Nearly 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner.
Cindie Alwood, executive director at The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing, says often women don’t leave these abusive relationships because they don’t have the means to support themselves. And that’s why career counseling is such a big part of what the center does.
WKAR’s Katie Cook speaks with Alwood about that and the many other services The Women’s Center offers for our last installment of WKAR Connects. Alwood starts by describing their mission.
“Our mission is to help women realize their potential. So the services that we offer are designed to help eliminate the barriers that women face to reaching their potential. So there's support groups, there's counseling, there's job assistance, there's workshops, all kinds of different things that we do.”
They even have a clothing closet full of professional clothes, shoes and accessories, where women who need clothes for work can come and find a couple free outfits. Alwood says their focus is on being a homey, welcoming environment.
“We offer for anyone a safe space, a place to go where there might not be anywhere else to go. And you'll have someone here to listen, you'll have someone who's not judgmental, you'll be believed, we'll trust you, and we’ll listen to whatever it is that you need to tell us. And on top if that, we have really good coffee and really good chocolate,” she laughs.
“I mean, it's a very serious topic and I don’t mean to make light of it at all. And the cats. That's that whole experience where you come in and you’re traumatized and terrified and don't know what to do, and the first thing we do is take care of those basic needs. Please come sit, would you like something warm to drink. If the cat feels like you need him he will come and sit with you. And so we try to break down those barriers that a lot of women already put on themselves to talking about this, by just our environment.
Q: Is that something you've seen in your experience, women who have not been believed?
“Yes. Yes. It's one of the worst things you can do to a person is deny, A: their existence, and their truth, what happened to them. Especially if you're in a position to do something about it or you’re in a position of authority, or you’re in a position for a child as an adult your role is to take care of them. Your role is to nurture and listen and protect them.”
Alwood turns to the recent example of the 250 plus survivors of Larry Nassar.
“And these girls didn't have that for a lot of the time. Because of all the things that go on with grooming, with people who do this sort of heinous stuff to people. There's lots of ways that the parents become victims as well as their children. But I think there needs to be a community healing for our entire community because those girls went through an incredible situation, and the community hearing about it and the MSU community as well as the Lansing/East Lansing community, we're all suffering right now. We're all suffering.”
Q: Is there anything you think the community maybe doesn't know about you or misunderstands about your organization?
“One of the misconceptions that we constantly struggle against is that we only serve women who are in lower socio-economic levels, and we serve everyone. We serve men, we serve boys. There are other organizations that are better positioned to do that, but we offer couples and marriage family therapy and we do have a lot of families that we serve right now. So it’s not just a women's center it's a community center. And we also don’t take insurance so you don’t pay for services if you can't afford to. We have a sliding fee scale that starts at a dollar. And we never turn anyone away based on inability to pay, never.”
Q: There might be women who find out about you or hear an interview with you and think 'well, I have a job I don't want to take any resources away from anyone who doesn’t.' So what would you say to those women?
“I would say live your best life. Everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve their potential. We're here for you, come on in.”
Alwood recounts the story of one woman The Women’s Center was able to help in a number of ways.
“We have a client, she’s wonderful. She moved here from another place, fleeing a very serious domestic violence relationship. She had a little girl at the time who I think was 3 or 4, just an amazing little kid. Resilient as ever. They had nothing. They had what was in their car. They came to Lansing, someone told them to come here. We have helped her through countless jobs while she was getting back on her feet. She finally finished her nursing degree through Lansing Community college, graduated with honors, she came back a few weeks ago and they just bought their first house. She was over the moon. Over the moon.”
To find out more about the services The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing offers, visit their website here.