TOLEDO—A Catholic organization that helped women in poverty gain education and job skills has closed its doors.
Women Blessing Women closed May 31 after serving women in Toledo for 14 years. Board members voted to close because of lack of funding, says Ursuline Sister Nancy Mathias, ex-officio board member
“It was a painful vote,” Sr. Mathias says, noting finances have been a struggle since the beginning.
Frances Long, right, works with Whitley Walton, a participant at Women Blessing Women. The organization, which helped women earn their GED, closed its doors May 31. (Chronicle file photo)
Women Blessing Women offered GED tutoring and testing, job readiness skills, empowerment workshops and spiritual retreats.
“We try to look at the whole woman, not just the GED,” Sr. Mathias says. “Most programs do just the GED.”
Women Blessing Women served 170 women last year and helped 12 earn their GEDs, according to executive director Glenda Hayes. Last year’s 12 graduates are now attending college.
The organization’s typical client was 28 years old, lived in the central city, was the head of a household and the mother of two or three children, she says. Many were victims of abuse as children or adults and suffered from depression and low self-esteem. All clients lived below the poverty level.
The organization was formed in 1998 after Bishop James R. Hoffman met with 100 women religious in 1995 and asked them to collectively use their gifts to help people most in need in the Toledo area. The sisters believed helping women earn their GEDs would help improve the lives of both women and children, Sr. Mathias says.
“If (the women) feel better about themselves, how wonderful for their children,” she explains. “And if the children see their mothers being successful, that motivates them. “You help the children, you help the entire family and you help the entire community — it spills out.”
The organization was most recently housed in the former St. Mary of the Assumption rectory on Page Street. It was funded through seed money from participating religious communities and then through grants, fundraising and donations, Sr. Mathias notes.
The organization’s operating budget was $113,00 a year and included the equivalent of two full-time staff members.
The board came close to closing the organization in the past for financial reasons, but then additional funding came through, Sr. Mathias says. Without new sources of funding this time, board members decided it would be best to use remaining funds to close appropriately.
“It was not an easy decision because we know how much good has been done,” she says.
While the organization is now closed, tutors are continuing to help women who have been preparing to take the GED test later this month.
Mrs. Hayes says the program sparked transformation in the clients, one of whom couldn’t look herself in the mirror when she first came to the program. She graduated with her GED in December and is now preparing to enter college in the fall.
“Even though life kind of kicks them down or they deal with so many things … they overcome," says Mrs. Hayes. “We might have to kind of help guide them, but they get there.”
Many clients came back after earning their GEDs and helped with the program.
The tutors’ reward has been seeing the transformation in the women and seeing the smile and glow in their eyes, Mrs. Hayes adds. The organization’s name reflects the mutual blessing the clients and tutors give to each other.
“It’s just good when (clients) can hold their head up and be proud of who they are,” she explains.