Their name tags read “Founding Mother,” but 30 years ago they called themselves the Revolutionary Society.
“They were a group of women who decided to do something that would make a difference,” said Anne Baur, president of the board at Rainbow Place, an emergency women’s shelter at Rockville Presbyterian Church.
The women’s vision, which led to the opening of the first women’s shelter in Montgomery County, grew from a Bible study group that wanted to do something constructive, not just talk, said Elke Herzfeld, one of the Founding Mothers. The group met April 24 to mark 30 years.
Rainbow Place opened in 1982 on the third floor of the church’s education building with a rug, foam mattresses and two pots.
“One for instant oatmeal and one for instant coffee or tea,” said Becky Wagner, Founding Mother and first chairman of the board. “Our budget, from the church, was $2,000. We were it, 10 to 12 of us, there was no paid staff.”
Wagner said for the first several nights there were no guests. The group began to think that those who said they did not need to open a shelter were right.
“Finally someone came,” she said. “[Then] it was word of mouth. Now its much more sophisticated, people can access resources [through referrals by county agencies.]”
Rainbow Place has grown. It is a 25-bed shelter that serves a hot meal, donated and served by volunteers; breakfast and a bag lunch to guests. It also provides showers and laundry facilities. It is open Nov. 1 to March 31.
“Over the years we’ve learned that folks have places to go [in the summer],” said Ingrid Manfredo, director of Rainbow Place.
Its operating budget is $230,000.
The shelter is a mission of Rockville Presbyterian Church, which provides 30 percent of the budget through financial support and in-kind donations and services. The shelter also is funded through grants from public and private foundations and individuals.
In addition to the director, paid staff include two overnight staff, a shelter coordinator, volunteer coordinator, bookeeper and a caseworker, all of whom work seasonally, Manfredo said.
The reasons women use the shelter has changed since the early years.
“It was the most vulnerable, those least able to take advantage of the opportunities offered, the ones in greatest need,” Wagner said of the women who came to the shelter in the early years.
Today, Manfredo said, Rainbow Place serves the chronically homeless, those who are homeless for 12 months or more or who are homeless four times in three years. There has been an increase in newly homeless, those who have lost jobs or cannot afford housing.
“We find that a lot of women in that situation are out looking for a job,” she said. “We tell them, do what you need to do to get your own place: If you are homeless your health really deteriorates both physically and mentally.”
No one at the 30th birthday celebration expects Rainbow Place to fade anytime soon.
“This met a need, it’s been a wonderful thing,” Bauer said.