Three of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, Ann Wetherilt, Joan Leonard, and Margaret O’Neill founded Jubilee Women’s Center in honor of the 100th anniversary of their order. Jubilee leased the former convent of the Sisters of Holy Names on Capitol Hill from the Archdiocese of Seattle. The mission, “Peace through Justice,” placed a special emphasis on economically poor and oppressed women. After working in downtown Seattle shelters, the Sisters saw a need for a safer, cleaner environment where a community of women could come together to support one another on their individual journeys. Initially, Jubilee housed twenty women with and without children. They found the house was not set up well for children, the founders decided to serve women without children in their care.
Jubilee became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with fiscal sponsorship by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. With a staff of two Sisters, Jubilee provided limited case management for residents and created criteria for intake, orientation, monthly house meetings and individual goal setting.
Jubilee held their first Benefit Breakfast, attended by 118 guests raised $30,000 to fund general operations.
Jubilee shifted governance to a community-based board of directors with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, independent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. A nearby home was leased to Jubilee by supporter Dorene McTigue, which created housing for seven more women. The home was named in honor of Joan Leonard, one of the founding Sisters who worked as a co-director of Jubilee from 1983-1999.
The Ellen Keegan Boes Memorial Scholarship Fund was established, providing partial scholarships for residents to return to school.
Jubilee’s Learning & Technology Center was established with the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Seattle Foundation, Women’s Funding Alliance, Kawabe Memorial Fund and Compass Foundation. Over a dozen volunteers helped with program implementation, curriculum design and teaching. The concept of the Learning & Technology Center first began from a letter written by a resident, Toni, to Bill Gates.
Jubilee kicked off a capital campaign, which grew out of the long-term lease requirements. The goal was set to raise $5 million to both establish an endowment fund and renovate the facility.
Jubilee celebrated its 25th anniversary with a grand reopening of the newly renovated facility in February. Building renovation of the 13,000 sq. ft. main facility added seven additional bedrooms, eight staff offices and made updates to meet current safety, fire and earthquake standards. The Joan Leonard House was closed. In the fall, the adjacent home at 612 18th Avenue East was purchased and renovated with the help of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and friends of Jubilee. The new 1907 prairie-style home, known as “612”, allowed Jubilee to serve additional women next door to the main facility.
Jubilee shifted to a “permanent housing” classification, which allowed residents to stay longer than the previous two-year maximum. Jubilee remained committed to helping women transition out of homelessness and build successful futures.
Jubilee unveiled a new mission, “to support women experiencing poverty to build stable and fulfilling futures, one extraordinary woman at a time.”
In an effort to serve more women in the community, the Learning & Opportunity Center (LOC) opened its doors, thanks to funding from the City of Seattle Bill Wright Technology Matching Fund, RealNetworks Foundation, Eulalie Bloedel Schneider Foundation and an anonymous donor. The LOC provides a safe and supportive learning environment with 22 laptop computers and a flexible space so that Jubilee can offer classes to low-income women in the community who do not live at Jubilee in addition to residents.
After nearly two decades with our familiar blue logo, Jubilee Women’s Center introduced a new design that better captured the Jubilee brand today: the butterflies represent transformation, community and diversity; the colors call to mind prosperity, confidence and the Pacific Northwest; and the typeface evokes class, dignity and strength. In addition, Sojourner Place was welcomed into the Jubilee Women’s Center community, enabling the organizations to jointly improve services, capacity and future potential, and to preserve critical housing options for women in Seattle. Formerly a ministry of the Sisters of Providence, Sojourner Place offers transitional housing and programs for 10 residents, including homeless pregnant women.
Changing demographics mean that many of Jubilee Women’s Center’s residents are now facing more challenging barriers. Age, disability, extreme trauma or complex conditions affect almost half of the women at Jubilee. To better serve these women in the spirit of our mission and values, Jubilee launched The Chrysalis Project. The project creates an opportunity for women who are unable to pursue a more traditional employment path to build self-confidence, skills, values and independence, as well as subsidize their income by participating in a social enterprise program.
In 2016 Jubilee successfully completed the first full cycle of The Chrysalis Project. In the first phase of the social purpose program, the women worked as a team to produce a line of dried food products. In the second phase, each woman created and sold her own handmade products. The program tagline summed it up well: “Made with hope, dreams, and a vision for a new beginning by women emerging from their past and creating a better future.”
October marked two years since the Sisters of Providence entrusted their Sojourner Place transitional program to Jubilee. The University District residence continues to be home to 11 women, including dedicated space for a pregnant woman—and another baby was welcomed to the world this year.
This year the Seattle area saw skyrocketing rents and, with it, a significant increase in homelessness—especially among “working poor” women struggling to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the nation. In response, Jubilee began building out its education program and working in new ways with community and corporate partners to better prepare women to attain and sustain living wage employment, including:
- expanding our job readiness program to help women strengthen core competencies needed for successful employment and advancement.
- introducing a matched savings program to help residents overcome the financial barriers of starting out on their own.
- exploring new affordable housing options so all of our program graduates can move to a place they call home.