Meadville resident Doris Foster remembers 1977 almost like it was yesterday. Seattle Slew became the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter century. “Annie” captured Broadway’s coveted Tony award for assuring the world that the sun will indeed come out tomorrow. And Alex Haley’s “Roots” changed the nation’s conversation about race forever.
It wasn’t just the nation’s lexicon that expanded during that memorable year. In Meadville, an organization was founded whose name also quickly became — and remains — a household word. In July 1977, Women’s Services Inc. was officially launched. And Foster was selected as the organization’s first president.
Thirty-five years later, Women’s Services Inc. is marking its anniversary with style, still exhibiting the qualities of courage, creativity and cooperation that characterized its founding.
The year-long celebration, which kicked off in May with the organization’s annual golf outing, will continue into 2013. The next major event on the calendar is the Seventh Annual Moveable Feast — presented this time around with a decided twist. Scheduled for Oct. 27, this year’s feast will require remarkably little moving; instead of starting at a private home for cocktails and appetizers and moving to other private homes for dinner as has been the tradition, everyone will gather at the Iroquois Club on the shores of Conneaut Lake for the entire evening.
While Executive Director Bruce Harlan is staying mum on details, he’s urging members of the community to keep an eye on his organization for exciting new developments as the year of celebration unfolds.
In the beginning ...
The roots of Women’s Services Inc. date back to the early 1970s, when the Crawford County Drug and Alcohol Commission was established to oversee the use of money flowing into the county from state and federal programs established to fight the newly established “War on Drugs.”
In response to a suggestion from Executive Director Michael Ranney, who had observed that the county’s women often didn’t seem to be able to take advantage of services offered, the commission convened a task force. According to Foster, who chaired the commission at the time and went on to head the task force, it was quickly revealed that no agency presently existed to address problems confronting women. In response, Foster noted in a written history of the program she compiled several years ago while recovering from a broken leg, “members of the task force concluded that incorporation of the task force could create an entity no longer connected to the commission or to any other agency; one that would be empowered not only to define the needs of women in the county, but also to search for solutions.”
The group’s first project, which would come to be known as The Greenhouse, was underway almost as soon as incorporation was complete in July 1977.
“By August of 1977, the Board of Directors of Women’s Services Inc. was focusing on the goal of bringing the special needs of women to the attention of the community,” Foster wrote. “To that end, the group agreed to sponsor, facilitate and/or, as a last resort, to develop programs pertaining to women; in effect, to join together the resources of the community to serve the needs of women.”
When the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania students taught by sociology professor Elizabeth Pierce Stewart were enlisted to survey the community, the result was startling. Respondents were asked where they would seek shelter in an emergency — if they were unable to go home because of a fire, weather disaster or utility outage, for example. “None of the agencies the respondents mentioned as places to seek shelter had available any type of shelter except for paying for rooms in hotels,” Foster recalled.
“Armed with that information, Women’s Services Inc. approached agencies about establishing a shelter,” Foster continued. “At that time, no existing Crawford County agency had the staff or the funding to take on such a project. Then, and only then, did WSI begin to seek a way to meet the needs. The resulting philosophy has come to be known as ‘The Little Red Hen Philosophy’: when no other agency felt able to tackle the shelter project, WSI said, ‘Well, then, we’ll do it ourselves!’ And we did!”
While the name chosen for the shelter eventually, in Foster’s words, “became a symbolic name for a place of safety and warmth embued with a nurturing atmosphere,” that wasn’t how it started out.
Once the group decided to go ahead and just do it, a suggestion was made that a certain house might be available as a shelter location. “That house on Grove Street just happened to be painted green,” Foster recalled, noting that although that location didn’t work out, “as the shelter project took form, it began to be called The Greenhouse.”
Making a difference one guest at a time
Kim Raszman was a guest at The Greenhouse 13 years ago. In 2003, she went to work for Women’s Services on a part-time basis. Since 2011, she has served as full-time night manager.
“When I stayed at The Greenhouse with my three children, it was the beginning of my new life,” Raszman recalled recently. “The staff assisted me with housing needs and provided me with counseling and support. Throughout my worry-free stay at The Greenhouse, they gave me unconditional guidance and understanding. They empowered me to realize that I was a strong person who could, and would, survive everything I had been through. Thirteen years later, my life is amazing — thanks to The Greenhouse.”
She isn’t alone. In 2011, Women’s Services Inc. sheltered 257 guests in The Greenhouse for a total of 5,940 days; presented 950 prevention-education programs to 6,674 adults throughout the area and students in Crawford Central, Conneaut and PENNCREST school districts; provided 3,648 hours of counseling to adult victims and 650 hours of counseling to child victims of domestic violence; and provided crisis intervention, counseling, medical advocacy and accompaniment, court accompaniment, and systems advocacy to 558 survivors of sexual assault.
She also isn’t the first to make the transition from guest to staff. “We often have people on our staff who have been in the shoes of someone who has suffered these problems,” Foster said. “Once people have gotten through this and gotten their lives back together, they’re very committed to helping other people.”
You can help
2012 A Moveable Feast with a Twist
In honor of Women’s Services Inc.’s 35th year, they’ve decided to give their annual Moveable Feast a twist. Historically, the evening has begun with cocktails and appetizers at a private home. Guests then “moved” to other private homes for dinner. This year, the feast will take place at one location, with very little “moving” required. On Oct. 27 beginning at 5:30 p.m., the Iroquois Club at Conneaut Lake will be the venue for the seventh Moveable Feast.
-- More information or to make a reservation: Call Julie Hunter or Bruce Harlan at Women’s Services, 724-4637.
For more information about Women’s Services Inc., check out the web at womensservicesinc.org or facebook.com/womensservicesinc.org
The 24-Hour Hotline is 333-9766.
Who they are
Women’s Services strives to meet the needs of children and adults of Crawford County who are in crisis due to domestic violence, sexual violence or homelessness, by developing and offering programs and services that meet those needs. Honoring the roots of the organization, we place special emphasis on the needs of women and children.
As an organization, Women’s Services strives to exemplify and promote a feminist philosophy in all activities. At the heart of this philosophy is the belief that each individual has the right and responsibility to be self-determining and to make decisions that are appropriate for their life. Each individual knows what is best for their life.
Did you know
In 2011, Women’s Services Inc.
-- Sheltered 257 guests in The Greenhouse.
-- Provided 5,940 days of shelter to guests in The Greenhouse.
-- Presented 950 prevention education programs to 6,674 students and adults.
-- Provided 650 hours of counseling to child victims of domestic violence
-- Provided crisis intervention, counseling, medical advocacy and accompaniment, court accompaniment, and systems advocacy to 558 survivors of sexual assault.
What to look for next
The Tribune will publish monthly commentaries written by officials from Women’s Services Inc. Published the second Monday of each month beginning in August, the columns will detail numerous aspects of response to and prevention of domestic abuse.