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In early 2022 the Clare Community will expand from a capacity of 3 to a potential 10 residential participants who are in the process of recovery and healing. Our hope for a long-term program where women who feel safe and experience stability can engender a new life of well-being and independence has proven itself! We feel blessed and encouraged that we will be increasing access to the program to a larger number of women.
The tenacity of countless people who gave their time and love to Franciscan Peacemakers over the last 26 years has helped us learn how to develop and sustain a program that adequately serves the unique needs of women survivors of sexual exploitation.
Carmen Fontanez, Social Enterprise Director, remembers connecting with women back in the early 2000’s who came week to week to talk about their experiences in a women’s support group. Services through this group grew to include personal, individual plans to address what the women needed for recovery. As the years went along, Carmen says she and Deacon Steve often talked about wanting to do more, seeing the outreach work as a band aid when the women clearly needed long-term, comprehensive services to change their circumstances permanently.
Then, Deacon Steve and Carmen explored Thistle Farms in Nashville. This successful program served the same population of women through a residential, two-year format that included a social enterprise to help women learn employment skills and earn their own income. Clare Community replicated this model and opened in May of 2014 with 3 residents. The new facility, located near St. Martin de Porres will build on the success of all that has been learned and applied over the last 26 years.
Mary Leach-Sumlin, Associate Director, thinks the women encountered through Street Outreach and the Hospitality Center will have more confidence to engage in the recovery process as they witness more women participating in the residential program. More spaces for residents also ensures a better chance of an opening when a woman is ready to take the steps to enter Clare Community. Mary has also encountered women in the past who might have been more likely to follow through if they could begin the journey with a friend or relative who also wanted to enter. She has found that being told there isn’t a space right now and being added to a waiting list is a major deterrent to a person’s ability to sustain their commitment and motivation for recovery.
When asked about his dream for what the new space will mean, Deacon Steve asserts that it is already the dream realized. His gratitude and excitement for everything that has fallen into place to help so many more women to find their way is evident when he talks about reaching this point/milestone. From imagining how the women could access a program that brings about their healing and recovery to this expansive building that will soon welcome in a community of survivors - talk to him for one minute and you'll hear the enthusiasm reverberate through Deacon Steve's voice.
Cynthia Perkins, Outreach and Recovery Assistance Specialist, who graduated from Clare Community herself over a year ago, said she is so glad that she can express her own story to the ladies she meets and extend the opportunity to even more women. One of the most important things she experienced while in the program was the gift of the women themselves: lifting each other up when the times got rough and sharing joy together in good times.
The whole Franciscan Peacemakers team are already at work, preparing for our new participants and the hope-filled energy they will generate. Together with your support, we are creating a sisterhood of women who grow together and support each other - just as St. Clare envisioned for her own community centuries ago. St. Clare of Assisi, pray for us and the future residents of the Clare Community!