Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Women’s Drop In Center: New site, new name, same mission

Story and photos by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the July 29, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Parade to new siteLeft: The Women’s Drop In Center, part of the Transitions program, got a new home and a new name – Women’s Hearth – June 8. Members and supporters marched from the old location to the new. (IR photo)

They carried their art, plants, poems and sculptures – symbols of their long journey to healing and wholeness – as they processed down Second Ave. in downtown Spokane, singing joyfully. With hearts full of excited anticipation and a sense of pride and ownership, more than 40 women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, made the trek on Thursday, June 8 from the old location of the Women’s Drop In Center at 218 S. Howard to its new location, and it’s new name – Women’s Hearth – at 920 W. 2nd Ave.

Despite their diversity, these women all have one thing in common. Each woman here has a story – a story of pain, of trial, of survival, and of healing. And each woman credits at least a part her journey to survival and healing to the safe and welcoming community at the Women’s Drop In Center.

Fleeing a life time of abuse and one particularly vicious relationship, Ginny O’Bryen Edwards found herself in Spokane one year ago with no where to go. After spending a night at Hope House, O’Bryen walked through the doors of the Women’s Drop In Center and found herself among other women who, like her, had difficult stories of their own; women who embraced her with open arms and did not judge, criticize or gossip.

“When I walked in, I could just feel the peace here,” O’Bryen said.

O’Bryen got involved in several support groups and began to heal. Now, at the age of 53, she hopes to start over again. O’Bryen wants to become involved in prison advocacy and help other women with stories like hers to rise above their situations.

The move from the old location on Howard was much needed. The center has been very successful, serving thousands of women fleeing abusive relationships, addictions, poverty and homelessness, since it opened in 1991.

However, structural issues with the rented space on Howard and a desperate need for more room for the many women using the center daily led The Women’s Drop In Center to seek funding for a new site. The move was made possible through efforts from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who sought a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development appropriation of $223,000; the city of Spokane, which provided a Community Development Block Grant of $135,000; and financial support from sponsoring Religious women’s communities and many private benefactors and friends of the Drop In Center. Altogether, the new Women’s Hearth received $625,000 to purchase and renovate the 7,100 square foot space on Second Ave.

Though they left old site triumphantly, more than one woman looked back to the place where so much healing had occurred with a little wistful sadness.

“It’s hard leaving this building,” said O’Bryen as she walked away. “It’s a lot more emotional than I thought it would be. I’ve done the majority of my healing in this very building.”

Though it was hard for many of the women to walk away from the old building, they each feel a sense of ownership in the new project. Throughout the planning process, the women had community meetings with the staff to discuss possibilities, dreams and desires for the new facility.

“We’ve involved all of them so it’s been all of our move together,” said Sister Mary Rathert, the Sinsinawa Dominican who is Director of Women’s Hearth. “Many of the ideas came from them. They have a sense of ownership and investment. There’s a sense of mutuality.”

The women even chose the new name for the facility. O’Bryen said they finally settled on Women’s Hearth because the words heart, earth and art are all in that one word. O’Bryen said it is a word that sounds “warm and life-giving.”

The procession ended at the new site on Second Ave., and as the women walked through the doors of the facility most of them had not yet seen, exclamations could be heard from every direction.

“I can’t believe this!”

“Oh, wow.”

“It’s huge!”

New home for Women's HearthRight: Individual candles were lit from a larger candle in the new home of Women’s Hearth, formerly the Women’s Drop In Center. At left is Dominican Sister Mary Rathert, the program’s director. (IR photo)

Trish Clayton, a center client for 12 years, was a little apprehensive about the move, but once she walked through the door, her fears were erased.

“When I walked in and saw the couches and things that were familiar I was okay,” she said. “It’s the same safe place.”

The women dedicated their new home by taking turns lighting candles and voicing their hopes and dreams for the new facility before joining hands and singing a heartfelt song of survival.

Women’s Hearth is one of three programs run by Transitions, a non-profit organization dedicated to sponsoring and initiating programs which foster the personal growth and wholeness of women and children in need. Transitions is a joint effort of the Franciscan Sisters, the Sinsinawa Dominicans, the Sisters of the Holy Names and the Sisters of Providence.

Women’s Hearth is a day center that offers multiple free services to women. The average 1,600 women who visit the center each month are provided a safe place where they are fed and clothed and offered a shower and even a hair cut.

During their visits, the women focus of every aspect of their life, from spirituality and personal growth to building self-esteem and relationships and living healthy lifestyles. The center offers support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, healthy relationships and self-esteem.

Volunteers also teach courses in cooking, self-defense and even money management. They also have a computer lab for the women’s use and offer weekly courses in Microsoft Word. But perhaps the most unusual thing about the center is the focus on art and writing as tools for healing. A variety volunteer led groups meet throughout the month to work on beading, knitting, scrap booking, writing, card crafting and many other artistic endeavors.

“It’s a tremendous way of coming to healing,” said Sister Mary.

Marie Pizolo started nearly four years ago at the Drop In Center as a client and now volunteers five days a week as a greeter. After a lifetime of serious abuse, Pizolo found that working with her hands was much more therapeutic for her than simply talking about her issues and so she began sculpting. Each of her sculptures tells a unique story of abuse and healing.

“They’re about my journey,” she said, “but they’re about everyone here’s journey, too.”

“Art is a big piece of healing,” she said. “No one has listened before and that’s a way to be heard. We give people a chance to express themselves.”

While Pizolo found her way to healing through her hands, others like O’Bryen and Clayton find theirs through writing. Both women participate in a weekly writing group at Women’s Hearth which recently produced a book called “Steppin’ Out,” full of poetry and short stories written by clients at the center. The women are selling the books for $10 a piece.

“It’s good therapy for people to be able to make something new with their hands, or to create a new thought,” said Clayton.

Though the walls in Women’s Hearth are currently bare, Sister Mary says before long they will be covered with the women’s art.

Though women visit Women’s Hearth for a variety of reasons, they are all looking for one thing – healing. And many of them find it.

“When I came here I was a victim,” said O’Bryen. “Then I was a survivor. Now, I’m a fighter.”

(For more information about Women’s Hearth, its mission and programs, and other Transitions programs, visit their web site at

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