FRANCONIA — These days, Cheryl Brubaker is working remotely from her Franconia home instead of the Women’s Resource Center office in Wayne where she’s been executive director for four years.
“It’s maybe not ideal from the standpoint of being able to be face to face with people, but it’s amazing to me what we have been able to do remotely,” she said during a telephone interview.
About one-third of single mothers live below the poverty line, often working in jobs such as the hospitality industry which has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, she said.
“They don’t have a lot to fall back on to begin with, and so it’s been very challenging,” Brubaker said. “Our organization has definitely stepped up in terms of having to do more emergency rent assistance and help with food and transportation and things like that just to kind of help people get through this time period and help them get back on their feet.”
Along with the other concerns, women are more often the ones in caregiving roles and having to take the helm for things such as at-home schooling, she said.
“You have moms dealing with at-home school and trying to figure out how to keep a job,” she said, “… it’s been a difficult time for the people we work with.”
Since the start of the pandemic, WRC’s Resource Coordination & Counseling programs are averaging 110 counseling sessions a month, compared to about 75 per month last year, she said.
For many women, the first contact with WRC is when they call the hotline at 701-314-HELP (4357), she said.
“That’s how they get connected and sometimes that’s all they need,” she said.
The women have a wide variety of reasons for calling, she said.
“It’s pretty broad at this point and our goal is to really get them the best referrals or connections that we can,” Brubaker said.
“We maintain a resource library where we really work to make sure that we give people good referrals,” she said, “services that they’re eligible for, things like that, and help them make connections on a whole host of issues.”
The Resource Coordination & Counseling program provides additional services if needed, she said.
“We have two professional counselors on the staff and we also have another graduate counseling intern to work with the women on a little bit longer term,” she said.
The name Resource Coordination & Counseling signifies the holistic approach taken to help the women deal with the challenges being faced, she said.
“They may be talking about employment issues and financial issues, but then they may also be talking about how to manage their anxiety and how to tap into their resiliency,” Brubaker said.
More than 40 attorneys volunteer their time to WRC and provide free consultations on family law matters, she said. Many women represent themselves in court because they can’t afford an attorney, so the consultations help by giving information on what their rights are and advice on how to approach the case, she said.
WRC also partners with schools to do the Girls Lead program, which primarily works with seventh grade girls to focus on core skills that will help the participants not only successfully navigate adolescence, but will also set them up to become effective leaders in their community, Brubaker said.
The program has been adapted this year to be done online, she said.
“They’ll definitely need another level of creativity this year, but given how much time the kids spend online, I’m sure that they’ll be able to adapt to it maybe more quickly than us adults,” Brubaker said.
“I don’t think we’re going to have all 14 schools this year,” she said, “but for the schools that are able to make it happen, the girls have just been incredibly receptive to it because it’s such a positive outlet for them.”
Brubaker, who has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and a master’s in non-profit management from Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, has held leadership positions with Women Against Abuse in Philadelphia, Norristown’s Victim Services Center, the Sellersville Theater and Central Bucks Family YMCA.
The Women’s Resource Center was started in 1975, three years after Title IX added protections against discrimination based on sex in educational programs and federal financial assistance and a year after the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that insured women could apply for credit without a male co-signer, Brubaker said.
“So what you see is women having access to educational and financial opportunities that they may not have had before,” she said. “The center was really started to help women take advantage of the opportunities that were available to them in order to create better lives for themselves and their children.”
The center is very community-based, with more than 100 male and female volunteers involved each year, she said.
“It’s always been very volunteer-based and even to this day, even though we’re 45 years old,” she said, “there are only six paid staff and the rest of our work is done with the help of a lot of amazing, dedicated volunteers.”
The office in Wayne is in space provided by Central Baptist Church in its mission house, she said. The women served by WRC come from throughout the Philadelphia region, including Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Philadelphia counties, she said.
The remote programs now being used actually make it easier for some people to get services they previously would have had to drive a distance for, she said.
“I think it’s great that WRC has still been able to be there in the midst of this. I think that it’s great that these services are available for women when they’re dealing with these challenges, so I think from our standpoint, we’re grateful for the technology,” she said.
With the remote offerings, “we’re able to reach women regardless of where they’re located,” Brubaker said.
Information about Women’s Resource Center is available at womensresourcecenter.net.