Need for center’s services keeps growing

Published: Monday, April 20, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King Register Staff

GUILFORD — With the economy taking a toll on many people’s emotional and financial situations, staff at the Women and Family Life Center — a community mainstay since the early 1990s — said they are seeing an increase in need from many of the groups they serve.

At the same time, the center itself took a blow when the financial crisis hit many banks, which are primary supporters of the organization. But Executive Director Liza Petra said individual donors stepped up during the annual capital campaign, and the center will be able to cover its $250,000 yearly budget.

With just five part-time staff members, the Women and Family Life Center covers many bases in Guilford, from offering yoga and dance classes to educational talks and support groups for divorced people and victims of domestic violence.

Petra called the organization a “jack of all trades.”

“We have such a diverse offering of ways in which people can connect and find ways to make themselves feel better, that it actually provides an opportunity for anyone to come in and find ways to feel better in this time of stress,” she said.

To that end, the center provides resources at its headquarters in a house and barn on Fair Street, as well as referrals to other organizations in the Greater New Haven area. Petra said that most of the people who use the services are from Branford, Guilford and Madison, but the group regularly receives calls from all over the state.

Program Director Leslie Krumholz said that many people know Women and Family Life as a crisis center, but it provides many opportunities for education and counseling beyond those situations.

“I think that people who know Women and Family Life have thought that it’s only a crisis center, and that is what we do and it’s a big part of what we do, but we also do many other things,” she said.

Petra said that the center receives about 1 percent of its funding from the town of Guilford, and the rest through private donations from businesses and individuals. The group works closely with town services, including the Police Department and Youth and Family Services, especially in cases of domestic violence.

“By coming together and collaborating, we’ve been able to provide those services here,” Petra said.

The organization offers about seven ongoing support groups — including the divorce and domestic violence groups, as well as a men’s group and ones for parents of infants and toddlers — which average between six and eight participants each week, Petra said. Other groups and educational programs are regularly added based on interest from the community.

“We have the flexibility to do that, to respond to community needs pretty quickly, so if there’s an issue that seems to be a concern to a group of people and they want to get support for it or get information about it, it might be something they would consider coming to us (for),” Krumholz said.

Both women said that the center has seen an increase in use in about the past eight months, sometimes in surprising ways. While many people might not choose to attend a support group, they said, a weekly walking group that visits Guilford Land Trust trails has surpassed their expectations and currently has 30 people signed up.

“We’ve seen an increase, and we’re anticipating it continuing to grow steadily,” Petra said, noting that the growth has been in both the support groups and wellness programs. “I think that there is a sense of self-preservation and needing to take care of oneself.”

The center is now beginning its spring program schedule, including a partnership to offer author talks with RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison. For more information visit, or call 458-6699.

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