Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:29 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coleman leaves Haven House for Utah job

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

New programs, a new logo, even a new name — those are some of the achievements South Peninsula Haven House executive director Peg Coleman can look back on as she leaves her job this weekend. Coleman, director since August 2004, officially ends her position after the annual Women of Distinction awards banquet on Friday.

That's another program she helped start, the annual celebration of young and old women who have contributed to their community through service, leadership and the arts.

Coleman leaves Homer to take a new job as executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Council based in Salt Lake City. Similar to the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the Utah council is a coalition of nonprofit organizations and state and local agencies working with the issue of domestic violence.

"I've done a lot of direct service. I have this really bright, competent staff," Coleman said of her decision to leave. "I've done a lot of mentoring and it's time to move on."

With two grandchildren living in Maine, Coleman also said she wants to be closer to her family and in a part of the United States that's not four time zones away.

Coleman moved to Homer from Portland, Maine, where she worked as associate director of Family Crisis Services. Before that she had been mayor of Dennis Township, N.J., a small town about the size of Homer. She has worked 35 years in direct service with the issues of substance abuse and domestic violence. Her new job will be a change from the front line of issues to one as a policy maker.

"I think it's just the next level to be able to provide support for the system," Coleman said.

When Coleman started, Haven House had been known as South Peninsula Women's Services. Changing the name removed some barriers and emphasized that domestic violence isn't just a women's issue.

"It's changed community perceptions," she said of the name change. "There were certainly people who kind of marginalized it as 'the angry men hater's club.' We do serve men. We do serve families."

Looking back at her eight years as director, Coleman cited two achievements she said she's proud of: making Haven House more open to clients and shifting it from screening people based on diagnostic criteria to a "trauma informed perspective, believing all people have the right to safety," she said.

She's also proud of the Child Advocacy Centers Haven House helped set up in Homer, Kenai and Seward. These centers offer a safe, child-friendly place for young victims of sexual assault and abuse to talk about their experiences. Counselors and medical providers treat victims at the centers while at the same time creating a neutral, nonthreatening place for police to interview alleged victims.

The Haven House board of directors praised Coleman's service.

"She has done an outstanding job," said board member Dan Boone. "To her credit, she has assembled a very competent staff so Haven House will persevere, but Peg will be missed."

Fellow board member Karrie Youngblood echoed that.

"Peg has been an amazing force for Haven House," Youngblood said. "She has proven her commitment to Haven House over and over. We are truly going to miss her and hate to see her go."

From the law enforcement side, Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said Coleman's work also will be missed.

"She's been very friendly, super cooperative with the police department. She's bent over backwards working with us," he said. "She's been a pleasure to work with. We're lucky to have had her. We're definitely sorry to see her leave."

Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic also has had partnerships with Haven House, such as referring patients when clinic nurses and counselors suspect domestic violence or sexual assault. Haven House also refers clients to the clinic for reproductive health services.

"I've enjoyed working with Peg," said clinic manager Catriona Lowe. "It's been really nice to see them coming into strength there. She's going to be missed in the community. She's really turned the agency around."

That's part of what makes it easier to leave, Coleman said. Her staff has come into its own. Child Advocacy Center Jessica Lawmaster will be interim director.

"This was a really good match," Coleman said of her years in Homer. "I love Homer and I love this work. This is what I love to do. I feel like I mined a gem, and the folks here are really going to polish it."

Coleman will continue in an advisory role after she leaves. She'll help on two grants she got before she left. One, "Men Choose Respect," will work with youth in a collaboration with the Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic. Another grant will use Japanese and Asian models of psychology to teach clients techniques like attention, mindfulness and meditation.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.