photography by John Kazaklis

Over 30 years ago, when women of Winter Haven faced times of struggle on their own (financial, vocational, or personal), they had nowhere to turn. Now, at the heart of Winter Haven sits an organization that exists to give support to those in need. No matter what the situation, the Women’s Resource Center of Florida can offer each woman a fresh start.

You most likely have passed this little store on Avenue A a dozen times and presumed this humble place was just another thrift shop seeking to aid the community by providing used clothes to those who need them most. But this small store with a blue bird in the window offers more than merely meeting immediate, material needs. So much more.

Thirty-two years ago, a community needs survey was taken in Winter Haven, revealing there was a great lack of social services for women in the surrounding area.

To narrow it down, the many needs of women in the community were maybe more than anticipated: divorced, widowed, separated from their husbands, facing personal crisis due to the inability to pay rent (when utilities were commonly shut off). These all represented women who struggled with a sense of isolation or depression, who lacked the access to the advocacy and support necessary to survive in life.

Most likely, we all know people in our community who have been in similar situations, suffering through an abusive marriage, facing a job loss or a family crisis, each one seeking a way out. While there are many great organizations that are prepared to meet the immediate needs of many of these women, never before has there been an organization solely dedicated to walk alongside them in the midst of crisis, get to the root of their problems, and set them up to move forward and succeed in life.

Now Winter Haven has a group of dedicated women who continue to support the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) after its launch in 1984. Their support has funded programs at the WRC, which began as a local helpline for women and men in crisis. Through this client service of providing financial literacy, job coaching, and educational opportunities, the WRC has given information and referrals to over 100,000 callers and walk-in individuals in need.

Housewares, paintings, books, and clothes are everyday bargains at WRC’s Cheep Boutique.

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“Our mission is to provide emergency assistance and services that will address each client’s immediate needs and offer ongoing help and support to empower them to become self-sufficient and productive members within our community,” says Women’s Resource Center Executive Director Cherie Simmers.

Discovering the vast amount of women facing crisis in our community with no support, and usually no job, the Junior League of Winter Haven formed the Women’s Resource Center. The purpose of the league is to promote voluntarism while developing the potential of women and improving the community. There’s no better testament of that purpose than walking into the WRC, being greeted by a smiling face, and knowing you are in the care of people who truly want you to be the best, independently brave, person you can be. With their many services, it’s hard not to feel welcomed into the WRC community and know you’re in good hands.

“WRC’s services include Dress for Success (free clothing for job interviews and work), credit, budgeting and savings counseling, personal development, homeless intervention, crisis counseling, and general life-skills classes,” says Simmers.

The WRC provides a getaway for woman who can’t seem to get a break. Individuals who need help with homelessness can take a repose with their services and enter the Homeless Coalition’s assessment database, which happens to be the only location for this service on the east side of Polk County.

The Independence Program was developed to provide emergency assistance as well as case management to reduce interpersonal conflicts and similar problems. The nine-month program is created to set women up for success, and designed to help women and their families resolve the issues that originally led them to the WRC for help in the first place.

Simmers believes, “The goal for the future is to continue providing services to those in need of a hand. Speaking for those on the WRC Board, we are thankful for the solid foundation that began 33 years ago and has grown and blossomed, enriching our community. We have often dreamed of establishing a Safe House for women in crisis in the Winter Haven area. Some day in the future, I hope this becomes a reality.”

We can help make this goal a reality by spreading the word of their mission, donating to the WRC, volunteering, and most importantly, reaching out to those in need around us. Direct them to the Women’s Resource Center and know that they are in good hands.