Women come to the Carolyn Connors Women’s Center for many reasons: to relax, sip a cup of coffee, acquire toiletries, chat with friends, watch television or use the computer. But they also come to the center to heal. “I’ve witnessed lovely acts of kindness in the women’s center,” says mental health clinician Corey Bisceglia-Kane. “Women give each other advice and support. They calm each other down. The women’s center provides the space for that to happen.”
Its small dimensions belie the powerful and wide-ranging work that takes place within its light blue walls—work that addresses the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the women who find sanctuary there. Although only about 25 percent of St. Francis House’s guests are female, the organization has developed a robust, holistic program to meet their many needs. Here’s a glimpse of some of what goes on in the women’s center.
Corey and her colleague Nicole Tanguy, also a mental health clinician, work with their female clients to envision a different life and the steps they need to get there. “Many of our clients have experienced awful things and they carry a lot of shame about what’s gone on,” explains Corey. “A lot of our work is building their self-esteem and helping them realize that their life is worth trying for.” The pair also helps women with the practicalities of the here and now: connecting them with resources to nd housing, address their legal and custody issues and get clean and sober. “If you’re not addressing the tangibles, you can’t focus on the deeper trauma,” says Corey. Both regularly spend time in the women’s center simply hang- ing out, in order to identify and engage with women who may need additional mental health support.
Nicole Tanguy’s weekly all-women Suboxone support group, which she co-facilitates with Boston Health Care for the Homeless (BHCHP) social worker Dan Hogan, is an important adjunct to the medication regime used to treat addiction. After using drugs for so long, there’s a lot to catch up with, notes Nicole. “They’re trying to re-establish relationships, get housing and work. It can be really overwhelming and our group is a place they can check in and get support.”
The women’s center hosts health and wellness groups and offers lots of health education, thanks to BHCHP, which also operates a daily medical clinic at St. Francis House. Topics range from safe sex to pap smears to diabetes to self-care/hygiene. And speaking of self-care, the annual Women’s Day of Renewal treats female guests to a special luncheon.
If her name sounds familiar, it should. Kelley Connors’ parents have been long-time supporters of St. Francis House and the women’s center is named after her mother. Kelley runs a regular yoga class that is currently on hiatus due to her new, bi-coastal job, but she plans to resume it in 2015. During the hour, she plays relaxing music, leads stretching exercises and yoga poses and reads a poem. “Yoga is the union of mind and body and the class is a union of women,” says Kelley. “It’s not about teaching yoga, but rather about creating a compassionate environment for that hour.”
Patricia Owens feeds the spirits of the Women’s Center guests in a different way, through her popular Friday morning prayer group. Pat was homeless and fleeing domestic violence when she came to St. Francis House for help in 2009. The organization assisted her in many ways, including helping her to find permanent housing. And the women’s center became her refuge.
During her group, Pat introduces the week’s Bible passage, then reads from her favorite devotional. “People tell their stories, speak about God and sometimes we cry,” says Pat. She believes that she’s perfectly suited to lead the group and receives as much as she gives. “I lived the life they’re living and took that long walk alone. This keeps me moving forward, to know I have something to offer.”