Mazeikas wins national honor for village campaign

 


A Haines woman who heads up a regional domestic abuse education and prevention program recently won national recognition for her efforts.

Jackie Mazeikas, whose five-year-old program serves Haines and four neighboring communities, traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the Indian Health Service’s Director’s Award from agency director Yvette Roubidaux.

Steve Whitehorn, a public health advisor for the agency, called Mazeikas “a voice in the wilderness.” Mazeikas was recognized for “exceptional leadership, initiative and compassion to address domestic violence in multiple tribal communities.”

Criteria for the award include “performance clearly exceeding expectations.”

Mazeikas described the award ceremony as an all-day affair. “We got there in the morning and had to rehearse. There were words for each (award winner) and pictures taken.”

Mazeikas said she was one of four honorees from Alaska and the only one whose work involved domestic violence.

Mazeikas has served Haines, Skagway, Klukwan, Hoonah and Yakutat for Southeast Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). Angoon was recently added to her duties. The grant that pays for her program has twice been extended.


Mazeikas said her program starts by surveying residents in communities about domestic violence, and then sets up community advisory boards that help tailor her program to needs and characteristics unique to each town. That some respondents took hours to complete a 12-question survey about domestic violence reflected a willingness to address the issue, she said.

Her program includes speaking about bullying and cyber-bulling with younger students and addressing healthy dating with teens. She also addresses elder abuse and helps organize events like “Choose Respect” marches and alcohol-free dances.

Securing the trust of village residents has taken time, as some residents have been skeptical of the commitment of traveling social workers, she said.

“That was a legitimate question. I spoke to them from my heart. I told them that I’d partner with them and see this thing all the way through. And I’ve gone back numerous times. It’s been great to see the ownership they’ve taken. They know their communities, so what works there may not work somewhere else,” Mazeikas said.

With police help, she has helped set up temporary safe houses in Yakutat, Hoonah and Skagway, places where victims can go for a few days to escape abusive situations. She also has created one-page directories where victims can call for help, and posted that information in places like inside bar restrooms. “I use whatever avenue I can to reach people.”


She counts as successes a program in which Hoonah elders go into the school, spreading a message to young women that they don’t have to tolerate abuse. “It’s generational, but finally they’re seeing the wrongness of it, and that their voices can make a difference.”

Mazeikas uses the “elephant-in-the-room” metaphor to describe domestic violence. Because the “elephant” is so big, it’s difficult for people to know how to address it, she said. She said her program is aimed at helping residents to find tools that work for them.

“I’m thrilled with ownership. From the bottom of my heart, I think (communities) have done tremendous. But we still have a long way to go. We’re chipping away. We have people now calling about safe houses,” she said.

Mazeikas said if half the programs she has started keep going, she’d consider that a “gigantic success.” “But if not, at least we’ve brought some awareness, so it hasn’t been in vain.”

Separate from her SEARHC job, Mazeikas has started “Becky’s Place,” a local non-profit that aims to establish a permanent safe house in Haines.

The group is named for Mazeikas’ sister, who died at the hands of abuser. Becky had returned to her abuser even after he had stabbed her, she said.

“Many women don’t think it can happen to them. But when you’ve seen it first-hand, that’s an eye opener for people,” Mazeikas said. “That’s the heart of my mission, just to let them know, it doesn’t have to happen again.”

 
 

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