Women’s City Club provides a home for Delaware women

Photos and Story by Erin Ross

Online Design Editor

Sunlight shone onto the floral wallpaper of an old Victorian themed home as Denise Randall shared where women struggling with homelessness and financial problems have found refuge in Delaware County.

Randall is the crew chief at the Women’s City Club of Delaware, Ohio, a non-profit organization that provides a home for single women of low-income. The Club’s house is located at 135 N. Franklin St.

Prior to moving into the house in June 2019, Randall lost her home after being catfished. To be catfished means to be manipulated by someone with a false identity on the internet. She battled severe depression and fibromyalgia. She still struggles with fibromyalgia but, as a result of her time at the Club, she is no longer depressed, Randall said.

“If any woman is in need of a place that she needs to call home temporarily, whether that be three months or a year and a half, Women’s City Club is always some place they should try,” Randall said.

According to the Club’s mission statement, the non-profit organization is “…dedicated to providing a safe, affordable and nurturing home for single working women of low income as they transition towards a self-supporting future.”

Women who live at the Club are required to pay a weekly rent of $70, according to MaryAnn Davis, president of the Club’s foundation board.

In addition to the Women’s City Club itself, the organization has a foundation that is responsible for fundraising, according to Jo Ingles, secretary of the foundation board. Both organizations are registered as nonprofits and have separate boards made up solely of volunteers.

The Club houses 10 women at a time and, as of Oct. 18, the home was full, according to Randall.

Some of the women associated with the Club said the stories of women who live there highlight the need for the county to offer more affordable housing.

“I think Delaware needs to have more affordable housing,” said Robyn Davis, previous resident. “And I think that’s a big discussion in this city and county.”

Lee Yoakum, a city of Delaware spokesperson, said there have been discussions among council members about the need for both affordable housing and a balanced housing stock. By this, he means housing that is not only affordable, but is also appealing to individuals looking to transition into a smaller or larger home, he said.

“What our goal as a city is, to make sure that our housing stock is robust and comprehensive,” Yoakum said. “Part of that is, yes, addressing the need for affordable housing.”

Yoakum also said that there are three multi-family apartment residential projects underway that are to be completed in 2020. In the last 10 years, Delaware has not had that many apartment related projects underway at the same time, he said.

Jane Hawes, director of communications for the Delaware County Commissioners, said housing and zoning are handled at the municipality and township level and the county government does not interfere.

Despite all needing a safe place to live, each of the women who stay at the Women’s City Club have had unique experiences.

Jacqueline Oen, a basketball official for Ohio High School Athletic Association, reached out to the Club while in recovery from alcohol abuse. She began abusing alcohol after her husband died and ended up losing a lot, including herself, she said.

The Club and foundation members’ willingness to help and provide housing and mentorship is the most beneficial aspect of the club, Oen said.

“God led me to the Women’s City Club,” Oen said. “I feel like He really did.”

Oen began living in the house in March 2019 and, as of Oct. 18, said she was 13 months sober.

Differently, Marlene Mckenzie, a current resident at the Club, was narcissistically abused and manipulated into moving out of her abuser’s home. After living with her son and his girlfriend’s family in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, Mckenzie found herself living in a car after learning the family was being evicted.

Mckenzie said the club helped and supported her emotionally and she doesn’t know where she would be without it.

“The Women’s City Club is a stepping stone for us women,” Mckenzie said. “We have been displaced in some kind of way or another, so we find ourselves here and we have support here and we have love here and it is a stepping stone for us to get back on our feet financially. But they also build you up here emotionally. They give you the drive and the ambition to go out and make yourself a little bit more self-sufficient.”

Delaware also has a Turning Point shelter that provides victims of domestic violence with a temporary place to stay, according to Robin Amstutz, president of the Club.

Sue Capretta, treasurer for the Club’s foundation, said she believes people in Delaware are naive to the fact that women in their community are at risk for homelessness and in need of help.

“I think they know, but yet it’s never in your neighborhood,” Capretta said.

To improve such a mindset, Capretta said society needs to become less self-centered.

“I think that our society has gotten to be very me-oriented and that concept of caring for others has kind of gone by the wayside,” Capretta said. “I think that we need to get back to where we realize that, no matter how bad your situation is, there’s other people that have a worse situation or equally as bad.”

To prevent individuals from circumstances similar to the women who live at the Club, MaryAnn Davis listed some solutions. The community should educate people about money and how to take personal responsibility, talk with parents about how to properly raise children, and find better ways to deal with mental health, she said.

Capretta said she recognizes that the circumstances of some of the women who live in the home are a result of bad choices. The members of the Club aim to give such women a second chance. Some have a history of substance abuse, according to Ingles, also public relations coordinator for the Club.

“We want to give them a shot because someone has got to give them a shot,” Ingles said. “That is the whole idea. You can’t make someone pay forever for mistakes.”

Ingles also said being involved with the Club is rewarding and she loves to celebrate the successes.

“We have far more success than we do failure,” Ingles said. “When we have success, it’s just really a cool thing to celebrate. And I live for that.”

Robyn Davis, who keeps track of electronic records for the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, lived at the Club from June 2017 until March 2019. While living at the Club, she eliminated credit card debt that she had accumulated after her two sons graduated high school and she no longer received child support. She is now a member of the Club’s board and is on both the Resident Relations Committee and the committee dealing with mentorship partnering.

Davis is an example of one of the Club’s successes.

The Club was originally founded in 1954 by Zuilla Way, whose husband bought the home for her to use as a social club with her friends, according to MaryAnn Davis. Following World War II, there was limited housing for women as soldiers returned to their homes and jobs, she said. So, from the beginning, the charter required the Club to offer housing for low-income women.

Many of the women who are involved in the Women’s City Club believe Way’s vision was ahead of its time.

Robyn Davis said, “I think Zuilla Way, that donated that house to the foundation to run, had a foresight and a vision into the future that other people probably didn’t have.”

Despite its historical presence, not all individuals are aware of the Club’s presence and mission.

“The Women’s City Club is one of Delaware’s best kept secrets,” said Randall, a retired nurse.

To spread awareness, the Club has put on fundraisers, such as a princess tea, and rented out the first floor of the home for special events.

“We’ve done a lot of fundraisers,” MaryAnn Davis said. “We need to find a better way of getting the word out and also raising money.”

The Club relies on donations, grants and fundraisers to pay for renovations and other necessary home repairs. The foundation is responsible for this money, which remains separate from the women’s rent. Rent is handled through the Club’s treasury and is used to cover home utilities and insurance, said MaryAnn Davis.

Data show in:

2017: $1,161.05 in personal donations from individuals and $14,145.33 in public donations from corporations and businesses (including a $8,333.33 grant from the Delaware County Commissioners for new upstairs windows).

2018: $601.96 in personal donations from individuals and $1,433.30 in public/private donations from programs such as Kroger, Amazon Smiles and other donors.

2019: $414.31 in personal donations from individuals and $1,209.50 in public/private donations from programs such as Kroger, Amazon Smiles, and other donors (as of Sept. 29, 2019).

Additionally, the Club’s foundation received $3,078.79 in charitable withholdings in 2018 and $5,492.80 in 2019 (as of Sept. 29, 2019).

None of the money the Club or foundation receives goes toward paying for staff or administration. All of the board members for both the Club and the foundation are volunteers.

“They are truly a society of women who want to see other women succeed, and they’re there when you need them,” Oen said.

The women who volunteer for the Club and the foundation aim to help the women living at the home transition into a “self-supporting future,” as stated in its mission statement.

Capretta said, “Our goal is to help these ladies move forward and to be able to get out of our house and into their own.”

New housing means fewer options

The current 35 Williams Drive House. Photo courtesy of owu.edu.
The current 35 Williams Drive House. Photo courtesy of owu.edu.

When Phi Delta Gamma (Fiji) takes back their house next semester, juniors and seniors will be left with fewer housing options than in the past.

There are 32 rooms in 35 Williams Drive, one of the junior/senior living options, according to Levi Harrell, Residential Life Coordinator (RLC) at Ohio Wesleyan. There are approximately 390 students in the incoming senior class, according to Dale Swartzentruber, of institutional research at OWU.

Jill Auxter, another RLC at OWU, said 35 Williams has mostly single rooms, with only two or three double rooms.

“By senior year, most students don’t seem to care where they live, so much as they get a single room,” Auxter said.

Wendy Piper, director of residential life, said aside from fraternity houses and small living units (SLUs), seniors can apply to live in any residential hall on campus.

“Students can choose from Stuyvesant Hall, Smith Hall, Hayes Hall (which is female only), Austin Manor, as well as Welch, Thomson, and Bashford halls,” Piper said.

Rising juniors and seniors will still be able to apply to live in 4 Williams Drive.

“Both rising juniors and seniors can apply to live in both 4 and 23 (Bigelow-Reed House) Williams Drive, however priority will be given to seniors,” Harrell said.

Auxter said there are 31 rooms, mostly all single, in 4 Williams.

One misconception about Bashford and Thomson is that only first year students can live there.

“Any student can apply to have a single room in Bashford or Thomson,” said Auxter. “It’s the same application process as it is to live in Stuyvesant Hall, Smith or Welch.”

Auxter said there are 12 single rooms available in Thomson and Bashford halls.

“The housing process will be exactly the same this year,” said Auxter. “Rising seniors will come to the senior housing night, where they will line up and select a room from the floor plan.”

Senior housing night will be on March 19 at 7 p.m. in Stuyvesant Hall.

“We are expecting (35 Williams) to be completely filled once Fiji moves back into their house next semester,” Auxter said.

After Fiji lost their house in 2008, Auxter said it was renovated and reopened in the fall of 2010.

“32 students will be missing out on one of their potential first choices for housing, however, we’re hoping they’ll be understanding,” Auxter said.

Changes to housing memorandum frustrate fraternities

The Alpha Sigma Phi house on Fraternity Hill.
The Alpha Sigma Phi house on Fraternity Hill.

By Elizabeth Childers

In 2010, when Ohio Wesleyan took over ownership of the fraternity houses on Williams Drive, it was decided that there needed to be an agreement between the Fraternities, their alumni, Residential Life (ResLife), campus foodservice provider Chartwells and groundskeeping and housekeeping provider Aramark on what each party would bring to the table to do the best for the university and the fraternity chapters. This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed then, and it was decided it would be up for revision every three years. This year was the first year the MOU is to be revised. However, there has been some discourse between the administration and the fraternities, and frustrations have been high.

“It’s a common agreement on paper,” said Dana Behum, Assistant Director of Student Involvement for Fraternity and Sorority Life, about the MOU. “It’s not as binding as a contract, but it is an agreement from both parties…It is a partnership between the university and fraternities.  And that includes a lot of folks.”

Behum was the “in-between” person for the fraternities in their relations with the rest of the administration involved with the MOU. Wendy Piper, Director of Residential Life, said her department was involved in the original creation and in the revision.

“There is a change in the required occupancy level,” she said.  “The 2010 MOU stated chapters had three years — until Spring 2013 — to reach 80 percent occupancy. The revised MOU states chapters must achieve 85 percent occupancy by spring 2015 and 90 percent occupancy by spring 2017.  There is also a change for those chapters who elect to have the university operate their kitchens, which allows chapters more options. The revised MOU allows chapters to decide if they want all of their meals to be provided in the house, if they want a combination of in-house meals and on-campus food points, or if they want to close their kitchens and have members choose one of the existing on-campus meal plans.”

Should a fraternity chapter on campus who currently has a house is unable to meet the occupancy requirement by the deadlines set, they are at risk of losing their house to other housing options on campus who may be able to fill those houses. Behum said in that event, the fraternity can petition to stay in their houses because they are not guaranteed housing in that specific house the next year.  As of spring 2013, two fraternity houses had to submit petitions to ResLife, and both have been permitted to continue living in their respective houses.

“They say, ‘We would like to petition to remain in our facility’ and Residential Life comes back and says, ‘Please share your plan to recruit more or how do you plan to correct this,’” Behum said about the petition process. “So they have a full calendar year to reach the occupancy level….They have to have a plan on paper to achieve it in the next year.”

Behum said it was not the university’s intent to remove the fraternities from their houses, because they would then have to fill them with random students. The goal, she said, was to keep the houses both filled and still in the hands of the fraternities.

Other sections of the MOU deal with how Buildings and Grounds responds to issues in the house and the renovations to be made to the house. It also outlines how the fraternity houses are cleaned.

“The gentlemen on campus asked for a lot more detail regarding cleaning the house…they requested more detail and solidity in when B&G (Buildings and Grounds) would be responsible for repairs like a broken window or mold in the basement,” Behum said.

Behum said some fraternities were more concerned with the B&G section than others.  For example, one of the fraternity houses had sewage leaking into their kitchen—which has been taken care of—and needed other remodeling and adjustments in the past month. Other concerns include cracking foundations and more plumbing issues.

“The common theme our men are unhappy with is the turnaround time with large projects which need to be fixed,” Behum said.

Fraternity reactions, according to Piper, varied depending on the chapter and on what section of the MOU they had questions about.

“The occupancy level has surfaced as a concern; however, chapters that have historically demonstrated higher occupancy seem to have found this change less objectionable than those that have struggled with occupancy,” she said. “They also seem to appreciate that occupancy will be calculated on a three year rolling average, which will allow chapters to recover from (a) ‘lean’ semester of membership. Chapters that continue to self-operate their kitchen seem overall pleased to continue to have that option.”

Behum said the hike in the house occupancy is part of a campus wide initiative to bring OWU to full capacity. Piper said it is a goal to use residential facilities on campus to the best of abilities.

“As a residential campus, our goal is to make use of all residential facilities on campus, and for many years the fraternity houses had occupancies that were low,” Piper said. “Under the 2010 MOU, the chapters were given three years to reach a level of occupancy equal to at least 80 percent, which we felt was a reasonable goal given that their combined average occupancy (in 2009-2010) was about 66 percent. The expectation under the revised MOU aims to bring the fraternities to an occupancy level comparable to other university residences, which has been between 93 to 96 percent over the past five or so years.”

Behum said because fraternities were not filling their houses, “the document challenged them to put emphasis on recruitment.”

She said the fraternity chapters on campus as a whole met the 80 percent occupancy goal fairly quickly, and many of them exceeded it since the original MOU was signed.

The MOU revisions also deal with events such as the Delta Tau Delta fire that were not addressed in the original agreement.

“…Some of the actions that were taken as a result of the fire, which had not been explicitly stated in the 2010 MOU, were incorporated into the MOU to guide future actions,” Piper said. “For example, after the fire, Residential Life relocated the residents and made a concerted effort to keep them located in close proximity to one another wherever possible so that we were not in effect dissolving their community. The MOU now states that in the event of a disaster or emergency that requires students to relocate, the university will work to provide a living arrangement where chapter members are grouped as reasonably as possible.”

Behum said in her experience, the MOU is more of an open dialogue between the university and the fraternities.

“Although it may not be a perfect agreement and my not reach everyone’s needs, it is a living document that we revisit now every four years instead of three…if men are upset (though) we can open the document again…it’s to regulate communications between the university and the fraternities.”

Behum also said there are disadvantages to the MOU in that it can be difficult for all sides to be heard and can be a difficult conversation to have.

“There are fraternities who are having a difficult time getting a response for projects that need to be dealt with, and what better way than to talk about it frequently, get all the right people in the room and get things in motion,” she said. “While there may be disadvantages to different groups…but ultimately it is a positive.”

Some fraternity members at OWU are frustrated by what the MOU revisions. A member of one house involved in listing the revisions the chapters wanted said he felt their voices really weren’t heard or really considered during the final decision. Even though many of the fraternities were not satisfied, they felt they had no choice to sign it, since refusal would give the university the right to remove them from their houses. The member requested not to be identified for fear of himself being singled out, either as an individual or a fraternity.

“The first time the MOU was drafted and signed, the fraternities were very apprehensive about it, but they signed in good faith,” he said. “On paper it sounded great: the school would take care of the houses and provide everything, cleaning services…However, over the past couple years it really hasn’t been done to the best of the school’s ability.”

One example he gave of the school falling short on their promises was on the renovations and plans promised three years ago. He said despite the plans to do rather extensive renovations on all of the houses, in reality the renovations executed were small, inconsequential things compared to the major issues the houses had. Where a house was having large and costly foundational or plumbing issues, the university would instead tear out lofts, replace old locks in the building or paint and consider those renovations, rather than dealing with the larger issues in a timely manner.

He said in the case of the plumbing issue, which eventually caused a sewage line break in Alpha Sigma Phi, the school is only now being forced to deal with it since it is considered a hazardous living condition. Another house is facing similar problems with their plumbing.

“Each house has their own unique problems, and the school really hasn’t done anything to fix them,” he said.

As to the occupancy level for each house, he said there were some tensions.  The fraternities are concerned about the 90 percent occupancy because of how recruitment fluctuates.

“There was no real compromise with that, and it is frustrating because this is supposed to be a negotiation between two parties, but we’re kind of being forced into a corner because if we hadn’t signed by the deadline, the school had the right to take all our houses away, and that wasn’t something we wanted to risk,” he explained.

He said the only real compromise was the three year average for the 90 percent occupancy, even though they’re not quite sure how that will work in 2017.

The member said the decision to move the revisions from every three years to every four also puts the fraternities at a disadvantage. Behum said many of the fraternity men weren’t apart or even on campus at the time of the MOU’s creation, and many of their complaints could come from the fact they see it as new information since they never had to deal with it before. Now, however, any student involved with any MOU revision will be unable to be involved in the one previous and the one after, making continuity in understanding what revisions should be requested very difficult for the houses.

“We wanted to keep it at three, so the freshmen now would have an understanding of what we went through, so they would have something to base their arguments on later,” he said. “But now, with the revision every four years, that’s not really possible.”

Though alumni of the fraternities were involved through the Alumni Inter-Fraternal Council (IFC), the brother said undergraduate members didn’t have enough time to fully understand the MOU.

“We kind of knew about it — we had a draft, but we didn’t have the opportunity to argue our case,” he said. “The person we really were able to talk to was Dana (Behum).”

Fraternity members were only directed to speak with Behum, and were not given the opportunity to meet with those who had the power to discuss and make changes to the MOU.

“They kind of just put on a play, saying we had a month to review it, and then never talked to us about it,” he said. “Then, a week before the deadline, they contacted us, saying, ‘Don’t forget to sign it.’”

The member said at that point the fraternity presidents got together, requested one more week to suggest revisions, and then went through the MOU line by line and listed the changes they wished to make. When they submitted the changes, they were not considered and the presidents were forced to sign because of the deadline.

“Collectively, all the fraternities didn’t want to sign, including the alumni, but we were kind of forced to,” he said. “It just comes back to the fact the school has the upper hand.”

The brother said the Alumni IFC met with the school about those changes and the alumni from his chapter said they tried to make the same suggestions on behalf of the students, but the university administration still did not make the changes to the MOU.

“Students were allowed to go to the first two (MOU meetings), but then students were no longer allowed to go any more,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to argue things that affect every day life when you don’t have the perspective of someone living in the house every day. The alumni know about the huge problems but they don’t know about things like they’re not cleaning our bathrooms or picking up the trash or not taking care of things that break. Things that happen every day.”

He said there was one person at the meetings representing all of the fraternities, but that since it was really only one perspective and one voice, it wasn’t really heard in the decision making process.

The member said while the fraternity presidents were arguing against the changes made and attempting to have their voices heard, they all became rather close and “a united front against a single enemy.”

“Most of the fraternities don’t like what’s going on at all,” he said. “No major negotiations were actually made.  It was more of the school saying, ‘This is what’s going to happen.’”

As to food plans, the brother said the university was trying to direct all the fraternities to use Chartwells.  The fraternities were able to decide whether or not to keep their kitchens under a separate contract (three of them have outside contracts with companies who supply them with chefs) or use Chartwells. However, the MOU states that particular section can be revised every year, “meaning we’ll have to fight every year to keep our own kitchens.”

The brother also said he was unsure as to why the university would continue with an MOU not really agreed upon by the fraternities when a large portion of donated money from alumni come from former members of the fraternities on campus.

He said the Greek alumni money is divided a certain way — 80 percent to the houses and 20 percent to the university to use as they see fit. He said he felt that 20 percent should’ve gone to preventative measures in the house, such as the sewage or foundational problems, before they became an immediate living hazard. However, he said, the university refused to release their financial records of that money in light of all the renovations that haven’t been made.

“Why would you piss us off when all the money you’re getting is from our alumni?” he said.