“If you can help, you must”
St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, located on Jones Hill, the highest point within Boston, just met their $1 million match offer from Amazon.
Deirdre Houtmeyers, St. Mary’s Center President and CEO, explained that this $2 million is just the start of what she has in mind for St. Mary’s historic and growing campus and why she loves her job.
St. Mary’s Center celebrates its 25th anniversary this year – congratulations! Tell us about your organization and what makes it special.
St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children is a community-based program, and has long been a sanctuary for women.
We provide a multitude of services for women and their children who have experienced trauma and are living in poverty. We focus on improving their emotional well-being, their education, and economic opportunities. We have developed our campus, a former hospital, to be a one-stop shop for families seeking wrap-around programs and services, including shelter, education, and job training.
St. Mary’s is so special because we meet people where they are. We do not pretend to understand what they’ve been through or from where they’ve come. What we do is treat everyone who comes to us with dignity and respect. We feel privileged and honored to join them on their journey and to get them to where they want to go. We help families navigate challenges, overcome barriers, and assimilate to new cultures. Our work is a partnership. We work side by side with families, providing tools, structures, and supports as they become empowered and self-sufficient, so they may have brighter futures for themselves and their children—and for generations to come.
St. Mary’s is so special because we meet people where they are.
You just met your $1 million match donation from Amazon – what has it been like working with Amazon and how has this partnership been important to your organization?
You know how there are just certain moments in your life that you’ll never forget? Talking to Amazon for the first time was one of those moments for me and my staff. It was like a miracle. This type of partnership is transformative for our work, and it is unbelievably validating – it has been validating beyond words. It is a huge game-changer, and we are so proud to tell people we work with Amazon.
In addition to the monetary support, the events Amazon organized (like the Fall Fun Festival and the Treasure Truck visit during the holidays) brought pure joy to our families. We put most of our money into our programs, so we don’t often get the opportunity to throw parties like these, but these events remind our families that they are special and that we and our community care about them, and that’s an extraordinary thing for me to witness.
This $2 million will go towards a $7 million capital campaign to build a new Community Resource Center on your campus– can you tell us more about this project and the campaign?
St. Mary’s Center is located in Uphams Corner in Dorchester. Our community experiences high rates of poverty and homelessness, and many individuals witness and experience violence, trauma, and abuse. We want to prevent homelessness, before it begins by supporting families who were formerly homeless, or on the brink of homelessness.
We are going to build a Community Resource Center on top of our current garage to serve not only families staying at St. Mary’s Center, but the entire surrounding neighborhoods.
With this space, we are planning to partner with different agencies and organizations to expand our reach to offer services such as counseling, immigration services, legal aid, employment resources, support for mental health issues such as substance use disorders opioid abuse, and community conversations and meetings.
To build this beautiful space and to make sure it can house a significant number of resources effectively, we are still very much raising money as part of our capital campaign. You can donate here.
Deirdre – your energy is absolutely infectious for anyone who meets you in person – you are a strong advocate and genuine caregiver – why are you drawn to this type of work?
I have always been drawn to helping people who are experiencing hardship. I am a registered nurse and have always been drawn to supporting people who are the most vulnerable and most stigmatized – I spent many years of my career working with individuals with substance use disorders, and moms and women’s issues always resonates with me.
I wasn’t looking for a job when this role at St. Mary’s Center became available, but I was drawn to it, because I really think it’s in my DNA to help.
My mother always said, “if you can help, you must.” I cannot imagine myself doing anything else because I believe deeply in our work, and I am humbled by the resiliency and strength of our families.
There is not another job in the world that pays the dividends of what we do here – it’s an honor just to be affiliated with St. Mary’s Center, let alone to be the leader of this amazing organization.