Thursday, December 26, 2013

Five years of changing lives

Celebrating five flourishing years
Five years. This is not such a long time. Looking back, though, it feels like an eternity. Five years ago there was no overnight shelter for adult women in East King County.

In 2006, Bellevue First Congregational Church (BFCC) and YWCA partnered to open a day center for women in downtown Bellevue. The intention was to meet homeless women, offer services and assess the needs of the community. Women who visited during our first few years made it abundantly clear that while the services offered were crucial and appreciated, there was still an unmet need. Women needed a safe place to sleep and a pathway to a better life.

To answer that challenge, Helen Leuzzi, the Outreach Chair of BFCC, called together a group of people who wanted to help. With the fiscal sponsorship of Eastside Interfaith Social Concerns Council, some large and small donations of money and supplies, space from BFCC as well as "weekend host" congregations, coupled with the determination and energy of volunteers and staff, The Sophia Way came into being.
During a snowstorm in December 2008, The Sophia Way opened its doors at 7pm to a woman who wanted a place to sleep. She came, had a hot meal and shower, slept on a mat on the floor, and made an appointment with her case manager. She worked through her goals, moved into subsidized housing and got a job. That woman is still part of the Sophia Way family. She has been joined over the last five years by many extraordinary women (and some men) - clients, staff, volunteers, donors - to form the amazing tapestry of support that we call The Sophia Way. 

Our education about homelessness was enhanced that first night as we learned from the women we intended to serve. We learned what it means to be homeless, how it is not just a lack of a place to sleep. We learned what challenges might prevent a woman from renting an apartment, getting a job, applying for benefits. We learned how to be in community, how to support each other, how to ask for help. Most importantly, we learned that we are all people, not homeless or housed, not well-off or poor, just people, struggling with challenges and trying to live the best life possible.

So, for all the people who have been part of The Sophia Way, those who have slept overnight and those who have stayed awake all night to keep them safe, those who make the meals and those who eat the meals, those who schedule the Dental Van and those who get their teeth fixed, those who donate household goods, toiletries, clothes, time and money and those who put those donations to good use, I have a message.

Thank you. It has been a truly life-changing five years, and I am grateful to all of you.

In Peace,

Karina O'Malley
Board Member, The Sophia Way
One Year of Sophia's Place at St. Luke's
Our overnight shelter, Sophia's Place at St. Luke's Church, is also celebrating its one year anniversary this month! We are remembering all the contractors, cities, foundations, faith organizations, and individual donors who has made this shelter a reality for us. Thank you!