When June Harris saw an article in the Peninsula Clarion 20 years ago about a group of Kenai people hoping to build a shelter for women in trouble, she liked the idea.
She decided to attend a fund-raising meeting planned by the group calling itself "We Gave Shelter" but realized fund raising wasn't for her.
She went on a tour of the women's resource center anyway and was instantly caught up in what's become two decades of serving women in the Kenai community.
This afternoon, the LeeShore Center formerly known as the Women's Resource and Crisis Center is playing host to Harris' retirement party, marking the culmination of her 22-year relationship with the organization.
After that tour in 1983, Harris attended Crisis Intervention training no more than one long weekend back then and in 1984, joined the group as a full-time volunteer, a position that earned her the Governor Sheffield Alaska Volunteer of the Year Award in 1985.
She went on paid staff that same year.
Since then, Harris has served the women's center in various positions, including pregnancy coordinator, child care food program administrator, child advocate, legal advocate and LeeShore shelter manager, and has served on the board of directors for 10 years. She also has received numerous awards for her work.
The unassuming Harris downplays any personal issues she has dealt with in her own life, which started out with an abusive parent and eventual adoption at age 5, but she focuses on her desire to help others going through tough times.
Her favored work over the years has been while serving as the shelter manager and as the legal advocate, helping women in abusive situations apply to the courts for protective restraining orders and assisting with other legal issues.
"The successes were when you saw women come in with nothing, beaten down. Then you'd see them gain some self-respect and stand on their own feet," she said.
Looking back over her many years at the center, Harris recalls helping one woman go through childbirth.
"We were able to get her to the hospital," she said.
"She had a little girl."
Once in a while she runs into someone who was in the center years ago, but said for the most part, she usually loses track of the women.
When asked if she'll miss working with the women at the crisis shelter, Harris admits she probably won't be cutting her ties completely.
"I'm going to continue to work as a sexual assault advocate for the (Sexual Assault Response Team) program, and I'll probably still do court accompaniment when they need me," she said.
"Ten years on the board is enough, though. I won't be going back on the board."
Harris and her husband, Joe, have raised three daughters, Tammy, 40, Laura, 37, and Jennifer, 34, and now enjoy three grandchildren two in South Carolina and one in Anchorage.
Now that she's moving away from the shelter work "sort of" she plans to engage in her passion, halibut fishing, and she's already "up to my eyeballs in co-producing 'Brigadoon,'" this season's theatrical production of the Kenai Performers.
"It's really hard just to cut it off," she said of her involvement with the LeeShore Center. "The SART team will keep me involved."
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