In 1977 the Jaycee Women of Grand Haven came together to respond to a growing need in their community: safety and support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Working together, these pioneering women created The Center for Women in Transition, which would provide safety planning and supportive services for women and their families fleeing abusive situations.
The following year brought the opening of the Center’s first office, located on Washington Street in Grand Haven. Initial services included counseling, advocacy services, and support groups, as well as a 24-hour help line. In a stark reminder of the need for an agency like the Center, the crisis line was so much in demand that it received sixty calls before the number was publicly listed.
In 1979, the Center began a partnership with Christian Reformed Church Classis of Holland, leading to the opening of a safe shelter for women fleeing violence. The Reformed Church fully staffed and funded the Hospitality House, while the Center provided crisis response, assessment, counseling, and other support services. At the time, Hospitality House was the only shelter available between Muskegon and Benton Harbor, and remained so until 1985.
In time, the demands on Center resources necessitated a move to a new location. Ottawa County Commissioners authorized the use of a building in Grand Haven in 1984 to be used for a transitional housing program operated by the Center. This space served as the first official shelter run exclusively by the Center. Services expanded with the community’s need. By 1986, the Center for Women in Transition was serving an average of 633 women per year, with consistent growth each year. The need for an emergency space became clear.
In 1989, the Center purchased a five-bedroom home in Holland and began work on converting the space into an emergency safe house. Named in memory of a woman who had been killed by her partner, Ginny’s Place became the sole option for many women in Ottawa County who were fleeing violence. By 2000, a full offering of additional supportive services were available to survivors, including groups, sexual assault services, vocational programming, children’s services, and transitional housing.
2002 marked an important year, as the Center celebrated its 25th anniversary and a new Holland program center was opened on Butternut Drive. This building was funded through a 2.5 million dollar capital campaign, including a $300,000 challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation. The program center now serves as a pivotal location for the Center, with satellite offices located in Grand Haven and Allegan.
At present, the Center offers safe shelter, transitional housing, crisis intervention, supportive counseling, SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner), sexual assault therapy, legal advocacy, Wardrobe for Work, support groups, community outreach, and healthy relationships programs – including Girls on the Run. Annually, more than 3,000 women and their families receive services and assistance.
Thanks to their efforts of a dedicated group of staff and volunteers, today the Center not only provides safety to individuals fleeing abuse, but it has become strong and robust, offering a full range of services supported by a dynamic team of professionals. The Center is recognized throughout Michigan as a model for excellence in both front-line client service and behind-the-scenes operations. That ongoing reputation is a credit to current and past leadership, staff and volunteers, a passionate and tireless group for whom empowering survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault is more than a job—it’s a calling.