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Behind the Partnership: Rose Haven's Stephanie Banka
Photos and Story by James Hill
by James HillThe mission of Rose Haven is simple: to provide a safe community space where homeless or battered women are offered a compassionate ear, practical assistance and options.Stephanie Banka, volunteer coordinator of Rose Haven, helped put the intervention center, located at 116 N.W. Third Street in Old Town, together in 1998. By using women volunteers from all over the city, including service-learning students from Portland Community College, Banka has cultivated a conflict-free area for the homeless women to come.The Center provides the women with shower and restroom facilities, hygiene supplies, clothes, telephone access, arts and crafts activities, and they can use the center’s mailing address for correspondence. Rose Haven also assists with referrals to resources throughout Portland, such as housing, job training, education, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.Rose Haven serves between 40 to 70 women every day, employs three staff members and uses as many volunteers as they can muster. Primary funding comes from Catholic Charities, but the center is always looking for new donors. Banka is also looking for more women volunteers. She can count on PCC; so far, 12 students have volunteered at the center. PCC’s service learning programs work with different agencies and community organizations year round. Last year, more than 350 students completed approximately 4,000 hours of service to the community. Eighty-five PCC faculty members teaching 125 different classes participated in the program.To contact Rose Haven about volunteer opportunities, call 503-248-6364.Question: What has been the impact of PCC incorporating Rose Haven for service learning projects?Stephanie Banka: PCC instructors, with help from the Sylvania Campus Women’s Resource Center, are giving credit for volunteer work The students who volunteer are really excited when they work here because they’ve never done it before. Many of them stay longer than their class requires them to because there is some transformation that makes them want to stay on.Q: Besides people volunteering to help the women, what other benefits come from PCC students helping the center?Banka: The main factor is the level of information dissemination into the community from volunteers. They go back into their own community and talk about what is going on here. People tell stories of their connections and thus the torch is carried on into the community. But best of all, they make friends down here and continue to contribute in the form of goods like clothes or deodorant. Each of us is really only one degree removed from Rose Haven.Q: Why was this type of center necessary?Banka: Portland is riddled with the homeless. The women have no place of their own. But Rose Haven, they can call it their own. This is a community and many of the women have never experienced what it’s like to live in a community and get the support they need. They face hardships on the street that we don’t see. People won’t look at them or say hello. They start to believe they don’t exist because they get no human reaction, which can keep the spirit down.Q: What prompted you to set up Rose Haven?Banka: This was a spirit-motivated mission, so women could have a place where they are not told what to do, but where they could reflect on their lives. And they must choose what they want to do with their lives. A huge part of self-esteem and healing depends on being heard. When they come here they will be believed and treated with respect like we all want to be treated. The more volunteers we have come in, the more ears we have to go around. This is a place for women to come and get clean (from drugs). It has worked for a whole lot of people.Q: What is your favorite Rose Haven success story?Banka: A woman came to us in January of 1999. She walked in and signed the community agreement we make all the women sign. She did her shopping and looked in the mirrors after getting new clothes. She told a counselor, "I don’t have to do this anymore. I don’t have to look like this."She had been a 27-year heroin user and was in her forties. She had lived a tragic and very hard life. She quit that day, checked herself into a drug clinic and went on to work as a volunteer here and later got a job. Today she is very happy.