You know, I was thinking about it, wrapping up Sky’s The Limit month, and I know quite a few people who, in their own lives, work for the empowerment and education of women and girls. I know teachers, social workers, ministers, and many good parents of daughters. One person who certainly fits the bill is Christy “Chris” Niethold a friend (of many of ours ) from the old days in Foxboro. I got in touch with her and asked her a few questions about her work at Rosie’s Place, a well-known “sanctuary” for homeless women in Boston. (Note this interview goes two pages- click the “continued” link at the bottom of this page to go to the next one…)
Chris spoke to me at about 5:30 at night. This was the middle of her shift, she explained. Chris works Mondays through Fridays 3:30-11:30PM as an Overnight Advocate, a hybrid postion that has her and her co-worker Grace managing the ins and outs of the twenty-bed shelter – making sure things run smoothly and people follow the rules- and also providing for the varied individual needs of the twenty women who sleep in those beds. This could include everything from supplying new toothbrushes to guests, socializing with them in the community room, or offering one-on-one counseling to a woman who needs someone to listen.
“I’m kind of like a house mother,” Chris says. “It’s hard to explain. It’s a pretty unique position.”
Unique is perhaps a word that fits Rosie’s Place in general. (Take the virtual tour here…) One hundred percent privately-funded, Rosie‘s Place differs from other Boston shelters, Chris says, by the way it treats the women..Yes, there is the impressive , wide-ranging array of “immediate advocacy” services offered onsite : laundry, showers, a food pantry, clothes, the overnight shelter, the community center, two meals daily served by the cafeteria, adult education, medical services— services from “socks to detox,“ they say. But there is also a dedication to the philosophy of treating every woman who comes in with “dignity, respect and unconditional love.”
“We treat the women like human beings, because they are human beings,” Chris says. She goes on to talk about the way some city shelters pack in women in a somewhat sardine like fashion and think of them more as numbers than people. This difference in outlook found at Rosie’s Place, Chris says, is the first tool of empowerment shared with the women who come to Rosie’s looking for shelter and help.
“I think that just saying hello to women who no one talks to and smiling and asking ’How can I help you?’ is very empowering,“ she says. “Offering a service and not asking anything in return. They’re like ‘People want to know what my name is? People are being nice to me?’”
“I can’t tell you how many times a day someone says ’You’re so nice. You’re so nice to me,” Chris saids, imitating the women’s incredulity. On the streets, nice is a scarce commodity.
CONTINUED…. (NOTE: Sorry, I miffed this up and I lost the second half of the article…-Beth)