Governor Sean Parnell made a visit to Homer on Wednesday, lending his voice to Haven House’s community dialogue event, "Voices Over Violence."
Haven House and other local entities have organized in the past few weeks to foster community discussions surrounding the existence, effects and prevention of violence and bullying in the Homer community.
The discussion was spurred in part by recent sexual assault charges filed against several Homer teens. Haven House staff and youth leaders from the group Promoting Health Among Teens joined community members Wednesday at the Mariner Theater.
The PHAT team role played several strategies for diffusing dangerous situations. Alaska’s Governor Sean Parnell, First Lady Sandra Parnell and several members of the governor’s staff stopped briefly in Homer to take part in the discussion.
"In this state ... domestic violence and sexual assault is at epidemic levels," said Parnell. "But it's not every day that we have an opportunity to not shove something under the rug but to actually have a dialogue."
Haven House Director Jessica Lawmaster divided the meeting into four focus groups, a reflection of what community members have spoken up in favor of recently. Those groups, including Parnell and his associates, gathered to brainstorm ideas, covering discussion of school policies to support non-violence, proactive education within schools to foster healthy relationships, and community-wide violence prevention measures.
Lawmaster emphasized that though violent events occur in every community, ours being no exception, Homer abounds as well with strength, support and opportunities for growth.
"What we're hearing from you is that ... you don't want to see this topic forgotten," she said. "You want to keep talking about it until you see real change."
Parnell’s campaign to end domestic violence and sexual assault, dubbed Choose Respect, launched in late 2009. More than 120 Alaska communities now hold annual events under that banner, seeking solutions to social problems that spawn abuse and violent events.