On Saturday, March 13, AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies) will hold its eighth annual Women of Distinction Dinner and Silent Auction at Centennial Hall. The event will honor four distinguished women who have made significant contributions to improving the lives of Juneau's women and children. Community members submitted nominations, and the honorees were selected by AWARE's board of directors.
The 2004 honorees are Beth Belflower, Mildred Boesser, Laury Scandling and Vicki Soboleff.
"It is as difficult to capture (her) vivacity as it is to harness a lightning bug in a jar," fellow P.E.O. Chapter "D" sisters said of honoree Belflower. "Beth is awhirl with projects and plans, and she brings her joie de vivre to each and every task she undertakes."
And the tasks Belflower takes are enough to keep the 60-year-old retiree busy full time - and she relishes every minute.
Belflower is best known for bringing a blast of sunshine to Juneau every spring as chairwoman of the American Cancer Society's annual Daffodil Days fund-raiser. But she helps out in less public ways as well, though her impact is as strongly felt by those she helps, if not as widely noticed as the bright yellow daffodils. Belflower is the smiling face that delivers meals to local residents who cannot make their own, and is the heart who contributes Christmas shoeboxes Chapel by the Lake sends to children in Third World countries each year. She's a merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts, and one afternoon each week, she heads off to Riverbend Elementary to mentor a fourth-grade student, who is very proud that he is now in the fourth grade, as part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters school mentor program. When asked why she does so much for those around her, Belflower simply says, "because the need is there." Her inspiration, she said, is her husband, Estol, and the love and support they have shared through what she describes as "42 exciting years."
"Appreciating them makes me aware of those in less fortunate conditions," she said.
Belflower does make time for non-philanthropic hobbies, including needlework, flying light aircraft, birding and vegetable gardening. But her priority lies in helping others. And if the inspiration she gains from the love of her husband ever starts to wane, Belflower needs only to think of the children.
"They are the future," she said. "We need to help them gain a good one."
All her life Mildred Boesser has had an abiding interest in the education of children, particularly in their religious education.
She received a B.A. degree in child psychology and religion from Vassar College in 1947 and a master of arts degree in teaching from UAF in 1972. She worked as a Danforth Graduate in an ecumenical setting on a university campus, taught kindergarten in private and public schools and had recently retired from more than 40 years as a Sunday school church teacher. She says she was highly privileged to be a stay-at-home mother as she and her husband raised four daughters here in Juneau. The experience convinced her the early years of childhood are of the utmost importance and that parents need to take this very seriously, doing all in their power to support and care for their children in every possible way.
Mildred is the AIDS Awareness point person for the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska and is acutely aware of the magnitude of this pandemic and its increasing toll of women and children around the world, including the now millions of children left orphaned in their ravaged countries.
She and her husband are charter members of the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.) PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends through support, education and advocacy, and provides opportunity for dialogue on sexual orientation and gender identity and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.
Taking her cue from Jo March, the spunky "little woman" who started a home for wayward boys in the Little Men, Laury Scandling created her own "home" for students failing high school. In 1997, Scandling and teaching partner Mark Roschy started Choosing Healthy Options in Cooperative Education, a small community within Juneau-Douglas High School for at-risk students.
The CHOICE program, as it is better known, utilizes alternative methods of teaching and experiential learning for students who have been unsuccessful in a more traditional academic environment. The program requires that students fulfill a series of internships and perform community service, and partners with various community agencies to sponsor retreats which allow CHOICE teachers to truly focus on their students. "Laury has been the rock to which these young people could cling," said Sharon Gaiptman, who has been friends with Scandling for 26 years. "She has encouraged and supported her students, her 'community,' in their efforts to succeed by engaging them in a positive lifestyle."
Scandling's commitment to helping youth dates back to her teenage years when, at 16, she began tutoring elementary children to improve their reading skills. Through the years she has always worked to support youth. In addition to creating the CHOICE program, Scandling helped found the Juneau Youth Court which provides basic legal training to teen advocates who mete out appropriate consequences to first-time juvenile offenders.
Scandling's commitment to youth is second only to her commitment to family. Married to husband Bruce for 20 years and mother to 19-year-old twins Evan and Rachel, now in their first year of college, friends say she makes a point not to over-schedule herself at their expense. So, while she may not be able to work on as many causes as she'd like, those close to her say that those activities to which she does dedicate herself - teaching aerobics at the Juneau Racquetball Club, raising funds for the Midnight Suns baseball team, contributing to the Juneau Writing Project for kids, coordinating the school district's Women of Distinction essay even, or performing with the political satire troupe, the Bluescast - get the most she has to offer.
Growing up in Ketchikan, Vicki Soboleff recalls having low self-esteem and little pride in her Native culture. When her niece experienced those same feelings during her own adolescence, Soboleff decided something needed to be done. With the help of members of the Yun Shu Ka dance group, Soboleff formed the All Nations' Children Group, a dance troupe designed to teach Alaska Native youth about their culture, and ultimately give them the self-esteem and pride in themselves that both Soboleff and her niece lacked growing up.
"I believe that knowledge of Native culture will promote self-esteem, pride and leadership in young people," Soboleff said. "The children are our future, and we have to invest time in their development."
On the outside, it would seem that a senior corporate accountant with the Sealaska Corporation would be the last person to lead a children's dance group. But Soboleff, whose Haida name is Hiilunjaat, and whose Tlingit name is Kukak, has been performing traditional Haida and Tlingit songs and dances since her early adolescence, first with the Ketchikan Indian Corporation, and continuing in Juneau when she joined the Eagle/Raven dancers in 1985. Soboleff's grandmother also taught Haida language, songs and dance, so she found herself immersed in her Native culture.
When Soboleff isn't practicing with Children's group, she works on her Ravenstail weaving and spends time with her husband, Ross, and their children Jake, Nate, Madeline and Ruby.
The Women of Distinction Dinner is AWARE's annual fundraising event, drawing more than 300 people. AWARE is delighted to have the support of First National Bank Alaska and Wells Fargo Bank as Corporate Sponsors this year.
Festivities will begin at Centennial Hall with a reception at 6 p.m. There will be a no-host bar and silent auction, with music graciously provided by the Rob Cohen Trio. At 7 pm, emcee Liz Dodd will extend a welcome, the All Nations Children's Group will perform a dance, and a catered dinner will follow. First Lady of Alaska, Nancy Murkowski and Representative Beth Kertulla will be present to confer awards to the four honorees. The public is invited to attend, and can reserve tickets by calling (907) 586-6623. The cost is $50 per person, or $600 to reserve a table of 10. One-quarter, one-half and full-page advertisements or messages of good cheer can also be purchased in the program book.