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Faithful Observations: UGM Center Women & Children

by BOB SHILLINGSTAD/Special to The Press
| December 5, 2020 1:00 AM

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall.” — Isaiah 25:4

The Union Gospel Mission Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene has been a true godsend to our community for the last eight years. The UGM Center offers a safe and healing environment for those experiencing the devastating impact of poverty, homelessness, abuse, addiction and domestic violence. We have done a couple of columns over the past few years as we interviewed JoAnn Zajicek, the director of the center from the day it opened. JoAnn has become a friend and someone we admired who has a big heart for this ministry. We thought this would be a good time to follow up and ask about the impact events of this year have wrought.

How have you been affected by the events of this year? Have you been able to continue the ministries?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought several challenges to the UGM Center for Women and Children. During the lockdown periods, women were separated from their children, as the children could not move back and forth freely between households. Some moms chose to leave UGM, either temporarily or permanently, because of that.

The whole house — women, staff and volunteers — being required to wear masks has been another challenge. The Center is more than a work facility; it is a home where 30-40 women live with their children. They live in rooms side-by-side, eat together and attend classes together; yet, when in public areas, they must wear masks. As a recovery program, we encourage women to take off the protective “masks” they have hidden behind for years, to be their authentic selves; so, it’s a bit ironic that they are donning actual, physical masks. When facial expressions are hidden, it’s easier to hide emotions, as well.

Physical distancing inhibits the fostering of close relationships. Women who have struggled with addiction often isolate. Maintaining six feet of distance makes hugging and healthy physical interaction impossible. But through it all, the spirits of the women and staff are good. We are excited to see women continue to transform and heal — even in these challenging circumstances.

We know you have purchased the apartments nearby as transitional living and had asked for donors to finish the renovation of these. Are they all finished or do you still need donations or sponsorships? Are they full?

Most of the apartments are finished and occupied, but we still have a couple units left to complete. So yes, we are still asking for sponsorship of the supportive housing project. We are very grateful to the Idaho Forest Group for their work on the exterior of the apartments — covered entries, sidewalks, a bike rack, landscaping and gazebos — as well as a security system.

This project is such a huge blessing as we seek to provide support to women long after they have finished the 18-month recovery program and moved out on their own. Studies have shown that women who make it to the 5-year mark in their recovery are highly likely to continue in recovery for the rest of their lives. Affordable housing is difficult to find in Kootenai County, so this is a win-win. Alums get a clean, well-equipped place to live at an affordable rate and ongoing support at the same time.

How has the COVID lockdowns affected your ministry? Is there an increased need because of lost jobs and income? Has it affected other areas like domestic violence or substance abuse?

We continue to be blessed with the generosity and support of our community. Women from all walks of life have come through our doors in need of services. We know that nationwide domestic violence, relapse and depression have been on the rise, and we have seen that reflected in the people seeking help throughout UGM’s shelters.

We know that much of your ministry has evolved to include women with children. How has the school at home learning and disruption affected you?

The Center has accepted moms with children from its opening in September 2012, but there has been an increase in the number of moms with young children over the years, so, yes, “homeschooling” or virtual schooling has stretched us, for sure. The recovery program has been adapted to meet the needs of moms with school-age children at home, and we have sought increased volunteer support to help children with their schoolwork.

How will ministry at Christmas be different this year?

Christmas will not be terribly different this year. This community loves on our women and children in beautiful ways. Many times, I have heard women say that Christmas at the Center is one of the best Christmases of their lives. We will have gingerbread house-making, crafts, special treats, gifts and a special Christmas Eve meal and service.

What needs does the Women’s Shelter have this upcoming season and the year ahead?

As I mentioned, we need volunteers in our children’s area — tutors, technology whizzes and child care workers to tend the little ones.

Business Partners — We are always looking for businesses willing to provide practical, hands-on job experience through a business practicum — 240 hours of unpaid employment.

Christmas gifts — gift cards, as well as hooded sweatshirts, pajamas and fuzzy socks make excellent gifts for our women and children.

JoAnn, thanks for a great update, we know that the community appreciates all that you and your staff does for those in need. For more information go to

https://www.uniongospelmission.org/recovery

The psalmist says, “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” — Psalm 140:12

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PHOTOS Jessica Morgan

Aslan and Jaxson

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UGM alum Nikki and her children.