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A Rose in Boston

By Emily M. Kochanek

The winter is harsh and unforgiving. Walking around Boston can be miserable in the pouring rain, even with a waterproof coat and boots. But imagine not owning a house, a place to sleep, a place to get dry. Where to turn, where to ask for help?

On a small street off Mass. Ave. among industrial red brick buildings is a small building at 889 Harrison Avenue, with Rosie’s Place engraved in stone above the double front door. Beyond the grey world of rain and misery, there is a broad foyer illuminated with skylights and decorated with women’s and children’s drawings scattered across the wall, colorful collages, and a quilt that hangs opposite the pictures. All the volunteers smile. Women of every ethnicity and age line the hallways laughing, telling stories, and dancing.

“I don’t think you can walk into Rosie’s Place and walk out and not think, ‘Wow, I just saw something special,’” said Leemarie Mosca, Development Director of Rosie’s Place.

Rosie’s Place, a shelter for women, offers housing, meals, food, medical attention, psychological help, and education to women in the Boston area. The shelter was found- ed in 1974 by Kip Tiernan, who saw a need for homeless or struggling women in Boston. At the time, there were no homeless shelters dedicated to women; Tiernan noticed many women would disguise themselves as men to receive the benefits of existing shelters. Rosie’s became the first women’s shelter in the United States.

“The idea of Rosie’s Place is community... We know that our guests have challenging lives that take them from lots of places and there’s a lot of waiting around... When you’re poor you don’t have a lot of choices,” said Mosca.

The faculty at Rosie’s are dedicated to helping each woman individually. Mosca said faculty aid each woman according to her needs.

“We are committed to offering unconditional love and support and helping to aid [women] along in their journeys as directed by them,” said Mosca. “We have to constantly adjust our services and our approach with each woman so that... she can reach whatever success is for her.”

Because Rosie’s Place is not funded by the government, it provides services that many other organizations in the area are not able to give. “It may be as small and as short term as ‘I need a Charlie ticket because I have a doctor’s appointment and I can’t get there,’” said Mosca. “Or it could be ‘I’m out of a job... and am about to be evicted from my apartment and I don’t know how to make ends meet.’”

The freedom from government funding allows all women to come to Rosie’s Place, no matter their social or economic standing.

“We are often asked how [to] tell if somebody is deserving or needing of [our] program, and our philosophy at Rosie’s Place is that if a woman says that she needs help we take her at her word... If a woman has been brave enough to walk through the doors of Rosie’s Place and ask, ‘I need help,’ then we’re not going to discourage her and prevent her from coming back and maybe getting even more help,” said Mosca.

Although there is always a need for help at Rosie’s, there is no shortage of volunteers and gifts. Two million dollars of Rosie’s budget come from volunteers who dedicate 60,000 hours per year, and another six million dollars come from giving within the Boston community. “It’s because of the community’s support that we are able to continue to meet the need,” said Mosca.

Rosie’s also created the Women’s Craft Cooperative, a jewelry cooperative established in 1996 by Barbara Summers, the WCC’s director. The WCC helps visitors at Rosie’s Place build job skills, work in a professional environment, and earn a salary as Rosie’s Place employees.

“It’s a social enterprise,” said Mosca. The WCC employs nine Rosie’s Place visitors at a time, requiring each to apply and interview for the job.

In the beginning, Summers would wheel her cart of donated an- tique buttons into Rosie’s dining hall, where women would work together to make pins.

“I thought [buttons] would be a great product to make because first of all it’s really important to have a material that isn’t intimidating to the women. Everyone has a familiarity with buttons,” said Summers.

The women of the WCC now create handcrafted earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and pins, as well as bookmarks, compact mirrors, and, most recently, Christmas ornaments.

“We’ve evolved over... 15 years,” said Summers, pointing out bead containers lining the walls, professional jewelry-making tools, and mirrors.

The items are sold at fundraising events, craft shows, Rosie’s online, and most notably J. Jill. The retailer alone sells 3,000 WCC items per year. Online profits total 10,000 to 12,000 dollars. Summers also keeps in touch with fashion trends and uses them in the jewelry design.

“We’re very much into... block color. I’m looking at every [fashion] magazine and online all the time. We’re always looking to make something new,” said Summers.

As Mosca talked about the WCC, she noted certain women who shared their own talents within the WCC. She mentioned one woman who used her organizing skills to arrange the beads, and another woman who used her skills as a mother to keep all aspects of packing and shipping in order.

Mosca said that the WCC was not about having a job but about having “the ability to learn, a willingness to learn, an openness to feedback... Barbara’s philosophy is ‘We can teach you the rest.’”

Michele Chuasse, Communications Director, added, “[It’s] sort of like helping enhance people’s strengths.”
And helping enhance women’s strengths is at the heart of Rosie’s Place. It is not only a place to find shelter and nutrition, but also a place to find unconditional love and a way into the future.

“We don’t dictate solutions,” said Mosca. “We offer opportunities.”

Visit, the WCC’s tab on the site, to learn more and buy jewelry. Students who contact Barbara Summers at (617) 318-0282 will receive a 10 percent discount on all purchases.

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