Woman creates safe haven for Pasadena's needy

Jefferson Award-winner Jackie Knowles
PASADENA, Calif. Three times a week the women of Pasadena -- some homeless, some at risk, some just needing a friend -- are greeted by Knowles and led up the stairs to a refuge created just for them. It's a place that welcomes without questions or judgments.

"It is a blessing and I just thank God for The Women's Room. This has been a real blessing to me," said Rose Rodriguez, a Women's Room guest.

Inside The Women's Room, guests find a place to relax and a healthy snack. They also get access to a computer and a phone. Downstairs, they can take a shower, wash their clothes, and even take a nap. But more importantly, guests have access to a network of services and support from as many as 25 volunteers.

Among the volunteers is Knowles, a mother of three, a grandmother of five and a former newspaper reporter. Friends say Knowles saw a need in the community and jumped in to help.

"It's a very rewarding experience for everyone: for the women who come here [and] for the women who volunteer," said Knowles, founder of The Women's Room.

Knowles says she set out to create The Women's Room after learning that a third of the 1,200 homeless people in Pasadena were women 40 to 70 years old, who weren't mentally ill or disabled, but rather overlooked and forgotten.

"A big part of what we do is encouragement that women need to believe in themselves and to cope with the daily struggle," said Knowles. "One of our guests said, 'You guys are all that kept me sane while I was facing a crisis that could have put me out on the street.'"

Rev. Pat O'Reilly, executive director of the Ecumenical Council of Pasadena Area Churches, donated the space but says it was Knowles's tireless dedication that made it happen.

"She has a very deep sense of compassion for the homeless, for homeless women in particular, but I think for everybody. I think she has that feeling that the more we connect with each other the better off we'll be," said O'Reilly.

The Women's Room and its success is why Knowles is our newest Jefferson Award winner.

"It feels very, very good but we never set out to do it to get an award," said Knowles. "My reward is when someone says 'I feel so much better.' My reward is when they get a place to live. My reward is when they get a job."

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