Key sister behind Women’s Hearth receives first Pizelo Award
Christina Clark’s voice trembled when she addressed a ballroom full of people Tuesday morning at Transitions’ annual fundraising breakfast. Less than two years ago, she said, she was living in Anacortes, Wash., mixed up with the wrong crowd and high on drugs.
“There was a warrant out for my arrest,” Clark said, “and my 13-year-old son, who didn’t want to have anything to do with me as long as I was using, asked me if I would turn myself in for his birthday.”
She did. While in jail she discovered she was pregnant. She made it through jail and arrived at Isabella House for drug treatment with nothing but the clothes on her back and a child on the way.
“Today, I’m in the TLC housing program and I’m a full-time student at Spokane Falls Community College,” Clark said. “I never gave up and they never gave up on me.”
Clark is one of 1,248 women served by Transitions last year and she was one client who shared her story at Transitions’ 10th breakfast “for people who care about people who dare.”
This year’s breakfast was also the stage for the inaugural Pizelo Award, which is named after longtime volunteer Marie Pizelo. Pizelo, who died from cancer last year, volunteered for 20 years at Transitions’ Women’s Hearth downtown where she greeted every woman by name and shared her art skills to help homeless women work through the healing process she herself had experienced.
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Pizelo lived through a childhood of neglect, she married, had four kids and she worked – outward everything seemed fine. But last year, when she said goodbye to the Women’s Hearth, she told The Spokesman-Review that she didn’t feel like she truly came to life until she found Women’s Hearth, her gift for art and her gift for greeting people and listening to them.
With that in mind, it’s difficult to think of a more deserving recipient of the inaugural Pizelo Award than the woman who founded the Women’s Hearth, Sister Cathy Beckley, of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
Beckley was surprised when her name was announced, and she was touched.
“Marie Pizelo is standing up here with me today,” Beckley had just told the crowd, while giving a presentation about Transition’s history. “She committed herself to give back to the women at the Hearth every single day; she’s the woman in my heart.”
In 1990, Beckley began pursuing her dream of a women’s drop-in center downtown. She spent time on the street, getting to know women who were struggling to stay sober and clean. The first Women’s Hearth was in the old Jefferson Hotel on First Avenue and Beckley was there when it opened its doors in 1991.
Mary Tracey, development director for Transitions, said it was easy to pick Beckley as the first Pizelo Award recipient.
“Sister Cathy saw the plight of the women on the streets of Spokane, she developed the dream of the Women’s Hearth and she knew Marie Pizelo,” Tracey said.
Women at Women’s Hearth helped define the Pizelo Award by describing Pizelo’s characteristics, Tracey said.
“They came up with welcoming, creative, spiritual and compassionate – those are the qualities a recipient must have,” Tracey said, “and the recipient must have given seven years of service either as staff, a volunteer or both.”
Transitions has helped more than 10,000 women over the past 10 years, and the annual breakfast and lunch has raised more than $1.1 million during that same time.
Transitions is sponsored by four orders of sisters: the Sisters of Providence, the Sinsinawa Dominicans, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia – a collaboration that was mentioned many times during the breakfast.
“Together we do things,” Beckley said. “Together we say yes to building a community that cares, and we say yes to God for the abundance of generosity in this community.”
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