GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There is a sisterhood within the walls of the Women’s Resource Center in Grand Rapids. A relationship that has been cultivated over 50 years through work in equity, opportunity and new beginnings. It’s a journey threaded together by the stories of thousands of women who’ve shared the path of challenges and triumphs in the workplace and the tools they gained at WRC.

“We say here at Women’s Resource Center that we are unapologetically committed to serving the needs of women in our community and beyond,” Sandra Gaddy, WRC CEO, said. “We are here to help women to uncover that power because really you already have it, sometimes you just haven’t tapped into it. WRC is really here to equip women to uncover the skills and talents that they have and really identify and overcome the barriers that exist.”

Gaddy knows the work it takes to be successful in the workplace. She spent two and a half decades in the banking industry before leaving her role as vice president to join the nonprofit sector.

“Even at a vice president level you can still face incredible discrimination and be excluded and that hurts,” Gaddy said. “That’s why I am able to really sympathize with the challenges that women have gone through and are going through and why I’m committed to the work.”

That work has been ongoing for 50 years. Back in 1971, a work conference for women at Aquinas College brought in over 400 women and showed the need for a center like WRC. Two years later, they opened their doors — one of the first women’s workforce development centers in the country.

The Women’s Resource Center in 1975 (Courtesy Women’s Resource Center)

“When I think about our founders, seeing the growth of the work that we’re doing, seeing the impact of serving women from all walks of life, has been extraordinary for them,” Gaddy said. “Their continued involvement says a lot cause our living founders and pioneers are still engaged in this work.”

The center has always been ahead of the curve on women’s rights in the workplace. Through the 70s they served with a “Displaced Homemaker Program,” in the 80s they produced one of the first Sexual Harassment Training videos in the country, in the 90s they expanded their work to skilled trades and in the 21st century they implemented a national renowned New Beginning’s program that teaches incarcerated women how to get back into the workplace after jail or prison.

“We celebrated 10 years of having that program,” Gaddy said of New Beginnings. “And so that importance of New Beginnings from the perspective of being at the jail is really important because when women are in jail and incarcerated, the recidivism rate is around 75 to 76%. When they’re engaged in active programming like our New Beginnings program, we have drastically reduced that recidivism rate to 23%.”

Gaddy says that WRC is for any woman, from any walk of life looking for employment, advancement, advice or advocacy in the workplace. They equip women with knowledge through training and workshops and offer scholarships to those in need. Their Business Boutique is a wardrobe resource that allows women to find the right fit to dress for success, with free business attire options donated by the community.

The Women’s Resource Center’s Business Boutique (Courtesy of Women’s Resource Center)

“I’m telling you, women at every level have walked in and just said, ‘I’m facing this particular issue or barrier. Could you help me and walk (me) through this? Can we have coffee so we could talk about it? How do I advocate, or what do I need to do to get past this particular issue,'” Gaddy said. “And we’re here to help support that, support them.”

This year, as they celebrate 50 years, they’ll be moving into their own facility, a renovated space on Madison Avenue in Grand Rapids. After a successful Propel campaign that outraised their $2.5 million goal, WRC will now have the capacity to serve more women in West Michigan in a number of new ways.

“This is just a phenomenal opportunity for us. But not just for us but from the standpoint of serving more women this year,” Gaddy said. “This past year we served nearly 600 women and being in this new space we’re expected to serve over 700 women.”

“It’s very, very exciting and we’re really, really grateful for our community. It’s gonna be wonderful being in a position, when I’m in that building and to see even young girls and young kids walking past the building and they ask, what are you guys doing here? And they say, well, I gotta tell my mom. That is so fantastic to see that.”

The team will begin to move into the space in mid-April and is planning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in June. And while the center will have a new home and a new look, they will continue their journey down a path that was paved 50 years ago.

“I firmly believe that there should be a time when Women’s Resource Center doesn’t exist, but until that happens, we’ll still be here, really fighting and advocating for workplace success for women in our community,” Gaddy said.

Learn more about the resources offered at the Women’s Resource Center, here.