- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - In the beginning, when Woman’s Co-op was still more of an intriguing concept than a solid reality, the semblance of a board of directors decided to meet.

“It consisted of four people,” said Jean Krohn, the co-op’s first board president and one of its early driving forces. “We had one meeting at a county park. It was bring your own lunch. This was really grassroots.”

In many ways, the Woman’s Co-op, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is still extremely grassroots as it looks to find its place in the crowded world of nonprofits in Battle Creek, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer ( http://bcene.ws/1E0mnYX ).

“We operate in chaos,” said executive director Teresa Momenee, who along with program coordinator Val Whitney makes up the entire hierarchy of the organization, which has found a home in cramped quarters at Trinity Lutheran Church. “We’re a voice in the community that’s not often heard.”

It started in 2004 out of desperation and frustration and the realization that if a group of women living in the Triangle Trailer Park didn’t help themselves, no one else would.

Momenee was there at the beginning.

“We met for dumb reasons,” she said. “Someone would say ‘I don’t have a baby sitter’ or ‘I can’t do my laundry.’ “

There were perhaps 10 women at the time and they all shared similar concerns - they were living on their own, some had children and some were unemployed, but all found themselves on the edge of disaster.

“I couldn’t feed my kids,” Momenee said.

So one of her neighbors, Melissa Young, brought over some food including potatoes and beans, and she also brought over a board game.

“We talked and laughed and had a great time and I forgot I was this poor woman who couldn’t feed her kids,” she said.

That small group of women grew to nearly 40, each one helping others in whatever ways they could - whether it was providing a meal or a ride to work or babysitting services.

“We realized this network was really powerful,” Momenee said. “It was amazing women doing extraordinary things.”

They also knew they needed somewhere else to meet other than a trailer park.

That’s when Krohn got involved with other members at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, inviting Momenee and Young to join their church circle.

“We just decided to do something to help out,” said Krohn, who made various items such as pillow cases for the needy families. “We just don’t realize how close these people are to having nothing.”

In time, Momenee asked Krohn to become the co-op’s first board president, and the fledgling group moved in 2005 to its current spot, eventually gaining nonprofit status and sharing space at Trinity Lutheran Church.

When Whitney came in eight years ago, she remembers the crowded conditions and the clothing donations that reached to the ceiling and wondered what she’d gotten into.

“But a woman who was training me said, ‘There are days you’ll wonder what you’re doing here, but at the end of the day, you’ll know why you’re here,’ ” she said. “She was right. They’re like you’re own family.”

The co-op, with financial support from various local donors and the Battle Creek Community Foundation, now has 400 women in its network and helps 160 families. Primarily, it provides support and training for women in education and employment.

“The emphasis is education and employment and giving these women a hand up,” said Krohn, who was board president for six years but is no longer involved with the co-op. “Whatever they achieve, it’s good for their children, their families.”

And it’s Whitney’s job to prepare women, some who haven’t looked for jobs in years, on how to make the best impression - including everything from creating a resume to the proper attire.

“I prepare them for interviews,” said Whitney, who holds mock job interviews with the women who are applying for jobs. “I want them to be the shining star in that room.”

The co-op also provides a closet of donated clothes women can wear on job interviews or, in a worse-case scenario, for court appearances.

Each woman, some who are referred by local and state agencies and others who are seeking help on their own, is expected to complete a four-part program that focuses on self, home, family and career/education. Those who complete that program graduate and become support members to help the next group.

But more often, it’s about each woman who is part of the program understanding that they are part of a team.

It can be minor assistance such as providing laundry soap or rides to work, or it can include offering major help.

Momenee recalled one woman who was trained in auto repair showing other women how to check their oil, fill their tires and do other basic repairs.

She also recalled a homeless woman who was devoted to her two dogs but couldn’t keep them in the program. Two woman volunteered to take the dogs, and others volunteered to provide dog food and walk the dogs.

“These women give up everything here,” Momenee said. “It’s a unique situation.”

And, in a perfect world, perhaps that situation will change.

“A good nonprofit works themselves out of business,” Whitney said.

___

Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide