Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part column from the Clinton County Women's Center. Part two will be published in tomorrow's Express.
When the Clinton County Women's Center Inc. opened its doors on Sept. 30, 1979 at 132 1/2 E. Main St., Lock Haven, and began offering support and assistance to women in a variety of areas, the agency already had the benefit of a history of participation from a community committed to its future.
In October 1977, members of the Clinton County Branch of American Association of University Women (AAUW) had met with interested community members to investigate the needs of local women and to explore solutions to the most pressing of these problems. An initial survey of 43 community service agencies and a cross sampling of women in the community indicated a need for and a willingness to seek help from a women's center.
The Women's Resource Organization (WRO) of Lock Haven State College played an important role in their study. The WRO was also responsible for initiating the fundamental services from which our organization evolved. Anita Little Rathgeber, a founding mother and member of WRO, recalls the goal of the group was to establish an emergency shelter for battered wives or a hotline intervention service.
Celeste Rhodes, who had served as the Steering Committee chair for the coordinating group, was elected the first president of the Women's Center Board of Directors on Aug. 28, 1979.
Other members of the original board included Dr. Howard Congden; Martha Riegel, Esq.; Peggy Deitrick; Mary Jane Lilley Isenberg; Loretta Coltrane; Marilyn Gardner; Anita Little Rathgeber; Nancy Dawson and Claire Traynor. The first meeting of the board of directors was held on Sept. 11, 1979.
Members of the initial steering committee, board of directors and initial interested individuals will be remembered through the years as those who started it all. The following is what we consider to be an incomplete list of people who helped in the establishment and continuation of CCWC:
Terrie Bartholomew; Bobi Hegarty; Victoria J. Romeo, MD; Patricia Buckley; Barb Kelleher; Beth Seeber; Loretta Coltrane; Charlotte Knapp; Jenny Thorsen; Nancy Dawson; Anita Little Rathgeber; Claire Traynor; Peggy Dietrick; Mary Jane Lilley Isenberg; Frances Wasse; Susan Dolan; Carol Masorti McCormick; Mary Lou White; Evalyn Fisher; Bertha Merritt; Caroline Wilson; Roberta Fortney Doyle; Carol Poorman; Marilyn Gardner; Celeste Rhodes; Susan Gibson; Carroll Rhodes; Linda Good; Martha Riegel, Esq.; Jack Caprio; Karen Croce; Perry Stevens; Sara Clavez; Ruth Gordon; Mary Coploff; Carolyn Toner; Lorena Sikorskas; Evelyn Garbrick and Lillian Hoffman.
In 1977, the FBI reported "wife-beating," as it was referred to at that time, was the most under-reported crime in the U.S. According to a 1974 national survey, 200 women's centers existed across the country. Today, there are 63 centers in Pennsylvania alone. Most began as voluntary self-help programs that had encompassed health care, family concerns, education, career counseling, home management, divorce and death of a spouse, as well as domestic violence.
After several months of operating only as a crisis hotline, our center's volunteers were convinced the overwhelming problems many women callers faced stemmed from violence in the homes. The group decided to direct their efforts to the problem of domestic violence and instituted the following philosophy:
"The Clinton County Women's Center will be based on a self-help approach similar to organizations such as Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous. The CCWC will provide services that are easily accessible, confidential, and anonymous, and will emphasize alternatives rather than advocate particular actions or give advice. We intend to have concerned women volunteers from the community staff the center. All staff will be trained in a peer counseling program provided by a reputable agency. The center will be a place where a woman can go to get information, support referrals and alternatives for her to make an informed decision concerning her problems."
With $500 grants from the Clinton County Community Foundation and AAUW, and space rented at a reduced rate by Lock Haven businessman Steve Poorman, the group incorporated under the name of Clinton County Women's Center Inc. By September 1979, we were "open for business." Carroll Rhodes was the organizations first director, and worked as a volunteer in that position for the first few years. Dedicated to the cause 24 hours a day, her home phone number was listed with County Emergency Services as our "after hours" phone number.
Mary Jane Lilley Isenberg, another of our founding mothers, became our first paid director in 1982 and led our agency through a period of rapid growth. In 1983, she helped to secure funding through the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) - the agency's single largest funding source to date. In 1986, with additional PCADV funding, a shelter in Castanea was opened. Furthermore, that year CCWC entered into its first contract with the PA Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) -enabling us to serve victims of sexual violence. The Clinton County United Way accepted the Clinton County Women's Center for membership that year, as well. Isenberg served as PCADV president in 1989-90.
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Lori Callahan is fiscal coordinator for the Clinton County Women's Center.