When the members of the Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC) held their annual open house last Friday, they had something special to celebrate. In addition to helping hundreds of local women gain career training and find work, the center received a new building, and plans to expand services into the newly titled Mary Durham Center.
The open house was held in the newly donated West Court Street home, which formerly belonged to Mary Durham ’22. Durham was a long time supporter of both civil and humanitarian rights, and after her death, her children decided to donate the house to a cause their mother would have strongly supported.
Linda Johanson ’69, current chair of the board of the WOC, explained how the house will be the site of a new Bridge Program. The Bridge Program will extend the services currently offered by the center, and will include short term housing for displaced women and their families.
Johanson hopes that women who use the new building can take advantage of the many facets of the WOC.
“The women can gain intensive job preparation, they’ll do computer training and practice interviews, and the new program will focus even more on job retention,” said Johanson.
In Johanson’s opinion, job retention is the key to success.
“Once they get a job, it helps them to deal with adjusting to the workplace,” she said.
According to Johanson, the Bridge Program also hopes to establish some new youth programs.
“We’re hoping to help the whole family through the time of transition,” she explained. “This includes helping children do their homework and helping to make sure they continue with their educations.”
Over 40 people donned name tags and explored the Durham Center in celebration of its opening.
“It’s very rewarding, it’s amazing!” said Dammi Herath, executive director of the WOC, as she watched people walk through the house. “Mary Durham was very dedicated to women’s issues. I wrote her children a letter explaining what we [the center] would do if given the house, and they were so excited about it.”
According to Carol Usefara, volunteer coordinator at the WOC, Joe Cloutier and his apprentices from the Painter’s Union offered their services for the interior painting of the home.
“They came and painted several Tuesday nights,” Usefara said. “We’re so thankful!”
Carpeting was donated by local motels and the carpeting was put down by Eric Lee, a local carpenter.
Fully furnished by donations and organized by staff members and volunteers, the house is a testament of hard work, said Regina Morse, the director of Displaced Homemakers Fundraising.
“It takes a whole community to back a project like this, and Dammi has an engaging way of gaining community support,” said Morse.
Morse also noted the expansion of the programs.
“We began 25 years ago helping mainly older women, who were widowed or divorced. Now the program has expanded, and a broader spectrum of women can take advantage of the services we offer,” Morse said.
Nancy Potter, former chair of the board for WOC and long time friend of the Durham family, said that this was not the first time the house would be a center for aspiring women. According to Potter, Durham opened her home to international students during their time at the University.
“Women from all over the world came and stayed with her while they were at Cornell,” Potter said.
Potter also described Durham as one who was always eager to help.
“She believed that all people were intelligent and valuable,” she said.
Another friend of the Durham family, Ken Reardon, shared his thoughts on Durham as well.
“She was the only woman she knew of, to have met every single Cornell University president from A.D. White to Hunter Rawlings,” said Reardon.
As a part of the open house ceremony, the WOC also honored Assemblyman Marty Luster (D-125th).
“Marty Luster has always supported our budget requests in the New York State Assembly,” said Johanson. “He was honored because we wanted to show our gratitude for his constant support of our programs.”
However, Luster was unable to attend due to a chipped tooth. Barbara Lifton accepted the award in his stead.
The WOC, located at 315 N. Tioga Street, offers career counseling, resume assistance, educational counseling, computer training and job listings for women in need.
Archived article by Signe Pike