by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — What started as one big empty space on the lower level of City View at St. Margaret’s here, has been transformed into an oasis of warmth and welcome.
People attending the Keeler Women’s Center grand opening on July 15 were amazed at the beauty of the center’s new home.
“We’re kind of in awe now,” said volunteer Chiquita Miller, “because we would see pictures and we would hear conversations, but we never imagined this.”
Advisory committee member Pat Callaghan agreed.
“Sister would try to explain it to us,” she said. “It actually was a one-room space, and the Sisters worked with the architect, and now it is perfect.”
The Keeler Women’s Center, a ministry of the Benedictine Sisters, has its roots at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, where it first began the work of empowering women in the urban core through education, advocacy, and personal and spiritual development.
From Donnelly, the center relocated to the second floor of Catholic Charities on Central Ave., where it served the community for many years
But space there was limited and parking at a premium.
Now the Keeler Women’s Center finally has a place of its own.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann joined the community for the ribbon cutting at the center’s new location, behind City View apartments, on S. Coy St.
“That’s the hardest part about finding us,” said director Sister Bridget Dickason. “We’re located on the backside of the building.
“But classes have started, and people are coming.”
A bright pink awning is the first sign of welcome.
Once inside, the lilac walls, open spaces and large sunny windows create an atmosphere that is, in Sister Bridget’s words, “very Benedictine.”
“We’ve had lots of people visit,” she said. “And they were very pleased with the space, the openness, the beauty and the peacefulness it presented.
“That’s exactly what we were going for.”
Associate directors Sister Suzanne Fitzmaurice and Brenda Mortel were on hand at the grand opening to welcome visitors and give tours of the new facility.
“It was wonderful having such a wide variety of people come and see our new space,” said Sister Suzanne. “We had a number of people from the [City View] building, some from the neighborhood, our partners and some of our clients and Sisters.”
Mortel saw the impressive turnout as a validation of the organization’s work.
“It was overwhelming,” she said, “to see the love of our volunteers and our faith communities who took off work, or drove long distances, just to come and spend the day with us celebrating our new home.”
The new location is still accessible to former clients and volunteers, and is allowing Keeler Women’s Center to open its doors to a new community as well.
“I hope that we are able to reach more people,” said Sister Suzanne. “The space is larger so we’re able to offer more programs and services.”
Volunteers are already gearing up to include senior residents from City View at St. Margaret’s in classes.
“My passion is good eating,” said Callaghan who teaches nutrition through the Kansas Extension Office. “I hope to start classes in September, and we can work with ways that they can cook nutritious meals.”
There are also local immigrant communities the center is hoping to help.
“We have Saint Margaret’s housing down the street,” said Sister Bridget. “A lot of the refugee population live there.
“We met with a woman at the open house and set up a time for her to do child care programs in Swahili.”
Keeler Women’s Center has a diverse array of programs available to women throughout the greater metropolitan area.
It’s also a place to just come and visit.
“I want people to know it’s a place for all to come,” said Sister Suzanne. “Not only to attend the counseling and classes — it’s a place of safety and hospitality.
“Everybody is welcome to just come and be. Have a cup of coffee. Come and spend some time with other people outside of your space. It’s a place to get away.”
Sister Bridget agreed.
“My hope is that we’re a safe place where people can come and feel welcomed and valued, and they can find peace and healing and improve.
“Our goal is to help build the kingdom of God here in Kansas City, Kansas.”
The new location of the Keeler Women’s Center is 759 Vermont Ave., Suite 100-B, Kansas City, Kansas.
Its entrance is behind City View at St. Margaret’s with parking in an adjacent lot on S. Coy St.
A variety of services and classes is available, as well as volunteer opportunities.
For more information, go online to: www.keelerwomenscenter.org.