In keeping with WAM’s double philanthropic mission, 25% of our box office receipts from our production of The Last Wife will be donated to the Soldier On Women’s Program to help support programming for the past and present residents of their 16-unit transitional housing facility in Northampton, MA, as they transition to independent or family life. WAM sat down with Sara Scoco, Director of the Women’s Program, Mary Thurber, a current program resident and a member of the Committee and Stephanie Ovitt, Director of Wellness, to explore what the Women’s Program currently does, what the need is, and what their hopes and plans for the future are.
WAM Theatre: What specific needs does the Women’s Program address?
SARA SCOCO: The need for gender specific care is at the heart of the issue for us. We strive to empower women and help them rebuild their sense of self-worth and hope through an holistic approach that centers around the whole person. Homeless female veterans are currently are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.
Originally, Soldier On was housing women in the same facility as the male veterans, but we quickly recognized that the women were not well served nor clearly understood in that setting. In 2005 a gender specific trauma informed care transitional housing program was developed, and in December of 2015 a new state of the art housing facility opened, increasing our capacity from 12 to 16 female veterans.
WAM Theatre: Where do your residents come from?
SARA: They come from all over the country. Some come through referrals, and some women just show up or call and say “I’m living out of my car.” There are many who aren’t identifying as vets, nor accessing the services they are entitled to, so we act as their advocates.
About 80% of women at Soldier On have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and nearly all experienced trauma before they went into the military.
Many women use the military as an escape from the trauma, and end up being re-traumatized in the form of MST. These issues are generally not addressed as women are less likely to access services and in turn, female veterans often come to us having lost everything; families, jobs, homes and all sense of hope.
MARY THURBER: I grew up in a little town an hour away from everything. I was active duty Army for four and a half years and I am still in the reserves. When I completed my active service I knew I needed substance abuse treatment. I did an inpatient hospital program for a few weeks, and then I was faced with the choice of staying in semi-locked facility or returning to my mom’s house where the closest thing was the liquor store. So finding Soldier On Women’s Program really changed my life.
WAM Theatre: What has the program done for you? What does your future look like?
MARY: While being part of their program I have had the opportunity to serve on the House Committee with other residents and staff, managing the household, transportation, supplies, maintenance requests and grocery shopping. I work part-time in the middle of Northampton, and that has really given me a sense of independence. I want to look for full time job that will allow me to continue to live in this community, and then go back to school in the fall of 2018 to get my bachelor’s in business and marketing.
SARA: Our program is peer led. The residents are responsible for attending weekly house meetings and perform household chores. Each woman is given the independence and resources to seek counseling, education or employment opportunities. We offer programming in everything from goal setting, art therapy, yoga and martial arts. There are in house NA and AA meetings as well. We offer individualized services for each woman and they meet with staff regularly to evaluate their progress. Our goal is to get them back into community on their own, whether that takes months or years.
WAM Theatre: Stephanie, tell us how the Wellness Program works.
STEPHANIE OVITT: The Soldier On Wellness program utilizes the framework from Bill Hettler’s Six Dimensions of Wellness model: Physical, Spiritual, Emotional, Occupational, Intellectual, and Social Health. The unique identifier in our approach is that we emphasize building a healthy, safe, and productive future; providing tools, services, and resources to support their individual goals. This allows the veteran to not be a prisoner to their past life choices, do the necessary work they need in their recovery, and engage in building the life they have always wanted and deserve. We help the women build a healthy integrate into the local community while making sure they are comfortable and not overwhelmed. Coaching the women on developing healthy relationships, and having the confidence to be able to do so, provides them with increased self-esteem and purpose.
Many have neglected their physical health and we are here to hold their hands and help them cope with triggers for stressful visits to the OB-GYN or the dentist. We work on occupational health getting our residents volunteering because it is important to connect with and give back to the community that supports us. We help with resume building and job placement. Many women come to us in debt and we help them establish a relationship with local bank and formulate a budget to get out of debt and improve their credit scores. Overall, our program is designed to treat the whole person., not just any one area of health.
WAM Theatre: How did you connect with WAM?
SARA: Kristen van Ginhoven reached out to us. Kristen van Ginhoven reached out to us. She and Gwendolyn Tunnicliffe, WAM’s Philanthropy and Outreach Coordinator, came and did a tour of our facility in the spring, and then the board selected us as the beneficiary of the proceeds from The Last Wife. We are honored!
WAM Theatre: We hope to make a significant donation to your programs. What specifically might our WAM dollars support?
SARA: We are hoping to use it for special programming that will provide a continuum of care for women after they leave our program. The group involves a one hour weekly session with the LISCW that runs our weekly trauma group at the program. This group is intended to help women that have moved into the community to feel supported and maintain their housing. Also we are looking into a trauma-informed yoga workshop to address mind/body/spirit wellness.
WAM Theatre: We know you have men’s facilities in Pittsfield. What’s next for the Women’s Program?
SARA: We currently have 30 units of permanent housing in addition to the transitional housing for men in Pittsfield, and we are working towards building a women’s permanent housing facility with 14 units on the campus. We own the property and are working on demolishing the existing structure and rezoning the parcel. Right now we are still in the planning process.
WAM Theatre: We look forward to following your progress on that project. We know that many WAMily members will want to be involved.
SARA: We are looking forward to meeting the WAM Team and friends at the final performance of The Last Wife on Sunday, November 5 for the check presentation!