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Women’s Support Services moving to Lakeville in March

SHARON—While remaining central and accessible within the towns they serve, the offices of Women’s Support Services (WSS) will be moving from Sharon to Lakeville in early March, gaining much-needed space for an increase in staff numbers and volume of service needs.

An exact date for the move will be determined in the coming weeks, WSS Executive Director Betsey Mauro said during a phone interview on Thursday, Jan. 27. She noted that all phone and contact information will remain the same during the move, ensuring seamless access to all services.

The new location in early March will be 13A Porter St. in Lakeville. The present Sharon location at 136 Gay St. has housed the organization since 2002, Mauro said.

WSS had its beginnings at Sharon Hospital in 1981, moving to the railroad depot in Falls Village in 1992 before moving on to Sharon.

Renovations are underway at the Lakeville location, including a new HVAC system to ensure proper ventilation and air exchange. This work is considered to be the first phase, Mauro said.

A second phase of renovation anticipates creating a kitchen area, large and small meeting rooms, a meeting room for use when it becomes safe to engage in face-to-face, masked meetings. A future fundraising campaign is expected to support that work.

When Mauro was named WSS executive director in January 2016, she recalled there were six staff people working in six offices. This year there are 10 staff people,  in the same six offices.

“With COVID-19, we could not have people doubled up,” Mauro said. The new building will allow each staff member to have designated private office space.

Currently, WSS is offering remote counseling as well as in-person help.

Of late, there has been a significant increase in WSS’ education program in schools, Mauro said. In 2016, there was one community educator working mostly in pre-school and pre-K settings.

Early experiences of harassment

“Now we have two community educators, working age-appropriately across all grades, covering such areas of concern as bullying, online safety, appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and more.”

In the early grades the groundwork is laid to help students develop the needed skills to promote healthy relationships.

Reflecting on what drew her to choose to work in this field, Mauro said “it is right and just.”

“I spent my early professional career as a geologist on an oil rig, in those times an oddity for a woman, so I experienced harassment, discrimination and other pressures directed at women,” she recalled.

She set about to create social change by challenging attitudes and beliefs, representing the voices of exploited people. Part of the answer is early education, she noted.

“It’s important to respond to the crisis and to give support,” she said, “but it’s equally important to try to prevent it.”

Abuse has increased during COVID

The volume of need has increased as a result of the pandemic, Mauro said, adding that the reach of Women’s Support Services is greater than the name suggests.

“We are open to all people. The program serves absolutely everyone,” she said.

Beginning in March 2020 and into 2021, there was a 37% reduction in hot-line calls, Mauro noted. COVID-19 also brought a need for creativity in providing emergency shelter. “Capacity decreased as the need rose,” she added.

Today, there is a 17% increase in the civil and criminal court advocacy program.

“We appreciate our community partners and their real commitment to us in this hard work,” she said, calling attention to the cooperative nature of the work on behalf of clients and the wider community.

“The supportive service WSS offers clients and our communities can and does change lives for the better,” she said.

To learn more about Women’s Support Services, go to www.wssdv.org. The 24-hour help line is 860-364-1900.

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