JWI on the ground in Grand Rapids, Michigan

By Susan Jerison, Director of Marketing and Communications

On Wednesday, I spent the day in Grand Rapids representing JWI at the opening of our 38th children’s library at Ramoth House, a battered women’s shelter run by Safe Haven Ministries.  I saw the latest of many shelters with a space transformed – a basement corner now filled with bookshelves, a brand new carpet, furniture and rows and rows of books. The shelter has a new space for children to learn and play.  And, as is true in all of our children’s libraries, the residents not only enjoy the space, but know that the Jewish community is helping them in their journey to escape violence and rebuild their lives.  Shelters are often hidden for safety; what a wonderful, gentle way to remind the women that we care about them.

I was welcomed so warmly by the shelter staff and volunteers and had an opportunity to learn about all of Safe Haven’s important programs during lunch with Jill Harkema, Safe Haven’s executive director and Susan Halteman, the director of development.  But the part that was most gratifying was to learn about the impact of JWI’s work.  In addition to the library, Jill expressed her thanks and gratitude for the training webinars offered each month by JWI through the National Alliance to End Domestic Abuse.  The Safe Haven staff often gathers together at their conference table for the webinars to learn about the latest techniques available to domestic violence professionals.  They had implemented recommendations and ideas from our call on domestic violence in the workplace.  Thanks to our action alerts on legislation for government funding for violence prevention, Safe Haven staff reach out to their Congressional representatives to urge their support. The women in the shelter love our Mother’s Day flowers and the OPI packages they receive each year, with plenty of nail polish and beauty products to brighten up Mother Day for the residents.  And all this happens from Washington DC to Michigan, here and at hundreds of domestic violence programs around the country.

Leading the day’s events was Michelle Gilbert, regional public relations manager for Verizon Wireless, who is a wonderful champion of the National Library Initiative.  Michelle took advantage of the new library to organize a press conference to announce Verizon grants to 8 organizations in Western Michigan, including support for the Safe Haven library.  Thanks to Michelle and her counterparts across the country, Verizon has partnered with JWI to open 11 libraries from Richmond, Virginia to Seattle, Washington, with 5 more planned for 2012.  Our Seattle library received Verizon support and was dedicated just the Friday before by JWI board chair, Susan Turnbull, who received equally heartfelt thanks.

Joining me at the dedication was longtime JWI volunteer Eileen Enoch from the Grand Rapids Chapter, a vital presence for JWI locally.  As soon as the dedication came to a close, the children eagerly ran down the basement steps so that they could resume their library activities.  Much of the library furniture and books had arrived just a few days before.  All still present smiled at their excitement and joy.

L-R: Diane Wilson, Executive Director, Project COOL; Betty Jo Ferry, Development Coordinator, Center for Women in Transition; Lucy Joswick, Community Liaison, Family Futures; Michelle Gilbert, public relations manager–Michigan/Indiana/Kentucky Region, Verizon Wireless; Jill Harkema, Executive Director, Safe Haven Ministries; Susan Behrend Jerison, Director of Marketing & Communications, Jewish Women International (JWI); John Lazet, Crime Victims' Advocate, Michigan Attorney General's office; Dave Vehslage State Director - Government & External Affairs,Verizon.

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One response to “JWI on the ground in Grand Rapids, Michigan

  1. Caroline Laskowski

    With all that happens in the world – we sometimes forget that the smallest things make a life better. Books were always my best friend when I was growing up and it is wonderful to work for an organization that sees to it that the most vunerable have a place to enjoy sitting and reading, or being read to, in safety and peace.

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