By ARDEN BASITA What opened in the late 1800s, as the Conimicut Grammar School is now the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center. The center has taken on a new role in serving the community: It's become a home from which people can build their lives for the
What opened in the late 1800s, as the Conimicut Grammar School is now the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center. The center has taken on a new role in serving the community: It’s become a home from which people can build their lives for the future.
Founded in 1979 by the GFWC Warwick Junior Women’s Club with the intent of providing support services to women and children fleeing domestic abuse situations, EBC now offers permanent supportive housing.
The center was appropriately named after Elizabeth Buffum, a prominent Rhode Island activist and abolitionist who lived during the 1800s. She was dedicated to improving the lives of women and children, even housing enslaved people as they escaped via the Underground Railroad.
The funds to renovate the former shelter into permanent supportive housing were secured over a six-year period, from 2013-2019. After another year of construction, the project was finally complete. That funding amounts to about $1.83 million, the majority of which ($1.24 million) comes from Building Homes Rhode Island grants, a state program under the Office of Housing and Community Development. About $150,000 comes from local Community Development Block Grant funding, and another $238,000 from a 0 percent deferred local loan. Another $200,000 was supplied from a Thresholds Grant via the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.
The permanent housing units are available to those in need for as long as they require, according to Judy Earle, executive director. The units provide basic necessities: one or two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a bathroom.
“This is for clients who have reached a point in their lives where they can live independently,” she said. “This is what makes the permanent supportive housing units so important: they’re for clients who are ready for the stability of housing with no exit date.”
Earle emphasized that, along with the other services provided by EBC, the permanent supportive housing helps clients get back on their feet. “They have moved from the position of being a victim to now being a survivor,” she said.
The facility has common areas that Earle hopes will one day be used for celebrations like kids’ birthday parties or group activities like yoga classes.
The units, all listed as affordable, are available to those who are “way beyond the crisis,” according to Earle.
“The immediate goal is to give that sense of relief. This is their home to come in and out of as they choose, to decorate as they choose. They can just exhale, they can settle in,” said Earle, who hopes these apartment units provide a much-needed sigh of relief to their tenets.
For Connie Welsh, that is exactly what she feels. “It’s the perfect place for me,” she said in an interview.
The 51-year-old woman recently left an abusive situation in Ohio, moving to Rhode Island in early August. Welsh grew up in Rhode Island, and her family is still here. Before securing housing at EBC, she lived with her brother and then her sister, but needed a place of her own. Her sister, Patty, used to work at the Warwick Family Shelter and connected Welsh with EBC and their services.
Just days after moving to the state, Welsh suffered a heart attack from the stress of her situation. She says that the services at EBC, like counseling, made her feel “calm and secure.”
The apartment itself has been a dream for Welsh, who moved in on Dec. 1. Coincidentally, it was her birthday.
“It’s been wonderful. There’s towels and silverware. They put a lot of thought into these apartments,” she said. “The apartment was the best birthday present for me. I put up my Christmas things. My tree is in the window.”
Welsh described a welcoming and supportive community, even though she is currently only one of two tenants. “There’s a mom with three kids next door. I’ll be there if she needs anything, and if I need anything she’ll be there. We’ve all been in the same situation. We’re all here to support each other.”
To continue to provide services for Connie and other women, the EBC is hosting an on-going fundraiser: selling engraved bricks to pave the garden. Located adjacent to the center is the Peaceful Pathway in Anne’s Garden. The garden was originally a memorial for a community member from her children, but has flourished into a memorial for all.
Retired Toll Gate Principal and at-large board member for EBC, Madeline Perreault, is a self-proclaimed “garden advocate”. She oversaw the installation and upkeep of the pathway. “I love to garden myself, I love to get other people into gardening. I appreciate plants!”
Perreault’s late husband, Richard, was a URI Master Gardener, and spent thousands of hours volunteering and lecturing.
The Peaceful Pathway is made up of over 500 bricks, some engraved, some plain. Perreault worked alongside Yard Works to plan and install the path. The team started in September and wrapped up in mid-November.
Perreault said for $100, a brick could be bought and engraved with up to three lines of the purchaser’s choosing. “This is not only an ongoing fundraiser, but a way to beautify the EBC grounds,” she said. The garden is open to the community to enjoy as well.
Perreault says she is looking forward to the springtime, when the garden will once again be in bloom.
To purchase a brick for the Peaceful Pathway, visit www.ebccenter.org or call (401) 738-9700.