The entrance to Denver’s The Gathering Place — a respite for women and children who’ve fallen on hard times — has a bit of university registrar’s office feel. There’s a cozy lobby for people who are waiting, presumably, to speak with those at the welcome desk, and a bulletin board neatly organized by job and housing opportunities beckoning to those in need of either or both.
The clear difference, however, is that reception here requires very little information from the women. Privacy is paramount.
Teresa Densmore, the director of The Gathering Place’s Art Restart program, and former board member and current volunteer Deborah Radman gave us a lengthy tour that began at the bulletin board. Apart from both housing and job offers, there are invitations for pro bono legal advice surrounding a number of issues.
“It’s everything from unemployment compensation to domestic violence that someone might need legal counseling for,” Deborah tells OUT FRONT. “It’s not hard at all to come here and get support.”
“I’d say [we serve] about 50/50 — people who are experiencing homelessness to people who are just trying to make ends meet,” Teresa adds.
Around the bend is a wellness area where physical and mental challenges are managed with as many resources as possible, including a mobile clinic. Their wellness center serves up to 250 women per day. “It’s basically like a yearly physical,” Teresa says of what the clinic primarily offers. “We have pro bono [mental-health] counselors who come in a couple times a week,” she says. “We can’t do long-term care here, but we do offer referrals.” The intake procedure for the clinic is no different from the front desk — they ask very little info of the guests.
As we meander through The Gathering Place’s halls, Deborah and Teresa lower their voices to a whisper as we round a corner; a dark room just to our left contains four women sleeping on bunkbeds. “When you think that these women often don’t have a safe place to sleep at night, the nap room just makes sense,” Teresa whispers. For the low, low price of cleaning up after yourself — bedding included — you get a dark, quiet spot to catch a few hours’ worth of winks.
“This is the resources desk,” Deborah informs as we walk into a roomful of bustle. “This is where you sign up for a lot of different services.” Hotel-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles are spilling from a box, and tampons and pads — expensive necessities, mind you — billow just the same. These are among the many items donated to The Gathering Place.
“You can sign up to take a shower, to wash your clothes,” Deborah counts off before we’re shuffled along by workers and guests going about the daily routine. (The room was really hopping.) But it doesn’t just end with toiletries. “Among other things, this is a place you come to when you need helping getting your identification if you’ve lost it,” Deborah adds. Then she points to another room.
“Over here, we have our pantry,” she says. Shelves of dry and canned goods threaten to spill over as more donations pour in from a side door. The woman at the helm chimes that patrons can sign up and select 25lbs of food a month. As much as it seems, she also admits that they’re always in need of more donations. “A favorite is canned tuna,” Deborah says.
The next roam through the altruism labyrinth includes a closet that contains mostly business-casual clothing and shoes that range from sandals to winter boots — some of each category with tags still attached. The Gathering Place gets so many clothing donations that they ask donors to call and see if they’re in need before coming by. “Shoes, boots, hats, gloves, mittens, socks and underwear … cold-weather wear … all these are something we’ll take in all the time,” Teresa says. There are also bra-fittings once a month — something that’s oft-overlooked when it comes to women’s needs.
We stride along down another hallway where a group of people are scribbling furiously onto sheets of paper. “This is our GED training room,” Deborah tells me. On a whiteboard is an algebraic equation, and heads are bowed, breaking it down in pursuit of the solution.
As in old Looney Tunes reels, the smell of food pulls us into the cafeteria, which doesn’t look anything like you’d imagine in a place that serves free meals. If you’ve ever seen the clean, minimalist look of IKEA’s eatery, you’ll get a better picture of how The Gathering Place feeds its patrons. Unlike most places that dole out meals for those in need, this is a place where you can make your own salad from a salad bar, then take a seat — someone will be serving your food shortly. They even have live music from time to time.
Onward, we find ourselves in a bright, colorful room with babies, toys, books, and a gentle reader with a sweet little service dog. This is where mothers can take their children for entertainment and positive growth. It’s not a daycare, however, but The Gathering Place does provide everything up to that point. A tiny sink was custom-built for the tots to wash their hands, and a closet full of diapers and other expensive necessities alleviates some of the stress that struggling mothers experience.
In yet another room overflowing with life, we come upon the Art Restart hub. Art Restart is a social enterprise of The Gathering Place in which women experiencing poverty and/or homelessness create astounding pieces of work meant specifically for greeting cards. The artist will receive 5% of the card sales, which is competitive with greeting-card industry standards. What’s left of the earnings goes back into the foundation. To walk around the third-floor art room is to surround yourself with talent, quietly at work. Women lean over canvases, carefully blending and refining their artistic expressions. A veritable tool chest of acrylics and watercolor tubes gives them access to a burst of color for their palettes. Cups of well-used paint brushes serve as reminders for how well regarded Art Restart is for The Gathering Place’s guests.
“Teresa’s business, Art Restart, has started to produce sustainable, earned-income to help support the foundation,” Deborah beams.
“How is all this funded?” I ask.
“Through a lot of donations and individuals,” Teresa responds. “We get less than 5% in government funding, and have a huge support network of individuals that really believe in what we do.”
In a world of uncertainty concerning what funds the new administration might cut, this is welcome news.
For more info about The Gathering Place, head to TGPDenver.org. Check out ArtRestart.org to purchase the latest holiday collection, or browse year-round selections that support local artistry and help those in need.