Montague Women’s Center provides solace for all women

  • An applique piece made by Andrea Ociesa Sears of Ashfield at The Women's Center sewing group in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Paula Kelsey of Greenfield irons material at The Women's Center sewing group in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lea Banks of Gill and program coordinator Andrea Ociesa Sears of Ashfield look to alter an apron at The Women's Center sewing group in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sewing materials at The Women’s Center in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lea Banks of Gill and program coordinator Andrea Ociesa Sears of Ashfield look over a baby blanket at The Women's Center sewing group in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lea Banks of Gill shows program coordinator Andrea Ociesa Sears of Ashfield the Dr. Seuss themed quilt she made at The Women's Center sewing group in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Paula Kelsey of Greenfield makes pot holders at The Women's Center sewing group in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Program coordinator Andrea Ociesa Sears of Ashfield works on a project at The Women's Center sewing group in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2022 6:05:44 PM
Modified: 7/20/2022 6:05:20 PM

As women trickle into The Women’s Center, nestled humbly within Third Street’s red brick roadside complex, hearth-warm greetings flicker from the smiling face of coordinator Andrea Ociesa Sears. The women forgo the pleasantry of sit-still conversation, immediately picking up where they left off in their crafts.

“I’ve been coming here for many years and it’s really brought a light into my life,” said Kay Fern, who was celebrated Tuesday for checking into her 600th session since sessions began being recorded in 2015 for grant award purposes.

“It’s turned into a weekly thing with me and this is like a solace,” participant Lea Banks said. “I can leave my house and I can leave my life behind and I love this.”

The Women’s Center, part of Montague Catholic Social Ministries, began as the organization’s first program over 25 years ago, according to Sears. While it began specifically as a way to support victims of domestic abuse and other traumas, she said, staff have since “shifted (their) approach to be less all about trauma, but more about healing and respecting each other through art.”

“I feel like one of our most important missions right now is to really be a place of community and wellness,” added Heather Wood, Executive Director of Montague Catholic Social Ministries. “We want the highlight of somebody’s visit to be their strengths.”

Current programs include Tuesday’s sewing club, Wednesday’s walking club and freestyle writing workshops, and Thursday’s artmaking sessions. Evidence of the community’s investment is clear merely by looking at the walls of the workspace, which are covered with artwork of different mediums.

“We believe art is healing,” Sears said.

Artmaking also ranges from expert craftsmanship to novice expression. The inexperienced, though, are equally welcome. Sears revealed that a favorite part of being in the creative space is merely witnessing “the acknowledgement one gets from the beauty they created.”

“If it’s in the heart, it’s art,” Sears said. “Art here is not judged, it’s celebrated.”

And while participants are eager to get right to work upon arrival, each day is filled with conversations that some attendees don’t feel like they can find anywhere else.

“I come here and I talk about things I haven’t been talking about all week, as little as sharing the fact that I’m a grandmother… I feel like I don’t have to have an agenda when I come here and that’s very important,” Banks said.

“I feel like I can express who I am here,” Fern said.

The tight-knit community has dwindled in numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sears said. The Women’s Center was closed for over a year and resorted to virtual programming as in-person gathering was inhibited. Still, staff made an effort to stay connected.

“We did keep in touch with all of our participants who needed us,” Sears said.

Sears added that she has worked hard to recruit more participants, but a variety of factors, including stigma, keep women from walking through the door. Wood said that while it’s important for The Women’s Center to “stay true to (its) roots of helping people who have been marginalized,” the organization is currently combating the misconception that the center is solely a place for those who have experienced trauma or otherwise have mental health issues. The focus now, she said, involves “somehow getting rid of the line between us and them.” Those interested in attending The Women’s Center need not sign up anywhere and are encouraged to simply walk in.

“I came here kind of with the intention that I wouldn’t last,” Banks said of her introduction to the center. “I walked in and I’ve been here ever since.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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