.

Woman of Wisdom

Denice Clyne is this year’s Woman of Wisdom. A resident of Alaska since 1972 and a Homer resident since 1998, Clyne has left her mark all over the state in terms of education, and all over Homer’s community.

Having worked as a teacher, assistant principal, librarian, special education teacher and more in Anchorage, Utqiagvik, Homer and in other states, Clyne knows the value of an education. As a member of the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay, she said she enjoys that the club hosts the Homer High School Swing Choir.

“I’m very impressed with the young people that come out of this community,” she said.

Clyne has also supported the international exchange program that the rotary club offers. She said it allows her and others to experience many of the talented young people in the surrounding area.

“I think that if you look at the young people that have grown up in Homer and gone away and gone to school, a lot of them are coming back to raise their children in Homer,” Clyne said.

Another organization Clyne has given a lot of her time to is the Bunnell Street Arts Center. She especially appreciates its program to bring art into local schools, she said.

Clyne has been a volunteer at Bunnell, has worked in its store, worked on various Bunnell committees and was a member of its board for a number of years.

“It’s an organization that is close to my heart,” she said.

Having been part of the rotary club since 1999, Clyne has served on its board and been active with the visitor exchange program and planning social events.

Of being named Woman of Wisdom, Clyne said, jokingly, “I guess it means I’ve lived a long time.” Clyne didn’t know she had been nominated and that the call came from one of her friends.

“I was amazed and full of disbelief,” she said.

Clyne said that when she thinks of wisdom, she thinks of her father.

“I think for me it’s hopefully benefiting from the lifelong learning (that I had) that I made good decisions and network with people in a way that is for the greater good,” she said.

Clyne said volunteering became part of her life after retiring from her busy career. After about two years of being retired, she and her husband built their home in Homer and began looking for ways to get connected to the community. Volunteering became that in.

“It’s just the way a person is when they volunteer,” Clyne said. “It’s part of life. When you’ve had a rich life, you want to give back.”

Young Woman of Distinction

Each year, the Haven House board also selects a woman of distinction from the younger generation. This year, it’s Homer High School Senior Cora Parish.

Parish is president of the school’s student council, a member of the local Girl Scouts troop, and has been a member of the girls basketball team for much of middle and high school. She’s also a member of the Homer Emblem Club, where her mother began bringing her and her sister when they were very young. She also volunteers helping in a Kindergarten classroom at Paul Banks Elementary School.

Parish had not heard of the Women of Distinction before, she said. She’s nervous, but excited about the award ceremony.

“All the different people we were around weren’t just part of the (Emblem) club, they were Elks, Emblem, the food bank, or the Lion’s Club, or Share the Spirit,” she said. “So they were all involved in multiple things. … It just kind of became part of what we did.”

In addition to the position of current student council president, Parish has been involved in student council since middle school. She has been a class representative and was junior class president.

Now, Parish said she enjoys volunteering for several reasons.

“For the Emblem Club, I like hanging out with the women and learning all of the different things they have done over the years,” she said. “Helping out at Paul Banks is really nice because I get to see what being a teacher would be like.”

Parish plans to go into education after graduation by attending University of Alaska Southeast. Her focus will be on teaching middle school. Parish said she hopes to stay in Alaska to teach, but is willing to go to the Lower 48 if that’s what it takes. Her time with the student council has been valuable because it gave Parish a basic introduction to the way in which governments work, she said.

“It pushes me to push my boundaries and become a leader,” she said of the student council. “Instead of just following behind everybody else.”

For others who want to get involved but aren’t sure where to start, Parish said she suggests finding a group whose activities match what one likes or wants to do, and following it from there.

Hero of the Heart

Unlike the other recognitions, the Hero of the Heart is selected by Haven House staff, and can be either female or male. This year the honor goes to Anna Meredith, who for seven and a half years worked at the R.E.C. Room as the youth program manager.

Meredith, originally from a farming family on the East Coast, also owns and operates Bridge Creek Birch Syrup with Jake Beaudoin. Haven House staff selected her for “her hard work empowering and building respect for youth, and her skills connecting with people of all generations,” according to the press release on the women of distinction.

“I was quite touched,” Meredith said of the honor. “I didn’t have it on my radar at all, so it was a pleasant surprise for sure.”

The fact that Haven House staff noticed Meredith’s work connecting people from different generations was appreciated, she said.

“That is something my family … it’s just what the Merediths have always done, without really realizing that that’s what we do as a family,” she said. “We connect people.”

The R.E.C. Room is a place where teens and young people can go to feel safe, foster healthy relationships and learn about making healthy choices. In addition to the physical space, the organization also offers programs for youth to help guide them in a positive direction.

One of those is Promoting Health Among Teens, which uses teenage Peer Educators to go into local schools to teach things like health and sex education. As youth program manager, Meredith was in charge of these and other projects at the R.E.C. Room.

She said one of the best parts of the job was watching the organization’s growth over the years, as well as the relationships she was able to form through it.

The ability to connect people across generations is “one of our biggest strengths as a human culture,” Meredith said. She also noted that there aren’t a plethora of programs that accomplish that currently.

“We have tons to learn from our elders and to pass on,” she said.

Though she’s moving on from the R.E.C. Room to focus more on Bridge Creek Birch Syrup, Meredith said education will still be a part of her life. Being able to spread the word about the unique product around the peninsula and state comes at a good time when people are more interested in understanding where their food comes from and how it’s made, she said.

“I have the time to really relish in that it is such a cool product to make, and we’re the only ones on the peninsula,” Meredith said.

She said passion and heart will still be part of her daily life and job.

“If you don’t make it all with love, it’ll affect the flavor,” she said.

Meredith said she remembers when the Hero of the Heart award first became integrated into the Women of Distinction program.

“Right away, with ‘heart,’ it speaks compassion to me,” she said. “So I think anytime passion is acknowledged — not just in me — in people and in a cultural way I suppose, it’s just better for all of us. I think it’s so cool Haven House made that one of the awards. And I can think of so many people who would be so appropriate for it.”

Doors open for the Women of Distinction dinner at 5 p.m. and dinner is served at 6 p.m. Tickets for the dinner and auction can be purchased at the Homer Bookstore or at South Peninsula Haven House offices for $50 per person.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.