Grace Place Executive Director Carla Burton said the organization began as a shelter for expectant mothers who were teenagers and single.
by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Twenty-eight years ago, local organization Grace Place began as a shelter for expectant mothers who were teenagers and single. After growing to house other single mothers and their children at a home on Fifth and Franklin for about 10 years, Grace Place sold the residence and moved to its current location on Second Street, which houses programs for caregivers and children and a thrift store, and opened a location in Rushford. Recently, Grace Place returned to its roots of providing shelter by purchasing the Dan Corcoran House on West Broadway from the Winona Catholic Worker.
Grace Place Executive Director and Founder Carla Burton said that the house will be a shelter for families. Up to nine individuals could be housed, and around two families will be housed initially. She stated that an opening date is still being determined.
Habitat for Humanity will work with Grace Place on updating the inside of the house, she noted. Burton will most likely invite interested organizations to tour the house in the future, and she thinks organizations and churches could sponsor rooms in the house by choosing one room for which they would care.
Diane Leutgeb Munson of the Winona Catholic Worker said the Dan Corcoran House was the first residence the group purchased. The house was bought in 1992. The decision to transfer ownership of the Dan Corcoran House was made over a number of years by Winona Catholic Worker volunteers, Leutgeb Munson said. Throughout the past few years, Catholic Worker organizers asked people with connections to the group’s work for input and came to the realization that they were ready to sell the house, she explained.
Catholic Worker organizers considered local organizations with which they could collaborate and recognized that the vision Grace Place has for the house reflects the hospitality-oriented work that the Winona Catholic Worker did at the home and wishes to see continue there.
Leutgeb Munson noted that she feels the group is better able to use and be stewards of its resources by owning and focusing on one property, Bethany House. Bethany House, which the Winona Catholic Worker has owned since 1996, is open five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 4 to 8 p.m. to provide a safe, warm space in which people may come together. During those hours, people may do laundry, take showers, have some coffee and snacks, use the community’s phone, charge their own phones and enjoy a meal at 6 p.m. About 12 to 25 people are typically at the house when it is open, Leutgeb Munson said.
In the past, the Dan Corcoran House has been used as a home for women and families, she shared.
Following Grace Place’s original mission as a shelter for teenagers who were pregnant and single, the organization expanded and also housed single mothers who were in their 20s, as well as their children. Grace Place completed this work for around 10 years at a house on Fifth and Franklin streets before selling the property, moving to its current location on Second Street and focusing on mentoring. The hope, Burton explained, was to return to providing shelter one day.
She said she feels Grace Place has come full circle, as the Winona Catholic Worker bought the Dan Corcoran House in 1992 and Grace Place was founded that year as well. Recognizing the decision to sell the home must have been a difficult one, Burton said she is grateful to the Winona Catholic Worker.
Burton arrived in Winona about 35 years ago and originally worked as a preschool teacher. While she was at the preschool, she met a mother who was a teenager and single. She said she listened to the mother’s story and became friends with her. She also noted that the preschool was next to a housing project, and she wondered about the children there.
Inspired to open a shelter to help such mothers and their children, Burton recalled that she was not sure how to do it, being the mother of three young boys herself. “And I was extremely introverted and shy, so it was a big job for somebody like me to do,” she shared. She said that once she began speaking with people about her idea, she received a great deal of support.
Burton explained that while the organization worked at the house on Fifth and Franklin streets, organizers noticed that the young women they were helping faced certain issues, such as having to return to difficult environments, in some cases. She said they thought it would be valuable to focus their efforts on mentoring the young women and assisting them from the birth of their children to the time their children were five.
The house on Fifth and Franklin streets was sold, and after conferring with the board of directors, the money from the sale was put toward the current location on Second Street, Burton stated. The new location allowed the thrift store and mentoring programs to be housed in one place.
The birth to five program, which includes mentoring on individual and group levels, was then developed, Burton said, and it continues to this day. The program features “Evening Song” sessions for those with children who are newborns to 18 months old, “Morning Music” sessions for those with more than one child from birth to school age and “Godly Play” sessions, which incorporate storytelling.
Parents and children participate in the sessions together, and all sessions include music, movement and social and emotional support, she shared. She said she feels that by allowing all parents to participate in the program, those in various parenting situations are able to learn from one another.
Grace Place works to serve community members in other ways. Families may come to Grace Place on Second Street once a month and receive six items per member from the thrift store as “Gifts of Grace,” as well as 10 points of merchandise from a free shelf, Burton explained. The free shelf features necessities such as diapers, toiletries and cleaning supplies.
She noted that the cash value of gifts given in 2018 was over $20,000. She said she feels the gifts of grace and the free shelf enable families to spend their money on necessities, including electricity and fuel, other than necessary products such as toiletries.
There are about 30 volunteers at the Winona location, Burton said, some of whom have given their time for about 15 years.
Those wishing to support the shelter may purchase a new CD with the songs Burton has sung with families throughout her career as an educator, she stated. The CD set is now available at Grace Place for $20, and all proceeds go toward the shelter.
Individuals who wish to donate may send a check to Grace Place at 66 East Second Street. Those looking for more information may email Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Burton said she is a person of faith, and she feels that God is leading the organization while she serves as a conduit for His love.