As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we pause to reflect on two great women who have influenced us deeply at Abby’s House – our namesake, Abby Kelley Foster and our founder, Annette Rafferty. Both women have shown remarkable strength and courage in standing up to the injustices of the time by fiercely advocating for those who are being marginalized.
There are many similarities between these two women, which is probably why Annette felt drawn to naming our organization after Abby Kelley Foster. As an outspoken abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Abby spent her life giving humanity to those being discriminated against and those who were brutally mistreated. She did this by lecturing throughout the country to end the practice of slavery and helping to develop the first Women’s Rights Convention held in Worcester, MA. Abby also undertook the effort of organizing and financing passage of the 15th Amendment and helped shelter runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. She wasn’t afraid to voice her opinions and to fight for those being oppressed.
In a similar way our founder, Annette Rafferty has also spent much of her life giving humanity to those in need. As the head of the Worcester Urban Ministry Commission’s Task Force in 1973, Annette was charged to look into requests to house “new homeless” women and children. After months of on the ground research, speaking with homeless women, local area hospitals, and more, Annette recommended that a shelter needed to be opened to house these women. Her suggestion was turned down, and Annette immediately resigned. She knew that if no one was going to take immediate action to help these women, it was not going to get done. It was then that Annette gathered a group of volunteers to look into locations where a shelter could be opened and began fundraising to make this effort a reality. On June 7, 1976, the porch light of the Abby’s House shelter went on, and it’s never gone out over the last 45 years.
At the time of our inception, Annette had no social work training or experience in helping those experiencing homelessness – only her drive, compassion, and willingness to enact change in the world around her. As Annette would later reflect,
“…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.”
Like Abby Kelley Foster, Annette could see the changes that needed to be made, and took action in order to help those being marginalized. As the years have gone on, additional services have been added to the mission of Abby’s House including 79 units of supportive housing and advocacy services, ensuring that the critical needs of the women and children we serve are being met so that they can move from homelessness to housing security. As an organization we’ve adapted a flexible service model, which allows for the continual development and strengthening of programs and services offered to women to best support them, their needs, and where they want to go on their journeys. This most recently has included organization-wide trainings on trauma-informed care and how to incorporate it throughout our processes, as well as the creation of the Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Anti-Racism Task Force (mentioned in last month’s blog). Through trainings and the development of this task force, staff and volunteers are able to learn how to best care for women with histories of trauma and how to engage them in the decision-making process. With support from advocacy staff, women also develop an Individualized Empowerment Plan which allows them to identify realistic goals and creates a road map on how to achieve their dreams. This flexible model, along with the support of thousands in our community, is what has helped over 14,000 women to date find safety, healing, and new beginnings.
These two remarkable women, Abby Kelley Foster and Annette Rafferty, along with countless others, have helped shape Abby’s House into what it is today; an organization dedicated to lifting up and helping women move out of homelessness to a thriving existence.