The normal hustle and bustle that marks any day at home was apparent when I stopped for a visit at Joyce Asfour’s house. I just missed a birthday party. There is a garden out back, the basement is full of boxes, and the kitchen reminded me of my own, with calendars and important papers posted in the most prominent spots (the refrigerator and by the phone). It seems as though Joyce’s home is like any other, but there are some differences. Yu-Ri, a volunteer from South Korea had just arrived and was moving in. Some fresh garden produce from the Grailville CSA had come earlier that day and still needed to be processed. And the boxes in the basement are full of donated household items that will be needed when any one of Joyce’s guests move out into their own apartment. Her home, Grace Place, is a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality.
As I listened to Joyce relate the story of how Grace Place came to be, I was astounded how every step seemed to fall in place (well, with lots of hard work): The realization of what she wanted to do, a late night pact with a friend, meeting someone else (co-founder Sandy McCoy) with the same interests and forging a friendship that would help them put the first building blocks into place to realize that Grace Place could exist. And finally, a somewhat fortuitous discovery of the perfect place! This September marks the 13th year Grace Place has been serving women as they transition from homelessness to a more permanent life.
When Grace Place was still just an idea, Joyce did some research and found that there were usually enough emergency shelters in the Cincinnati area, but never enough transitional beds – places for those transitioning out of homelessness. Today, the need for transitional housing and emergency service shelters are growing. When Grace Place first opened a guest would stay on average three months. But now, with the dragging economy, a guest might stay for close to twelve months. Needless to say, Grace Place is always full.
Grace Place is rooted in the Catholic Worker tradition. “The Catholic Worker Movement is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person. [It] is committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.” (www.catholicworker.org
Grace Place and its volunteers focus on four areas.
- Hospitality: Grace Place is a transitional home for women (with or without children) working towards building a permanent life and ….
- Justice: We strive to increase awareness of the causes of poverty and homelessness and to call ourselves and others to God’s plan of justice, peace and integrity of creation.
- Community Living: We seek to move toward an organic and sustainable lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. We share resources and cultivate loving (nonviolent) interpersonal relationships, health and serenity.
- Spirituality: With daily prayer, we seek to provide an environment for our spiritual growth and are committed to making progress along our spiritual paths. Our spirituality is the foundation for all our work.
Each Catholic Worker community is autonomous. It is up to those running a Catholic Worker House to decide what it does – soup kitchen, emergency shelter, transition shelter or a combination. Life at Grace Place follows a simple recipe. They focus on creating a welcoming, respectful environment where guests are given time and support to work through their problems. And they avoid all kinds of violence.
Joyce, who retired from nonprofit management in 1999, joined the Grail in 1992. She had always been involved with social justice issues. And she was very active with the International Women’s League, but always felt that spiritual aspect was missing. It was when she was invited to sit in on a panel addressing justice concerns by Audrey Sorrento that she met the Grail. Joyce recalls, “I was hooked! I felt like I had come home.”
Learn more about Grace House at http://home.fuse.net/graceplacecw/