People have been seeking understanding and compassion since long before Dr. Phil started providing group counseling to a large audience of TV viewers. Often, it's easiest to find that support among other people who share a similar situation.
So, 30 years ago, a small group of women who were members of , created , a place intended for learning, open sharing, encouragement and personal support.
In 1981, many of the founding members felt isolated in their suburban homes. Some had moved from the city or were stay-at-home mothers who were missing their close female friendships. They were looking for a place for "meaningful" gatherings, not for gossip or catching up over coffee, but a place where they would share their most personal thoughts and feelings in a safe and encouraging environment.
Right from the beginning, the group came up with a list of "agreements" that all members were asked to respect. They wanted a place where they could feel free to share their most personal thoughts and ideas with the security of knowing that they would not be judged and that the words they shared would never be repeated.
Since that time, the center has grown into a community of approximately 250 members - women of all ages, races and faith - who gather for groups and workshops and encourage each other to be their true authentic self.
Marie-Louise Pollatos joined The Women's Center 20 years ago after going through a difficult period in her personal life. "I was so shy. I couldn't even talk in the beginning," she recalls "It took a while, but little by little I learned to trust and I learned how to gain confidence."
She now leads some of the groups and does most of the leadership training. All these years later, she still sounds a little bit amazed by the changes she has seen in herself since joining the center. "If a fortune teller had told me that I would be doing what I am now, I would never have believed it," she said, explaining how hard it was for her to initially overcome even the idea of sharing anything personal with other women.
The Women's Center is non-profit and nonsectarian. It offers support groups, workshops, leadership training and special events. They believe that all women are enriched through their relationships with women of diverse ages, ethnicities, races, religions and sexual orientations.
Although they do have a membership fee and fees for some of their workshops, no woman is ever turned away for her inability to pay.
Women are encouraged to register for workshops that interest them, and there are also special events, and an exercise class "Gentle Bends" which is offered twice a week. The variety of workshop topics is as diverse as the women who are members. Recent subjects include "The Wisdom of Buddha for Our Times," "Stepfamilies," and "Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life."
Pollatos acknowledges that many people find support in different ways now - TV, 12-step programs for every concern and online support groups are readily available to the masses - but she has learned from her own experience that there is no substitute for the personal contact that ultimately brings women a sense of community.
"That is where we fill a need; through that sense of community," she said. "Many of the women who are members wind up becoming very good friends on a very personal level."