“A sacred and safe space for the support and empowerment of women.“
The Center is a week-day drop-in center that helps women break isolation and build community toward the bettering and enriching of each other’s lives. A member of the parish serves as Trinity’s Associate for Urban Ministry as the Executive Director of the women’s center.
In 2019 the women’s center opened a long term, trauma informed, community based, residential recovery project in the model of Thistle Farms in Nashville, TN. Called Sophia’s House, it is located a block from the parish in an old convent that was totally renovated for the new use. Check it out HERE.
The Center for Wisdom’s Women
by Kathryn Tracy volunteer “Companion” at the Center,
Shared as 2nd Sunday ministry reflection, December 9, 2012
When talking about a community like the Center for Wisdom’s Women, the Biblical metaphor of being members of the same body is actually the one I’ve cherished over the years. But for some reason, I decided I needed to tell you today that I love rocks. I have a fascination with rocks that have had their sharp edges rubbed smooth by currents while laying on river bottoms for decades and decades, or on beaches where the daily tides tumble them into smooth egg-shaped wonders. Maybe most of us have a rock or two that’s caught our eye for its shape or color and we’ve reached down and carried it home in our pocket. I love rocks.
Maybe I’ve chosen the image of rocks today because there’s something in me that’s like these rocks and stones. It’s not in a stone’s nature to burst into flight or flame or blossom. Sometimes that’s disappointing. And change takes time. It’s not an especially promising spiritual metaphor, but it’s possible to work even with rocks.
About 5 years ago Klara began talking here at church about the wonderful drop-in center for women up the street run by the Daughters of Wisdom. It was closing, because the nuns had a new calling in NY, and they had taken the center as far as they could. Klara had become friends with the sisters– Irene, Maureen, and Mona– and as Klara prayed here at Trinity we could hear her longing for the Center to continue. To me it sounded impractical (remember my rock nature). I wondered how if the strong Catholic community in LA couldn’t summon resources to keep the place going, how could anyone else? If three nuns working full time couldn’t sustain the place, wasn’t it impractical for one person to take the risk to keep it going? It gradually became clear that Klara’s vision and passion for this project was not going away. Sturdy as a rock, you might say. She began building connections and doing practical things to reopen the doors that the nuns had had to close. She did all the homework to take a leap of faith but it still didn’t sound sensible to me.
When Klara made the shift from her previous job to this new calling, I’d recently retired from 20 years of social work in this community. Among family and friends, Tom & I had a spate of illnesses and deaths, I’d survived cancer myself & was living in the reality that amidst many blessings, life is also challenging. I discovered I was weary and opted to take early retirement. It was a good choice, but I was also leaving a satisfying connection to the community. What would come next?
Though I didn’t grow up in a family with a tradition of reading, my parents tuned in with great interest and respect to local stories– family stories, neighbor’s stories, friend’s stories. In our town (about the size of Mechanic Falls) those stories were like a Great Book series– unsentimental, loaded with geography, humor, mystery– the whole nine yards. I inherited from my parents a gratitude for the ordinary daily rounds, and the details and arc of people’s lives. I learned that paying attention without judgment (toward ourselves and others) is how we connect and begin to understand one another. Later as a social worker, I saw over and over again how with encouragement, people persevere, untangle all sorts of dilemmas, and mend from disruption and injury. By turns doing well and having growth pains, we all change, rough places easing. Sometimes it feels like God is keeping us company.
The long and the short of it is about 4 years ago I decided to check out the Women’s Center and see what had claimed Klara’s attention. What I found was a community in formation– a vibrant, collaborative, gritty and beautiful work in progress.
I’d like to spend the rest of the time telling you what it’s like at the women’s center.
First of all, visitors are welcomed at the door. Whenever possible there’s someone at the front desk to say hello, exchange names, and show a newcomer around the place. There’s always an urn of hot water for coffee and tea. Plus a selection of cookies. Anyone might come through the door. And when they do it’s the Center’s hope that they feel real welcome and respect.
At 10 o’clock most mornings there’s a scheduled activity. Women coming to the Center on certain days can look forward to learning something from a visitor like Peg Hoffman with expertise in coping with stress and pain, or nurses sharing information about blood pressure, menopause or STDs, or a credit union employee answering questions on saving and setting up accounts. Usually on Tuesdays (the day that I volunteer), there’s an art project or craft or wonderful cooking with Denise Dill from the Nutrition Center. Noella Cote was a key player in the tradition of offering crafts and I got my feet wet by assisting her. Creative arts are a way in which women experience their gifts for bringing something beautiful into being, and that is very empowering. As the women sit around the big table making collages or clay pots or wreathes for instance they share ideas, materials and encouragement. Sometimes a craft session looks like an almost meditative experience where they are tuning into their own process. Other days it’s like a noisy party where energy and excitement builds. Mid-project I often notice a slight hush and a period of focused concentration where the women are really looking to see whether their idea is going to work out. It’s a pivotal moment and when women experience this over and over again in different activities their sense of their own competence and capacity for making choices grows. It’s like recharging their batteries and finding more energy and confidence to explore other positive options in their lives or simply to be happier.
Sometimes someone is going through something that triggers feelings of loss, fear, helplessness or anger. The Center has mindfully grown into a place where women have opportunity to safely and appropriately share some of what they’re going through and to find support for gentle and healthy shifts in perspective. This has come about because of incredible teamwork – the devotion of the Board of Directors including Linda Jackson Washburn, and because of the support of many, many people in the community. Most of all, it’s come about because of Klara’s incredible coordination, constancy, faith and labor, including networking, to build so many collaborative relationships in the community. At the Center, life’s darkness and shadows are not ignored, but we’re always building in the light.
If you’re a volunteer helping to make room for women to be their wise selves, here’s a few things you’re likely to experience. Leslie Bray, Linda and Noella can add many stories of their own. First, you get to be in the midst of a lot of fun. One major day of fun for many women is the once-a-month Bingo. Bingo players arrive early, the table in the big room fills up and then all the spaces around the room fill up. Prizes are set out, popcorn is popped, and the games begin. There’s a lot of laughter and tradition related to Bingo.
As you hang around and notice what’s happening on the less raucous days, you see people walk in strangers and walk out friends.
You may get to see someone with lifelong disabling illness, for whom English is a bewildering second or third language, you get to see that person walk half a mile wheeling her nearly homebound neighbor in a wheelchair so the neighbor can visit the center. You get to see that amidst major challenges, trust and friendship are hearteningly present over many years.
You may have a conversation with someone with cherished sobriety who has gone back to school and her life is opening up in ways she’s waited a long time for. And she’s just dropped by to share the good news.
You see women who have always have had a hard time interacting with other people, but who take comfort and satisfaction from working along side others on projects of one kind and another.
You may witness over months and actually years of encouragement, a mother’s anger at having had children taken by the state, you might see the miracle of her anger softening to grief and compassion for herself and for others too.
You might see someone who thought her reading and writing was so bad that she’d given up trying, one day you see her put on a pair of reading glasses and after week after week of absolute acceptance of the writing facilitator, write a story about her favorite holiday.
You see women reach for a broom and sweep the floor, or gather up the cups and do the dishes.
This is an incomplete snapshot of the Center and there are many stories– every day there are more stories. Like any church or club or place of work– being in community is a great gift and considerable labor. They go together, making the rough places smooth. All of us here support that work by being the Center’s fiscal sponsor. Please keep the Center in your prayers. If you want to follow the action, look for Klara’s articles in the Sun Journal, check the Center out on Facebook, come for a visit or to an open house and just stay in touch. Thank you and Amen.