Women helping women: A look back at Cleveland’s extraordinary past and what the future holds - The City Mission of Cleveland, Ohio

Celebrating the Women Who Made The City Mission

March is Women’s History Month: a time to reflect on the amazing unsung women of the past and present. The National Women’s History Alliance has declared the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month, “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.”

Unfortunately, Cleveland has a long way to go in terms of making peace and nonviolence the norm for women struggling with poverty and homelessness.

Last year, Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center, a ministry of The City Mission, was forced to say “there’s no room,” 19,533 times from over 5,000 unique women and children because all available bed space was full.

The City Mission is a local nonprofit that provides long-term wraparound services to men, women, and children experiencing homelessness in Cleveland. Linda Uveges, the Mission’s chief operating officer, is one female staff member who stands proud of the Mission’s rich 100+ year history and knows how deep an impact the organization’s work can have on a person’s life.

Uveges began her tenure as a volunteer at The City Mission in 2003. She eventually became a full-time employee, worked her way up to Laura’s Home program manager, and then obtained an undergraduate and master’s degree with the support of the Mission. Today, she serves as a strong, caring leader for the organization.

“The impact of transforming the lives of men, women, and children in our community is something that we get to see daily here at TCM.” Uveges shares. “What I didn’t realize is that my life would be transformed by this work, too.”

This positive change that Uveges and our hurting neighbors’ experience would be impossible without women who have been compassionately caring for individuals in crisis since 1910.

A Century of Women’s Work

Since day one, women at The City Mission have expanded the limits of what the organization can provide to Clevelanders in need. Florence Soerheide, the wife of former Mission Superintendent, George Soerheide, helped her husband establish The City Mission in 1910, and ran women’s programming until they retired. Barbara Banfield, the wife of Harry Banfield, the Mission’s next superintendent, followed in Soerheide’s footsteps. Barbara served as Sunday school teacher, pianist for the chapel, leader for teen girls and a van driver. Harry shares her impact: “Barbara was as important a part of our time here as I was.”

Angie and Clif Gregory, 1964

Another notable woman, Angeline (Angie) Gregory, made it possible for The City Mission’s care for people in crisis to grow more than ever before. From March 1948 through March 1985, Angie served beside her husband Clif—one of the Mission’s longest-serving superintendents.

In her, nearly four decades of service, Angie’s biggest contribution was founding the Woman’s Auxiliary at The City Mission. This dedicated group of Cleveland women did everything they could to meet the needs of those in crisis. They raised money, prepped and served meals, helped with holiday projects, filled baskets to give to the needy and donated items such as school buses, vans, refrigerators, freezers, curtains and more.

As COO, Uveges strives to continue The City Mission’s legacy of caring for all hurting people who come to them, and displaying tremendous respect for the clients: “I try to take every opportunity to encourage and support building value and worth in the clients, and know that I can be an example to other women – just as the women in our history are an example to me.”

Women’s Auxiliary meal prep, 1950

Strong Women Supporting Strong Women

Despite the efforts of these women and the men they worked with, the numbers above show that there’s still work to be done in caring for Cleveland’s poor. And 2019 isn’t the first year Cleveland has seen a major crisis for homeless women and children. By the late 1970s, Cleveland still did not have a women’s shelter. The number of single women, mothers and children living in unsafe conditions continued to rise, but no one stepped up to provide long-term care for these hurting souls. The City Mission decided to take action, so in 1981 they opened Cleveland’s first shelter for women, the Angeline Christian Home, with enough beds to house about 20 women.

As time went on, the need to help women and families increased. In 1994, the shelter had to turn away 957 out of 986 people who called asking for shelter. The City Mission decided that moving into a bigger facility was critical for Cleveland’s health, and the vision for Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center was born.

Today, Laura’s Home offers long-term wraparound programs in order to help women and children thrive and restart their lives in a positive way. Currently, the program is organized into three phases: help, heart, and home.

  1. Help – This is the introductory phase. Women and families are immediately met with meals, shelter, clothing, toiletries, love, and compassion.
  2. Heart – In this phase, women are partnered with an onsite caseworker, who walks alongside them throughout their entire stay. Resources are offered to help women find a career with sufficient income and sustainable housing. The staff also offers counseling, Bible classes, chapel services, and professional, loving childcare onsite.
  3. Home – In the final phase of the program, women apply their knowledge from the previous two phases to actively search for jobs, save money, and locate housing to support themselves and their families. The ultimate goal is to empower women and children to be able to maneuver through difficult circumstances in the future, long after they’ve left Laura’s Home.

    Women’s Auxiliary Sewing Club, 1966

Sixteen years after opening, Laura’s Home has changed thousands of lives and continues to expand services. Just last year, Laura’s Home served 87,126 meals to women and children, 50 families found housing and 25 women and families found employment.

Uveges is grateful to be a part of her client’s daily victories.

“They’re incredibly brave, courageous women,” Uveges said.  “I take every opportunity I can to communicate this to our guests. Many of our women feel just the opposite, but they are survivors, they don’t quit and are desperately trying to provide for their children.  I have tremendous respect for the women who walk through our doors seeking help and hope for themselves and their children.”

After 108 years of empowered women empowering women, The City Mission looks forward to another century of providing help and hope to all people, and they hope you’ll be a part of that this National Women’s History Month.

Interested in empowering women in need this Women’s History Month? Consider supporting women working toward a strong and successful recovery at The City Mission:

  • Donate financially to Laura’s Home. An incredible 89 percent of every gift will go directly to client services.
  • Donate material items that help restore dignities such as clothes, toiletries, linens, and more.
  • Donate your time in one of the many flexible opportunities at Laura’s Home.
  • Follow The City Mission on social media and stay engaged! Share posts and photos you find inspiring with your friends and family.

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