The concept of Abby's House began with an invitation to Annette Rafferty from the Worcester Urban Ministry Commission. It was early 1973, and pastors, rabbis and ministers were overwhelmed with requests to house the “new homeless” -- women and children. At the time, there were only three shelter beds for women in Worcester.
As chair of the Task Force, Annette was charged with identifying the need and creating a concrete solution. As a result of their research ,which mainly consisted of street outreach, Annette and the Task Force recommended opening a shelter. However, the recommendation was voted down by the Commission and Annette resigned. She knew that if no one was going to take action now for these women, it was not going to get done.
In the months that followed, a collective of women and men held meetings, sent letters, fundraised, generated publicity and searched for a property to site the shelter. Annette would later recall the moment she resigned from the Commission. Some members reminded Annette that she had neither the skills nor the training to work with the homeless, let alone establish a shelter. In addition, there were no funds available for shelters at this time.
Annette thought: “…in the realm of practical considerations, to follow the advice to wait for funds and training would have made sense. But I was no longer living in the realm of practical considerations. I had passed over, so to speak, to another space in time and was no longer willing to follow conventional wisdom.”
By the time the shelter door opened on Crown Street on June 7, 1976, hundreds of people had committed themselves to the project. Some worked on furnishing the rooms, and others held bake sales and solicited funds from their neighbors, churches and workplaces. The Worcester community responded with enthusiasm, and offered assistance with the incorporation of the organization and other legal issues.
Women signed up to staff the shelter, while others picked up the laundry each day, brought it home and returned it clean that evening. A group of students from the College of the Holy Cross signed up to staff the shelter and established their volunteer legacy at Abby's House that is stronger than ever, 35 years later. A strong tradition of volunteerism and community support had begun, a tradition that has sustained Abby's growth to the present.