Carbondale’s Women’s Center continues to grow after 30 years

By Gus Bode

Women’s Center turns 30

In December 1971, six women decided that the Carbondale area needed a refuge for women in crisis – a decision that has made a huge difference to thousands of area women over that past three decades.

A committee was formed in 1972 to find a way of establishing a shelter for women that needed a place to go to in time of need, as well as place for women’s groups to meet. The Women’s Center’s first annual budget was $360 that was earned through selling daffodils on campus, bake sales and donations from various area organizations.


The group rented a small house on Walnut Street and applied for a non-profit status.

It was then that volunteer recruitment began, which was difficult because many were cautious about not having crisis intervention training. For that reason, volunteer training was established.

Camille Dorris, acting director of the Women’s Center, says volunteers are crucial for the success of the center.

“We utilize volunteers for every aspect of our services, including rape crisis, domestic violence, children’s programs and also to assist with public education,” Dorris said.

In late 1972, not even one client had visited the center, discouraging workers and prompting them to consider closing down.

But then in late November of that same year, a taxi cab driver delivered the Women’s Center’s first client. The driver referred her to the center because she said she did not have a place to go.

It was a slow climb to the status the center now has today. By 1973, the once-struggling shelter had a budget of $700 a month and had organized the Rape Action Committee. The center then became a long-standing member of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.


With the help of community funding and the dedication of its volunteers, the center now owns a two-story home that houses the shelter program.

Volunteer recruitment is still a large endeavor for the center.

Training sessions are offered three times a year, the next occurring in September. The 64-hour training program educates volunteers about everything from history and legal advocacy to counseling.

“We have nights where we have role playing of situations so our volunteers can prepare for any situation,” Dorris said.

Jennifer Hiebert, who recently moved to Carbondale from Canada, said her interest in women’s issues lead to her to volunteer.

“I really enjoy this. It is a great opportunity for anyone. You can get involved in any aspect of the center from counseling, clerical, to working with children,” Hiebert said.

Dorris said although many students complete internships at the center, many volunteer without receiving academic credit.

“We have many individuals who have a passion for this work because of personal issues,” Dorris said.

After 30 years, the center is still growing. In 1992, a large building was leased one block south of the shelter. It presently houses the administrative and rape crisis staff.

After renovations, the building will house all services, including the shelter program that will have 12 residential rooms.

Dorris said she thinks that over the years, the volunteers and the growth of the center have helped greater numbers of women to seek help when they have been abused.

“Because of education, women are more comfortable about coming forward,” she said.

Reporter Lena Morsch can be reached at [email protected]