The Women’s Services team is growing!

Women services staff sitting on a couch socializing.

Once just a three-person staff team, two additional team members are now on board to promote stability, skill-building, and connection among CMC’s 22 residents, as well as other women in the community.

Case Managers Lucia McNeal and Hannah Shaffer work directly with women on a weekly basis to identify personal goals and create a plan to achieve them. Goals range from managing physical or mental health to completing education or securing employment to healing personal relationships. “With the addition of Hannah as a Case Manager in our program, we are able to support women in ways that weren’t necessarily possible before. We now have the opportunity to utilize the unique strengths of each Case Manager and pair them up with women that would benefit most from their amazing talents and skillsets”, said Women’s Services Director Jennifer Tibbetts.

Throughout the week, women have access to a number of skill-building and therapeutic group learning opportunities, led by Women’s Services Support Specialist Kristin Bratton. Adrien Pounds is joining the team as a Support Assistant to enhance those connections the women are able to make while receiving our services. Kristin shares that “The women at our center are great at supporting each other in so many ways. Having Adrien on our team will help strengthen that group support by being in their shared environment and making sure that they know this is their home; that this is their CMC family. We are excited to add to our team because it will allow for the groups I lead to focus on healing and skill-building, while Adrien can help facilitate growth and connection in their everyday interactions.”

As safety protocols allow, Jennifer Tibbetts says the growing staff team not only offers more consistent support for residents, but will also be able to offer skill-building opportunities to women in the community who don’t reside at the Center but share similar goals. “The expansion of our staff truly allows us to look at the bigger picture. COVID-19 has exemplified the damage and harm that isolation can cause, and women who already experience that isolation (regardless of COVID) are further pushed into invisibility. It is our duty to help create connections between the women in our community, and not just the women that live here. All women deserve a place that is safe, and that they can call home. We want to make that a reality, and we are excited to work together to do so.”

Safety and Security in Women’s Services

Women’s Services at the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) provide shelter, intensive case management, and skill-building opportunities to help women who have experienced trauma achieve and maintain stable housing, relationships, and finances.

When a woman begins participating in Women’s Services at CMC, she is welcomed into a room of her own. She’ll see her bed made with a handmade quilt handcrafted by a caring volunteer, and a basket of toiletries and food waiting for her. Perhaps most importantly, she’s given a key. 

“Having my own space with a locked door makes me feel safe. I came from a shelter where I shared a room with five people and anyone could go through your things,” explained one resident. “On my first day in the program, I remember the smiles from the staff. They showed me my room, the locked windows, locked doors, security cameras, and the phone to get a hold of on-call staff. I feel safe because of the things we can control.”

That sense of security is no small thing to the women who are healing from trauma. However, security alone is not the end goal. Survivors of domestic violence and trauma deserve to thrive, and a sense of safety is just the start.

“Having a safe place to live is a big stress reliever. I don’t have to worry about where I have to lay my head at night, with all the other things going on in my life. If you’re not in a safe place, how will you have a job? Take care of yourself? Your mental health? Relationships? You can’t take care of anything if you don’t have a safe place to live. It’s so much more than a bed.”

The Catherine McAuley Center is much more than just a roof. Freed from concerns about where to stay, their next meal, and other basic needs, residents are able to dive into their next chapter. Each woman meets weekly with a case manager to set and work toward individualized goals. Residents also attend other therapeutic and skill-building group learning opportunities throughout the week like cooking classes, sessions on self-esteem and codependency, and workshops on scheduling positive activities for the weekend.

Residential kitchen

Volunteers gather in the Women’s Services kitchen

As a female-responsive program, the opportunity to build strong relationships with other residents is a key component of life at the Center. Even the facilities have been updated to better promote relationship-building; a community-supported renovation in 2014 expanded the program’s small, enclosed, galley kitchen into an open gathering space where residents cook together and share meals on Friday evenings.

“I feel safer and more at home here than I ever have. We’re like a family. If anything happens, there’s someone right next to you. We’re not alone.”

Those relationships with other women only strengthen the sense of safety, helping residents see their own resilience and strengths. The Center also maintains positive relationships between residents and staff by offering trauma-informed care.

These are things that set the Catherine McAuley Center apart – there is structure, but both clients and staff remain cognizant of choice. Beyond regular meetings with case managers and in group learning opportunities, the women here are equipped to make choices about everything in their lives. They are held to their own expectations and goals that they set upon arrival, and given the tools to better understand the challenges they face.

“My understanding of safety has changed. It used to mean not getting beat up. Now it means being able to express my thoughts, feelings, and opinions as a human being, as a woman. To be able to make my own decisions, get input on those decisions, and to have choices. It’s the safest I ever felt in my life.”

From the Director’s Desk: 12-Step Programs

Did you read my recent letter highlighting a few students, residents and clients of the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC)? If so, you’ve read about Anna, a resident who demonstrated leadership by initiating an official AA group at CMC with the help of recovery community representatives so others in the Transitional Housing Program and throughout the community could access the benefits of a 12-Step program. 

Thanks to those of you who commented on Anna’s and others’ accomplishments through programming at CMC. It’s great to know that they have the support of this generous community.

Through this communication, we learned much more about how 12-Step groups operate and the importance of anonymity and the twelve traditions. To be clear: While this 12-Step recovery meeting is held at CMC, it is not affiliated with the Center, nor do we want to infer that your donation will financially support this meeting. Why are these important distinctions? We want to honor the long-standing steps and traditions that have been a cornerstone of this valuable program.

  • Tradition Six: An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose (Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p. 155).
  • Tradition Seven: Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions (Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p. 160). 

As we do not wish to jeopardize the AA tradition of anonymity by using the name of the specific group in press, radio, and other media, we will, in the future, always use the general term, “12-Step meeting.”  We are grateful for the opportunity to clarify this matter and to share with you our new awareness of these important tenants of this valuable program.

Women’s Equality Day 2018

Each August, residents of the Catherine McAuley Center’s Transitional Housing Program, past and present, have welcomed the community to the Center’s lawn for a celebration of Women’s Equality Day, the anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in August of 1920.

Samples of empowering Women’s Equality Day screen-printing designs frame a speaker from the Transitional Housing Program.

Rain or shine, event guests can be seen chatting over lunch catered by a woman-owned business, picking out their favorite inspirational message to have silk-screened onto a t-shirt by the women of the Transitional Housing Program, or applauding the three local female leaders who residents selected as recipients of a SHE-ro award for their Courage, Character, and Commitment.

But at the Catherine McAuley Center, Women’s Equality Day isn’t only a time to celebrate the historical accomplishments of women. It’s a time for the women we serve to exercise their own voices in our world today.

Transitional Housing residents not only work toward individual goals, but also discover how women can support one another.

Many of these women come to the Catherine McAuley Center having experienced trauma, but begin to discover their own resilience through weekly meetings with case managers, therapeutic and skill-building groups, and building relationships with one another through community activities.

That resilience is hardly ever more evident than on Women’s Equality Day, when messages from three residents invite guests to catch a glimpse of what life has been like for women in the Transitional Housing program. The speakers were confident as they shared about their history of trauma; surviving domestic violence, abuse, sexual assault and their struggles with addiction issues.

Women’s Equality Day offers Transitional Housing Program residents to share their voice with the community.

As guest speaker, Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt explained, “Telling your story IS advocating for change. Those stories matter because you are real people.” The speakers stood tall and did just that with their messages that showed other women, “You can make it. You can be strong.”

In the poetic words of one of the speakers:

“I didn’t have a choice

But what I have now is a voice

And nobody can shut me up

Because a voice is louder than silence

And my voice tells a story of violence

And don’t forget, you have a voice too

No matter the [things] that you’ve been through

And many voices becomes a current in a river that drowns injustices

Be swept away”

May we all drown injustices with our voices.

#MeToo and Resilience

Us too.

In the wake of the growing publicity and number of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo campaign has taken off on social media platforms. Women (and survivors of all genders) use the hashtag to identify themselves as survivors of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse. Some choose to share their stories, others prefer to post just the hashtag, sometimes including the message that “If all the women who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

The hashtag has helped open the door to conversations about crimes of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. The #MeToo campaign highlights what we know and see daily at CMC– this violence is not just something that stars and celebrities or people in other communities deal with. This is not a far away problem.

CMC residents screen printed shirts and other fabrics with empowering slogans like the one pictured for Women’s Equality Day 2018. The #MeToo campaign helps break the silence about sexual trauma.

Domestic violence and past sexual traumas are linked to myriad problems in a survivor’s future. ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is a tool that assesses instances of trauma a person may have experienced in childhood in order to help better understand the long-reaching effects that those experiences have on a person. Sexual trauma in a woman’s past specifically put her at a higher risk of obesity, as well as many other potential challenges.

This is close-to-home. This happens in Iowa, in Cedar Rapids. With the rare exception, all CMC residents have been victims of crime, including domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking/harassment, or financial crimes. The multilayered effects of crime– including mental health and interrelated substance abuse challenges, low self-esteem, social isolation, homelessness, untreated medical conditions, debt and credit damage– can all present significant obstacles to a woman’s sense of stability. Past trauma can impact everything from employment success and housing eligibility to medical needs and capacity to build healthy relationships.

That isn’t the end of the story though– past trauma presents challenges, not total roadblocks. The residents here at CMC– along with women globally– work through those traumatic events and their effects in order to regain stability and discover their own resilience. With consistent support from CMC staff, women in the program are committed to working through the complex and damaging effects of past trauma and rebuild their lives.

We are honored to stand together and work for stability and resilience and equality for people. We echo what staff and residents and friends of CMC are all saying: us too.

CMC connects residents with resources like counseling and support services in order to work through adverse experiences and trauma. If you or a loved one needs immediate assistance, please reach out to the Iowa Help Line to speak with a trained counselor.
Chat: iowacrisischat.org
Phone/text: 
1-855-800-1239

Carly: On Recognizing Domestic Violence

A speech from the Transitional Housing Program’s 2017 Women’s Equality Day Celebration.

The powerful women with domestic violence experiences have only recently learned that domestic violence has come to gain some appropriate attention as a major social problem. However, speaking from personal experiences of my own, there are a lot of negative thoughts and beliefs that were drawn. I myself have recognized the traumatic aspects and chose to re-align my mental and social character to identify my own self-worth.

The aim of this speech is to share positive, effective education to those that don’t have the knowledge. As women we need to build one another up, speak out on our lifelong learning combined with eager approaches that will help others to acquire those coping skills, strategies and self-care, as well as we manage our wellness, boundaries and support services in our everyday lives.

If we don’t stand for something, the trends will never change. Nor shall we allow this to define who we really are today. Let us continue to take a stand and reach out.

Find additional Women’s Equality Day speeches from Ann and Lesa on our blog. 

Ann: On Health and Self-Care

A speech from the Transitional Housing Program’s 2017 Women’s Equality Day Celebration.

Again, thank you for joining us for Women’s Equality Day. I began a journey with the Catherine McAuley Center in February of 2017. It’s been a time of change and growth that centered me on both my mental and physical health.

I was supported by Catherine McAuley Center with a stable, safe, secure environment so I could focus on getting well. I had no idea the real barriers ignoring my mental health created. It took one person, Nat from EIHC (Eastern Iowa Health Center), to make that one phone call which led me to the Catherine McAuley Center.

I was homeless but not considered in immediate need of assistance. My daughter Peyton and best friend Char took turns giving me a bed to sleep in when there were no spots available in the overflow shelter. But really they couldn’t provide for me daily for an indefinite period of time. I had no idea the growth and positive change that would occur just being able to take care of myself.

I began regular visits to all of my healthcare providers including a therapist. Also, Catherine McAuley offers time in a learning environment to focus on our needs. I spent so much time trying to care of other people that I didn’t give any time or care for myself. After just 5 weeks of medicinal compliance, attending my diet with the Diabetes Education Center while being here I showed significant improvement in my health.

It’s important as women that we take the time to nurture our own needs. Be attentive to ourselves because I’m sure you’ve been told before you can’t take care of anyone else if we don’t take care of ourselves. This means taking the to time to speak with your primary provider and take time for preventative health care including mammograms and sexual and mental health needs.

There are still some out there who are unaware of the effects of untreated depression. It’s what contributed to my homelessness. Please trust yourself to communicate openly with your healthcare providers. Advocating for yourself is key and can’t be done if you can’t be heard.

Find additional Women’s Equality Day speeches from Carly and Lesa on our blog. 

Lesa: On Being Female and Homeless

A speech from the Transitional Housing Program’s 2017 Women’s Equality Day Celebration.

Imagine ghosts in the darkness, darting into the shadows to avoid being spotted by police driving by.

Imagine when night falls, the daunting realization that you have nowhere to go. There is no place you call home.

Imagine the overwhelming feeling that you belong nowhere.

This is what it feels like to be homeless. In my mind, belonging nowhere meant I was nothing, I was nobody. Insignificant, less than zero.

What would Cedar Rapids be like with no homeless women and children? Imagine a city where domestic violence is an isolated incident, not the norm. Imagine if enough support existed for women to break free of the violence and oppression; break free of the prison that domestic violence is.

Poverty, despair, hopelessness, learned helplessness. These are just a few of the characteristics women experience as they live with an abuse- and leaving frequently means homelessness.

We celebrate women’s equality. The right to walk down the street without being assaulted or threatened. The right to vote. The right to be a homeowner. The right to be your own person. The right to NOT be punched, kicked, slapped, pushed, sexually assaulted or any of the abusive behaviors that take place every day to women among you. Where are they to go?

Women need safe housing, equal pay, medical services, and transportation. Survivors of domestic violence turn to homeless service programs because they lack the economic resources to obtain housing after leaving an abusive relationship. These women need supportive services that can help them heal from the trauma of abuse and improve their financial security and well-being.

Living in darkness and fear causes brokenness and low self-worth to the women who face domestic violence and homelessness. It is baffling and terrifying to escape the clutches of the one who hurts you, yet claims to love you. These toxic relationships damage the victims, heart, soul, mind, and psyche.

We must celebrate women. Embrace their challenges, get involved, reach out. Invest in women. Yes, we have achieved equality in many areas. But there is still lack of shelter, services, and funding in comparison to the need.

Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfill their potential, society as a whole benefits.

Celebrate women, those who are successful, as well as those who are struggling.

Women’s equality means NO MORE FEAR!

Find additional Women’s Equality Day speeches from Ann and Carly on our blog. 

Master Gardeners feature CMC garden

Master gardenerEach of the past two years, the Catherine McAuley Center Gateways Garden has produced over 800 pounds of food from their community garden. This year, they were featured as one of two community gardens in the Linn County Master Gardeners Garden Walk 2017 that was held on July 8. Chelsea DeLarm, Support Services Coordinator at CMC and master gardener, said there were over 200 people who visited the CMC garden that day.

“It was a very long day, but it was an amazing day and the garden was looking beautiful,” said DeLarm.  The garden features food such as cucumbers, squash, green beans, onions and more, and sits on 12 raised 4×8 beds. It even has a pollinator garden with plants that attract Monarchs and other butterflies and bees.

DeLarm stated that the garden shows off all the hard work the women in the CMC transitional housing program have put into it and that the work done in the garden has enhanced the program and become a landmark in the community. “The garden is just this awesome place where people feel really connected to each other, and I hear residents say, ‘I just love being in the dirt,’” said DeLarm.

Upcoming activities for residents include harvesting and preservation projects. The women will get to cook a lot more with the fresh produce from the garden and try different things out.

Volunteers Build Connections

Interview groupBy Jennifer Tibbetts

Volunteers are an integral part of the rebuilding of hope, sense of self, and connections that we do at CMC. Volunteer groups are interwoven throughout the housing program at CMC and offer educational and social opportunities for residents. Through volunteer interactions, women build skills to then become engaged in the community through their own acts of volunteerism.

One of my more recent favorite memories is when the Mount Mercy University Enactus group hosted a mock job fair for residents, which was the finale of a series of employment skill-building sessions. The group arranged for several local business leaders to volunteer their time to conduct interviews with women in the housing program to practice their new interview and employment skills.

Mock interviewThe night of the mock interviews, it turned out that all of the volunteer business leaders were female. Seeing an opportunity for connection, I decided to ask the volunteers to share a little about their journey to where they are today. This started a truly powerful discussion as the female businesswomen shared their successes and struggles, building bridges with residents’ stories. You could see that the residents connected to their stories which were helping residents to regain a sense of hope for their own lives. These volunteers had a larger impact than their original “assignment.”

Many other volunteers and groups help build the same sense of hope and connection in the Transitional Housing program through their service. The Soroptimists cook and share a weekly meal with residents, and a group of Master Gardeners teach valuable skills in garden preparation, care, and harvesting.

If you want to learn more about ways to support skill-building and connection in the Transitional Housing Program, please contact volunteer@cmc-cr.org.

Jennifer TibbettsJennifer is the Transitional Housing Program Manager and has used her 18 years of experience in social services to implement female-responsive programming at CMC. Jennifer is proud to be a part of a mission-driven organization like the Catherine McAuley Center and feels privileged to be in a role in which she can help create a safe and supportive environment that allows women to realize their own potential. In her free time Jennifer finds creative ways to be an advocate for women throughout the state, and organizes community groups and female-led initiatives that allow women to connect and find their voice.