Annette Coggins, executive director of AWARE, will leave the nonprofit agency Wednesday after more than seven years of service. With more than 20 years of shelter experience, Coggins provides a positive influence for the many people whose lives she touches, coworkers said.
"Working with her is great," said Rural Outreach Coordinator Amy Maio. "She has positive energy. She can get things done and no matter what is going on, she always takes time to talk to us."
For 25 years, AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies) has provided safety and support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Funded through the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, foundation grants, the city and the United Way, AWARE ensures victims' safety and advocates for them so they will not be revictimized by the systems that try to help them. As executive director, Coggins is responsible for the overall daily management of the agency.
Coggins, 43, was always interested in environmental education, so while pursuing a degree in botany and science education at the University of Florida, she worked at a shelter but never thought of it as a career option. After she graduated, Coggins taught environmental education in Fort Myers, Fla., then worked as a ranger for the National Park Service in Yellowstone and Denali. Working seasonally with the park service for a number of years, Coggins decided in 1985 to settle down and take a job as shelter manager in Cody, Wyo. She became executive director there in 1987 and was at the agency for eight years.
Coggins came to Juneau in 1993 as executive director of Tongass Community Counseling Center, an agency that works with batterers and sex offenders. She said she was tired of shelter work and decided to explore the domestic violence and assault issue from the side of the offender.
"It really rounded out my experience," Coggins said. "I came to understand the dynamics of domestic violence much better and saw how the system worked from both sides."
After becoming executive director at AWARE in 1995, Coggins was able to work with the community to raise awareness about domestic violence.
"One of the things I enjoy about my job is giving training," Coggins said. "I've probably done about 20 four-hour trainings out there with hospital employees."
Training helps community members, hospital employees, law enforcement staff, prosecutors and probation officers recognize and better understand domestic violence. Coggins values AWARE's children's program, which works to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault through education and children's advocacy.
"Often people don't think children know what's going on," Coggins said, "but people just haven't given them the opportunity to talk about their experiences."
In addition to aiding AWARE in its effort to improve the community, Coggins also invested much of her time into improving AWARE physically. She developed an adopt-a-room program, a campaign to raise money to paint, carpet and refurnish the shelter's eight bedrooms. Coggins has coordinated volunteers from all parts of the community in her effort to improve the environment of the shelter.
"Royal Caribbean brought a crew of 30 people and painted five of the rooms," Coggins said. "Executives came from Miami and we spent the afternoon painting the bathroom together."
According to Coggins, the nature of her work insists that she invest herself more than at other jobs, making it hard to leave.
"When you work for a nonprofit, you have to beg and borrow everything you do," she said. "You have to put yourself out there."
Seven years of involving herself in such an intimate and emotional environment merits a break for Coggins. She will marry her fianc, who also works for a nonprofit agency, in June, and leave on their sailboat for a three-month cruise around Southeast Alaska. Coggins doesn't know what she will do when she gets back to Juneau, but welcomes the uncertainty.
"It's a long-deserved break," she said with a smile.
Emily Wescott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.