Summit targets domestic violence, sexual assault




WASILLA — Domestic violence advocates challenged Rotarians, mushers, teachers, students, politicians and business owners alike to re-identify as caring counselors.

Wasilla Sunrise Rotary, Mat-Su Seahawkers, Alaska Family Services, and Mat-Su Regional Medical Center co-hosted the NO MORE Mat-Su conference in the Wasilla High School gym Saturday in an effort to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault.

According to, the goal of the national campaign is to engage the public in raising awareness and breaking down barriers of stigma, silence and shame that keep people from talking about the issues.

Wasilla JROTC kicked off the event by presenting the colors and showing their support of the campaign. Wasilla Councilman Stu Graham then introduced former Gov. Sean Parnell, who presented on the “Choose Respect” campaign, a domestic violence awareness initiative Parnell championed while governor.

In Alaska, the campaign focuses on male networking and the sharing of information and tools to end violence and promote respect. More information is available at

Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle followed Parnell’s presentation with a proclamation designating April Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Dan Goff is director of business development and physician relations at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, but he coordinated the event as a Sunrise Rotary member. Goff said teacher and former basketball coach Jason Marvel “was the spark” that ignited the fire under the Rotary to bring the NO MORE campaign to the Valley.

When Marvel spoke at a Rotary meeting last year, he told members about the Colony Middle School Knight Writers program started by principal Mary McMahon and teacher Tricia Kenney. The program was birthed by the Freedom Writers Foundation, of which Marvel is a member. 

“Knight Writers” are young Colony students who share their personal stories anonymously in a book the school publishes every two years. The idea is to give kids a platform to speak out about things they’ve never had the opportunity to voice.

Many of these young writers’ stories include domestic violence and sexual assault.

At the meeting last year, Marvel challenged the Rotary to help end the violence, Goff said.

“He asked the question,” Goff said, of “what can we do about domestic violence?”

Marvel had a more personal interest in motivating a large, influential group of people to end DV and assault against women, too. According to statistics generated from the latest Alaska Victimization Survey by the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault UAA Justice Center, one in two women in the Valley have reported experiencing one or both of the aforementioned types of violence. That worried Marvel.

“If the stats run true, one of my two daughters are going to experience this in their lifetimes,” he said.

While women also commit violence against young men, the cases are too underreported to draw conclusions, according to Jeaninne Milne from Alaska Family Services. The Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault lacks current, specific data regarding women-on-men DV or assault.

Marvel said the primary responsibility lies with men.

“The bottom line is this: men need to step up,” he said.

They might need some assistance before they can do so. Marvel referenced former Parnell’s morning presentation on the “Choose Respect” campaign as a way to “change the culture” of violence against women to one of respect.

Marvel also mentioned the Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum (available at, and encouraged coaches to incorporate into their practices lessons on respect that can carry onto the field and into relationships.

Milne presented COMPASS: A Guide for Men as a helpful resource for adult male mentors working with young Alaska males aged 12 to 18. The guide promotes meaningful conversations through “teachable moments,” activities, storytelling and discussion.

Iditarod musher, runner and cancer survivor DeeDee Jonrowe, the second-to-last speaker at the summit, spoke a little more broadly, relating mentoring to child and puppy rearing (see related story).

Anyone in a crisis situation is encouraged to call Alaska Family Services at 746-4080. For a list of shelters and anti-violence advocacy groups, visit the Alaska Department of Administration website or

Contact Caitlin Skvorc at 352-2266 or



Legendary musher, Alaskan woman says stay connected



WASILLA — At the NO MORE Mat-Su Summit last weekend, DeeDee Jonrowe showed attendees why mentoring and relationships come above all else.

Jonrowe was asked to speak about teamwork and “changing the culture” at the domestic violence and sexual assault awareness event. Her history as a daughter, a wildlife biologist, a musher, a runner, a cancer survivor and a mentor informed her speech.

In her speech to about 40 summit attendees Saturday afternoon, Jonrowe spoke mostly about interactions with her dogs, but much of that translated seamlessly to desirable and appropriate human interaction.

In one analogy, she compared raising a puppy to raising a human baby.

“In my situation, that baby’s gonna be developed to be a long-distance racer, or it’s going to be developed to the best of its potential, where it will find a happy place in life. That’s my goal, because not all dogs wanna be long distance racers,” she said. “You develop the skills that they have.”

If those skills aren’t learned, and a child is forced into a behavior or activity to which they are not inclined, they might very well fall into a life of violence.

While Jonrowe did explain this in additional dog team metaphors, she also used her battle with cancer as an example of the negative outcomes of being convinced to do something you don’t want to do.

In 2003, Jonrowe finished her 21st Iditarod race in 18th place. Three weeks prior to the start, she had just finished her final round of chemotherapy.

“Everybody thought I was strong as an ox, I ‘was well!’” Jonrowe said. “The truth of the matter was, I was not the person I had been.”

She couldn’t keep up with her friends on the sled dog trail or on the running path, and “was confused as to who I was,” she said. The medical system she had been in was no longer a support, as she had been told to come back in three months, and neither were her old friends — it wasn’t just a matter of speed, but a matter of time she didn’t have to spend with the people once close to her.

Still, Jonrowe had never been one to make excuses. She decided she simply “needed to get (her) act together.”

Her husband went off to work in Bristol Bay, and she hadn’t mentioned her worries to  him.

“He needed to be thinking about making money and not get hurt,” she said.

But living alone — she “found ways to avoid people,” she said — she sunk into depression, something she didn’t think she “ever could do.”

Finally, she opened up to a pastor, telling him “I’m in a really dark place.” He said something like, “You’ve done a lot tougher things, you’ll be fine.”

Later, she took her darkness to a medical doctor. The doctor said, “you need counseling.”

She took his advice and spent three hours doing something she said she didn’t want to do — crying, speaking her problems to a counselor.

The counselor told her, “you really do have some problems, but I don’t have time for you. I’m going to transfer you to an associate.”

“I will never, ever trust a stranger like that again,” Jonrowe said.

Which is why she asked members of the summit audience to not be that kind of stranger. Jonrowe had her dogs to get her out of bed in the morning, through the fog of depression. Someone had to feed them, take care of them, and she knew she could do the best job.

And her husband, Mike, had not given up on her.

“That’s the strength that comes from relationships,” Jonrowe said.

But not every individual has that strong of a bond with a person, pet or spiritual being. And if those without such bonds become depressed, the road may be very short.

Forging relationships, then — to the point where there is a mutual understanding of body language — is absolutely necessary.

“People have to be treated consistently well, if you want them to have the confidence to deal with life,” Jonrowe said. “Life’s gonna throw them cancer, life’s gonna throw them a car accident, life’s gonna throw them death, and for them to be able to handle those things … you have to have people around you that give you that resiliency.”

“Everyone has demons,” said Wasilla City Councilman Stu Graham, at the end of the summit. “Everyone has problems. But we need to have someone to reach out to. And we can be the person other people reach out to.”