On Thursday mornings, a cozy room on the third floor of 46 Pleasant St. is filled with sewing machines and the chatter of the regular attendees. On other days, furniture is pushed to the sides and yoga mats line the floors. And sometimes, it’s home to a trauma support group.
Across the hall is a beautiful, sunlit writing room, where an oval table hosts writing groups. Downstairs, a kitchen hosts a chocolate-making workshop, while two computer labs and an art room are open for use.
The physical space of the Cambridge Women’s Center is its greatest asset, its staff explain.
“We had this woman painting earlier this morning, who’s been homeless for several years, and was saying, ‘I can’t paint in restaurants or in libraries, so it’s so important to me that I have this space,'” says Jessye Kass, director of programs, volunteers, and house management.
On International Women’s Day in 1971, protesters started advocating for women’s rights in the Boston Common and ended up occupying a Harvard-owned building at 888 Memorial Drive. Their 10-day occupation helped them raise both awareness and money—enough to make a down payment on a house of their own, where the Cambridge Women’s Center still stands today, according to Kass.
Part of what makes the Women’s Center unique is its broad scope: the center is open for all female-identifying people and their children, and all its offerings are free.
Their funding, unlike many other nonprofits’, doesn’t require them to keep detailed data about the people they serve. That means it’s simple to use the center: during any of the center’s 55 hours of operation you ring the doorbell, sign a sheet, and are welcomed into the homey center.
“Because the community is giving so much, in terms of their time as well as their money, we’re able to operate very simply,” Development Coordinator Linda Pinkow says. “We don’t need the big money that a lot of the other organizations get, and so we don’t have to worry about tracking what people’s income is when they come in, and is it higher a year later, and have we found them housing, what are these quantitative outcomes. We’re really all about the qualitative outcomes. People come here, they come for a day or a few months or a few years, and their life gets better.”
Kass and Pinkow are the center’s only staff, but scores of volunteers keep the center operating. Trained volunteers can help connect women who use the drop-in center with whatever resources they need, and the helpline is open for all issues.
The broad range of people the center serves leads to group dynamics that don’t happen in many other places, Kass explains.
“The trauma support group is a really good example … They all identify as women, and are in this community, and have experienced trauma,” she says. “Usually support groups are very siloed based on income level and insurances and topic and access, and that kind of thing.”
For a more detailed list of offerings, visit the Cambridge Women’s Center website.