35 Years of Growth and Change at Abby's House

On June 7, 1976, Abby’s House opened its doors to homeless and abused women, with or without children, for temporary, emergency shelter. Thus began an amazing journey that through the years, transformed Abby’s into a multipurpose organization offering a variety of services to women in central MA.  Abby’s today is one home with four buildings, where on any given day, you experience not only the painful realities of women who are abused, homeless, or mistreated but are witness to their courage and resiliency.  Despite everything they have been through, the women of Abby’s have hope.

Below is a summary of just a few of the historical events that have transformed Abby’s House into the organization it is today:

1973-1975: A Task Force of Women is formed to study the need for shelter for women with or without children in Worcester.

1975: Major meeting of about 40 women results in a coalition dedicated to making the shelter a reality.

1976: The coalition rents 23 Crown Street to use as a shelter.

June 7, 1976: Abby’s House opens its doors to their first guests.

1982: Abby’s starts its largest fundraiser, the Tag Sale, which becomes a city tradition. They also begin Abby’s Food Pantry and a 24 hour hotline.

November 1989: Pins by Lucinda Yates becomes a hot and on-going fundraiser for Abby’s.

April 1985: Abby’s House Celebrates its 10th Anniversary!

September 1993: Completion and celebration of 19 Crown Street, Abby’s first building, offering affordable housing to women.

March 1994- June 1995:  Rehab and completion of 77 Chatham Street, Abby’s second building, offering affordable housing to women with children.

April 27 1996: Abby’s House’s celebrates its 20th Anniversary!

September 2000- August 2001: The Sisters of Mercy approach Abby’s House with a proposal; that they consider taking over 52 High Street (formerly St. Joseph’s Residence for Women) as a housing provider.  Abby’s accepts and becomes one home with many buildings. Main offices are moved to 52 High Street.

May 2001: Annette publishes her first book, Wearing Smooth the Path: 25 Years at Abby’s House, an Unfinished Memoir.

May 2004: Worcester “Women in Wine” sponsors the 1st annual wine tasting fundraiser for Abby’s House. The event raises over $9,000 for Abby’s House!

March 2006: Abby’s House celebrates its 30th Anniversary!

September 2006: Members of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette give their time on United Way’s Day of Caring to paint at 77 Chatham St. In addition, Abby’s receives a check from the Annual Auction sponsored by Worcester State College Student Government.

January 2007: Abby’s House becomes a member of the CHAIN Initiative (Comprehensive Homeless Assessment and Intervention Network)

May 2007: One of our residents receives her nursing degree from Worcester State College

April 2008: College of the Holy Cross celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the S.P.U.D Program (Student Program for Urban Development). Women students from the Program have volunteered at Abby’s for 33 years!

April 2009: Citizen’s Bank names Abby’s House a Champion in Action for excellence in affordable housing, providing a $25,000 grant, media coverage, and volunteer promotional support.

October 2010: Abby’s goes through a Rebranding Initiative to update our logo, website, and communications.  We also organized the first Annual Benefit 5K run/walk , entitled HipHipHerRace. This event raised over $8,000!

This is just a short list of accomplishments Abby’s House and its staff, guests, and volunteers have made possible.  In the words of Darleen Gadt, published author and longtime member of Abby’s House Women’s Center,

“About twenty years ago I was a struggling sister who arrived…and I have been a part of the struggles since, a member of the sisterhood and I’ve seen Abby’s grow.”

To paraphrase the words of founder, Annette Rafferty, Abby’s is the same, yet so very different than it was 35 years ago. Perhaps life was much simpler in 1976. The staff and volunteers at Abby’s have become much more than shelter providers; they are landladies, supportive service providers fundraisers, and public relation experts; but most importantly, they are dreamers, creators, and believers in the power of women and community; Maybe next year, or in 5 years, or in another 35 years, homelessness will be a thing of the past. Until then, we will continue drawing inspiration from Abby Kelley Foster and our mission, providing shelter, housing, and advocacy to each woman who walks through our doors.