Heartland domestic violence shelter celebrates 45 years of hope

Genevieve Houghton (left) and Joyce Webb (right) were among a group of women who founded The Women's Center.
Genevieve Houghton (left) and Joyce Webb (right) were among a group of women who founded The Women's Center.
A group of women wanted to create a place for women who didn't have anywhere to go, and inadvertently ended up saving lives.
A group of women wanted to create a place for women who didn't have anywhere to go, and inadvertently ended up saving lives.

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Thursday the Women's Center of southern Illinois celebrates 45 years as an organization of hope for the region.

The Women's Center is a domestic violence and rape crisis center serving several counties in southern Illinois.

Since its founding 45 years ago, on November 2, 1972, the center has grown from a small two-bedroom home to the sprawling complex on Carbondale's Thompson Street.

Heartland News recently profiled one of the women who helped found the center, and has served as a volunteer ever since. Ninety-year-old Joyce Webb says when the center started its mission was not abused women.

"We didn't know anything about that. We were ignorant," Webb said. "There was a meeting held at the Presbyterian church of a national women's group when the interest in the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) was reborn. That's where Clara McClure asked the question, 'where do women go when they have no place to go?' Of course, we knew nothing about domestic abuse. It was never mentioned in the newspaper. Rapes were never mentioned in the newspaper."

The local newspaper did mention an all-volunteer group using donations to open a place for women to go when they had no place else to go.

Webb said the group's intention was to offer women a place to meet, but something else happened.

"Within no time - a woman showed up," said Webb. "And we began to wake up."

Today, The Women's Center houses a 40-bed domestic violence shelter and rape crisis programs. The center also has several satellite locations throughout southern Illinois.

"If it wasn't for Joyce and a bunch of other ladies involved we wouldn't be here today," said domestic violence program and women's shelter coordinator Andrea Stephens. "That means all the clients we've had over the past 45 years wouldn't have gotten help, wouldn't have been safe, and their children wouldn't have grown up in healthy environments."

An open house will mark the occasion from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 610 S. Thompson Street in Carbondale. Light refreshments will be served.

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