By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — In 1995, four Triad women who informally had been sharing information to help one another through life transitions such as the need to care for elderly parents or to find legal assistance for a pending divorce concluded women in the community could use that kind of support on a regular basis.
They did some research, visited local health and human services agencies to learn about possible gaps in services, and enrolled in classes offered by Duke University’s certificate program in nonprofit management.
They also found that North Carolina was home to seven local centers that provided resources for women, and that Greensboro was the largest city in the state without such a center.
So they formed the Women’s Resource Center of Greensboro.
“We recognized Greensboro had a wealth of health and human service agencies but not many people knew where they were,” says Ashley Brooks, executive director of the Center and one of its founding members.
Operating with an annual budget of nearly $500,000, a fulltime staff of seven people and an active corps of 350 volunteers, the agency serves roughly 9,000 women a year.
In one of its biggest programs, 40 trained volunteers provide counseling on community resources to nearly 1,000 women a year by appointment, and to several thousand more by phone.
A second program, provided by human resources representatives from local companies, offers classes for about 200 women a year to prepare them for the workforce after they have been years taking care of their children and families and now need a paying job as a result of divorce, disability, downsizing or death.
Classes, offered four to five times a year, run three days a week for three weeks and include mock job interviews, resume writing, career counseling, and advice on how to transfer home skills to the marketplace, with the HR reps also serving as mentors for up to a year.
The Center also offers an attorney hotline, with 37 volunteer lawyers answering basic legal questions that cover 22 areas of law in 15-minute conversations scheduled by appointment with nearly 1,000 women a year.
The lawyers also host legal lunches and offer two-hour workshops, mainly on legal issues such as divorce or child custody.
Other programs the Center offers include a four-part self-esteem series that is offered twice a month, once during the day and once in the evenings, and is taught by trained volunteers to about 250 women a year.
“We recognize we can give women resources when they come in,” Brooks says, “but sometimes there are circumstances where they cannot act because of fear or the enormity of whatever situation they’re in.”
And the Center offers community workshops throughout the year that attract about 500 women and are provided by other agencies on topics in which its clients indicate an interest, such as financial literacy, consumer credit and predatory lending.
It also provides training to community volunteers.
Last year, for example, it trained 60 volunteers who work with Winter Emergency Shelter, a program organized through Greensboro Urban Ministry in which local churches provide shelter during the winter months for homeless people when local homeless shelters are full.
The Women’s Resource Center, a partner agency of United Way of Greater Greensboro, also receives funding from local foundations and individual donors.
Its big annual fundraising event, Men Can Cook, was held Aug. 11 at the Special Events Center at the Greensboro Coliseum, netted $60,000 and attracted 800 guests.