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Our Staff and Board of Trustees Community Guidelines
After 34 years of giving, Women’s Center seeks aid
Author(s): Colleen Walsh
Newspaper: Boston Globe, City Weekly
Date: May 15, 2005

The beginning of the Women’s Center in Cambridgeport reads like a Hollywood script. A group of disgruntled women take hostage a building at the nation’s oldest university to stress the lack of services and support available to them.

That was back in 1971, when the activists invaded an empty building owned by Harvard to emphasize their needs, including a place to gather.

As a result of their bold plan, the women won the support of locals who helped them buy another building on Pleasant Street, which they still occupy today. Over the years, the center has become a haven for women, developing a variety of programs and services, largely aimed at low-income women, ranging from counseling for victims of domestic violence to resume-writing workshops to lesbian rap groups.

“Almost 28 years ago I went there—I was very young then. It was just such a comforting, wonderful space to go to hang out,” said Dede Ketover, 48, a management consultant for a nonprofit who volunteers her services at the center. “I’ll just never forget what a wonderful oasis it was for someone who had just moved to Boston and didn’t know a soul.”

Today the center’s welcoming tradition continues. Free and open to any woman, the house is part sorority, part classroom, part home away from home. Inside, high ceilings and large windows mean lots of light, and brightly painted walls boast a collection of donated art.

Women of all ages come and go, stopping to sit and read in rooms filled with couches and chairs, use one of the five free computers, or attend workshops or programs. In the large, airy kitchen, shelves are stocked with donated food. The upper floors include a children’s room for art classes and activities and another room with couches and a television, a resting spot for the weary or the homeless who can sign it out for two hours at a time.

For some, the center is simply a place to meet. Others stop by to peruse information posted on walls and collected in large binders packed with tips on job hunting, interview techniques, finding apartments, and health and legal advice. Some come to organize around local issues. In 2001, the center began a program called Women of Action, a group of mainly low-income single mothers who discuss ways to change problems affecting their daily lives.

“We really try to speak to the people who are in charge of different agencies that we are having to deal with and just come together [to] create a solution step by step,” said Lynn Murray, the center’s community organizer and one of only three full-time staff members.

But today competition for foundation funds and a drop in individual contributions, the center’s two main funding sources, has meant financial trouble.

“For 34 years the center has been a place of empowerment and support for thousands of women, and now its existence is being threatened unless we raise the necessary funds to keep our doors open,” said Martina Bouey, president of its board of directors.

For the 800 women served by the center weekly, according to development coordinator Nicole Marcotte, the loss would be a real blow. Deborah Clarke, a 38-year-old single mother of five, who recently moved back to Cambridge from Virginia, has used the center regularly for the last nine months to use a computer and look for work.

“If it wasn’t for the Women’s Center, I wouldn’t have it completed,” said Clarke, showing off a copy of her newly printed resume on a recent afternoon at the center.

An iron worker by trade, Clarke brings her 5- and 9-year-old children to the center while she looks for an administrative position.

“A lot of places you can’t bring kids—they have to be quiet, [or] there’s not enough room. We really need to keep this center.” In April the board eliminated the center’s executive director position.

“Our commitment is to our clients and to the community members. In order to preserve the programs that we are running, we had to make some choices about where to cut expenses,” said Bouey.

…”It’s a call to action. The Center has given a lot to the community over the last 34 years, and we have never asked for a financial gift back, but now we are,” Bouey said. [We are] bringing them back in and saying we helped you, we supported you, now we are asking you to help and support us.”

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