Federation 70th anniversary mitzvah project will continue at Sister Jose Women’s Center

(L-R) Tom Warne, JFSA chair; Len Kronman, Sister Jose volunteer; Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO; Shelly Silverman, JFSA board chair nominee; Bruce Ash, JFSA Sister Jose project co-chair; Ori Parnaby, Jewish community concierge; Fran Katz, JFSA senior vice president; and Jane Ash, JFSA Sister Jose project co-chair, at the April 20 ribbon-cutting celebration at Sister Jose Women’s Center. (Danielle Larcom/JFSA)
With this multi-purpose room, Sister Jose Women’s Center can sleep up to 35 guests on winter nights — its former digs accommodated only 11 cots. Sister Jose Executive Director Jean Fedigan hopes to have enough volunteers to offer overnight stays in the summer. “Heat kills as much as the winter,” she says. The center is now open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Howard H. Paley)

Sister Jose Women’s Center held a ribbon cutting ceremony at its new location on Park Avenue South on Thursday, April 20.

The nonprofit center is a haven for homeless women. Its new location, a remodeled 9,000-square foot warehouse, will enable the center to serve far more women than it could at the 750-square foot house that was its former home.

Sister Jose Women’s Center is the focus of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s 70th anniversary mitzvah project.

When the Federation asked its past chairs how they wished to celebrate the anniversary, “they felt the most appropriate thing would be to pick a mitzvah project that would demonstrate how we fulfill our values,” explains Stu Mellan, JFSA president and CEO.

The kitchen will allow Sister Jose’s guests or volunteers to create hot meals. Baking cookies will make the center feel more like a home, says Executive Director Jean Fedigan. (Howard H. Paley)

“Mayor Jonathan Rothschild helped guide us to the issue of homelessness and the Sister Jose project,” he adds.

Bruce Ash, a former Federation chair, and his wife, Jane, stepped forward to co-chair the project, which has the support of many local Jewish organizations and congregations — some of which already were involved in helping Sister Jose.

The Federation has run donation drives for shoes and clothing, and JFSA Women’s Philanthropy donated almost $3,500 as well as purses and toiletries through its “Connections” program. Such efforts will continue, but the centerpiece of the Federation’s project, says Mellan, will be “fixing up the outdoor area to make a very beautiful place where there will be gardening beds as well as a beautiful mural” created by the Tucson Arts Brigade’s Michael Schwartz. Members of the community have also designed tiles to adorn the facility, and another opportunity to paint tiles will be at the Israel Celebration — Family  Fun Day Festival on May 7.

“What is so amazing and gratifying,” says Jean Fedigan, executive director of the Sister Jose Women’s Center, “is how the community has come together” to support the center. “That is an extraordinary gift. And the Jewish Federation has been really right in the middle of that.

Donations of materials and labor from Tucson’s construction community helped in the renovation of the Sister Jose Women’s Shelter. (Howard H. Paley)

“These women will be helped so much by what we are doing here,” she says. The center’s day program continues to provide “basic survival needs: a bite to eat, maybe a shower,” a robe to wear if a woman needs to wash the only clothes she owns, and a place to rest, because homeless women often spend all their time walking in order to stay safe, Fedigan explains.

But Sister Jose will also partner with a variety of social service agencies to provide behavioral and medical health services, pre-employment training, veterans’ services, safety and exercise classes, and other services “that will enrich these women’s lives beyond measure,” Fedigan says, and may help them end the cycle of homelessness.

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To learn more about the extensive social action work within the Jewish community, contact Ori Parnaby, Jewish community concierge, at 299-3000, ext. 241, or