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Thursday, October 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Aurora Northwest Rotary comes through with $10K grant, volunteers to help Transitions’ Women’s Hearth

Women’s Hearth director Susan Tyler-Babkirk stands in the doorway of the downtown women’s drop-in center where clients are greeted with masks, hand sanitizer and other virus precautions, as well as refreshments. In non-COVID-19 times, dozens of women would fill the center, passing the time with knitting, socializing and accessing services provided there. But with virus precautions in place, most services are delivered at the door or in socially distanced locations throughout the center. Housing Support Specialist Dani Gilmour, center, holds towels and toiletries given out so clients can use the center’s showers. Daily operations manager Jewels Dietrich awaits clients at her desk, where she asks them which services they need and directs them to the right location, though only a few women are allowed in at a time. They are photographed Monday at the center on Second Avenue in downtown Spokane.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Women’s Hearth director Susan Tyler-Babkirk stands in the doorway of the downtown women’s drop-in center where clients are greeted with masks, hand sanitizer and other virus precautions, as well as refreshments. In non-COVID-19 times, dozens of women would fill the center, passing the time with knitting, socializing and accessing services provided there. But with virus precautions in place, most services are delivered at the door or in socially distanced locations throughout the center. Housing Support Specialist Dani Gilmour, center, holds towels and toiletries given out so clients can use the center’s showers. Daily operations manager Jewels Dietrich awaits clients at her desk, where she asks them which services they need and directs them to the right location, though only a few women are allowed in at a time. They are photographed Monday at the center on Second Avenue in downtown Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Sagging shelving unable to support pantry supplies.

An exterior wall with peeling paint.

And a water heater on its last gasp.

Not glamorous projects to be sure, but for the women who depend on the services of Transition’s Women’s Hearth, small things can make a big difference.

“It’s hard to find funding for capital improvements like these,” said Susan Tyler-Babkirk, director of Women’s Hearth.

The Women’s Hearth is a downtown day center for women that provides community, activities, classes, social service referrals and housing-search case management in a compassionate, supportive environment,

Tyler-Babkirk was delighted when Spokane Aurora Northwest Rotary reached out to ask if she had any projects they could help with.

“She put together the list,” Rotarian Rod Sprague said. “I looked it over, thought, ‘We can do something with this.’ ”

By partnering with Rotary International and Rotary District 5080, Aurora Northwest obtained a $5,000 matching grant for a total of $10,000.

They aren’t only supplying the money; they’re pitching in to complete the work, too.

“Part of the conditions of the grants is that Rotarians have to be hands-on involved with the projects,” Sprague said. “For example, last year we purchased furniture for Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery and spent four days assembling it.”

The grant for the projects came at a perfect time because the Women’s Hearth is open on a limited schedule due to COVID-19.

After closing at the end of March, the Hearth began offering sidewalk services in June.

“I have such a creative team,” Tyler-Babkirk said. “It’s been an interesting journey.”

Sunday through Wednesday, several sidewalk stations are set up offering water, hygiene products and the opportunity to schedule a shower.

“That new hot water heater means the hot water won’t run out at noon,” Tyler-Babkirk said.

Inside the building women have access to a phone and a computer, and a case manager can meet one-on-one with them to resolve their homelessness.

Responsible Renter classes are now scheduled monthly, and recently the Hearth began offering a weekly AA group.

“Prior to COVID we offered a women’s-only AA group four times a week,” Tyler-Babkirk said. “We’re just being super cautious.”

In August, the Women’s Hearth began partnering with Second Harvest’s mobile food bank, and asked the churches that usually cook a monthly lunch at the downtown center to provide ingredients for sack lunches, instead.

“We can offer handheld foods to folks who are camping or living in their cars,” Tyler-Babkirk said.

While the organization traditionally serves only women, during this time they’ve also begun offering food, water and hygiene products to men.

“There are lots of men in the neighborhood, and the need is great,” Tyler-Babkirk said.

She’s grateful Aurora Northwest Rotary stepped up during this unusual time. Soon the sagging shelves will be replaced and restocked with nonperishable food supplies, and the back wall will sport a new coat of paint.

“It’s just the nature of people that belong to Rotary,” Sprague said. “Rotarians want to give back to their community.”

Tyler-Babkirk said when they are able to fully reopen, the completed projects will add to the feeling of welcome the women they serve enjoy.

“It’s important that the Women’s Hearth maintains a place of beauty. It takes away stress and adds to peace when you’re in a clean, beautiful place,” she said. “We so often hear from the women that the Hearth is their second home.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.

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