Underneath a photo of Mother Theresa and next to the altar where women pray for one more day of sobriety, three suburban moms are ripping open the packaging on dozens of cozy snow boots, stylish dress boots and even a pair of Uggs. They line them up neatly by size at the Edna House on West 65th Street in Cleveland.
Two doors down from St. Colman Church, the former convent has been given new life as a safe space with the capacity to treat 47 women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The suburban visitors here are from 100 Women Strong Ohio, a nonprofit collective of more than 300 women from 18 to 80 years old who are dedicated to making an impact in the community around them. The boots are just the beginning of what they hope to accomplish.
“I could cry,” says Jenn Lasky, Edna House’s executive director, as she surveys the scene. “We’ve never had this many boots to give.”
In a few moments, the women living here will come into this small chapel after group therapy. They will each select a pair of boots that can be worn to shovel the church sidewalks next door, to catch their bus on the way to their new jobs and, hopefully, to journey back home to their families once they get a firm handle on their addictions and their lives.
But upstairs there is a much larger “gift” in the works. In a single, shared room on the third floor, there are 25 beds; the second floor houses 22 beds in private bedrooms. But there are only two bathrooms to accommodate everyone — with just three showers. A $30,000 gift by 100 Women Strong Ohio is being used to completely remodel one bathroom and add two more showers.
“I cannot wait,” says Lasky, opening the door to offer a glimpse of the bathroom to her visitors. “Just the dignity of it.”
This is the mission driving 100 Women Strong Ohio: to make a difference in the lives of others, whether by providing a hot shower, keeping feet warm or keeping homeless families together.
The charity’s model, a national concept brought to Ohio by Hudson residents MaryJo Clark and Jen Yozwiak, is based on a simple idea: Get women to donate a minimum of $200 a year for a membership and use every drop of the money to change lives.
“A lot of us cannot write a $30,000 check, but together we can give a $30,000 check,” says Clark. “It’s giving women a chance to give back to the community in a really meaningful way.”
But it’s more than that. We all know there are people suffering just five, 10 or 20 minutes from where we live, but it’s easy to ignore. Clark and Yozwiak want to make it just as easy to jump into this other world.
“That’s part of the mission — to expose the need,” Clark says. “We want you to feel the need.”
Erica Charriere, a Hudson stay-at-home mother of three, left her first 100 Women Strong Ohio event wanting to do more than give $200. She joined one of the organization’s grant committees and, while at the Edna House for the first time, asked what else they needed. The answer was boots.
Now, she’s back with Clark and Yozwiak, along with the trunkful of boots sent to her after posting an appeal online. She wipes a tear away as she talks about how proud she is of her mother, who is eight years into her own recovery for alcohol addiction.
“This was therapeutic for me,” she tells Lasky. “I loved doing this.”
Before leaving, she asks one more time: “What else do you need?”