Neighbor to Neighbor
At the Neighbor to Neighbor center in downtown Concordia, eight women stand around the island in the kitchen to talk, laugh and learn how to make cheddar garlic biscuits.
"Is that more than a cup?" someone asks the instructor as she peers at the milk in her measuring cup.
"I thought these usually came in a can," one woman jokes as she drops spoonfuls of dough in rows on a baking sheet.
"I'd like to suggest that each one of us wash our own pan," another says. "Oh, I don't mind washing the dishes," a woman nearby offers.
Once the biscuits are popped into the oven, the bakers have a few minutes to do a little Tai Chi, guided by a DVD playing in the next room.
As those women get some exercise, others arrive at Neighbor to Neighbor to do some arts and crafts together around tables in the front room. A couple are knitting, one is doing needlepoint, and a few are practicing the intricate art of making lace. One woman proudly displays the handmade angel ornaments she has created.
A sign-up sheet posted outside the office announces opportunities for computer training. Many local moms want to learn how to make Halloween costumes for their kids, so Neighbor to Neighbor offers sewing classes as well. "We have a group of women in their late 20s and early 30s who didn't know how to sew on a button before," a Neighbor to Neighbor leader says.
One evening each week, the building hosts an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for women.
A couple of young moms drop by to put loads of clothes into the free washers and dryers as their two little boys chatter and use a sheet to make an indoor fort under the watchful eye of one of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) is one of the services offered by the Sisters of St. Joseph after a series of community forums revealed that many low-income women and families in this area fall through the cracks of the social service system.
N2N was founded as a gathering place for women to support each other and learn new skills such as problem-solving, preparing nutritious yet inexpensive meals, writing a resume, developing an exercise routine, sharing child care, using a computer and exploring creativity through arts and crafts. All of these classes are free.
The Sisters of St. Joseph who run N2N got a plot in Concordia's community garden and have started to tend vegetables so they can send food home with women who need it most.
"We had over a thousand cucumbers this year and made pickles," one of the Sisters says. "The tomatoes aren't doing as well, though."
"A lot of people think it's just for people who are poor, but it's really for anybody who has a need," an N2N leader says. "In a rural community, often when women don't have transportation, it becomes very important to have people to get together with and places to go."
Women of all ages gather here. One woman thought to be the only homeless person in Concordia often spends time at N2N.
"There's an amazing array of women here," an N2N leader says. "One woman was living with a man killed in a drug deal gone bad, and she found us and decided to change her life. She's found a job downtown and hangs out with our group."
The biscuits are fresh from the oven now, and their scent fills the room. After brushing a little melted butter over each biscuit, the women all do a taste test and proclaim their baking a success.
Laughter rings out from one of the craft tables as a few moms sit near the kitchen and trade stories about their kids. "You drove here and you live a block away?" one teases her friend. "Oh, my dear."
Amidst all the fun, there's an undercurrent of help and support here, and that's just what the Sisters intended.
"Several older women have walked in because they just needed someone to talk to," one Sister says. "There are lots of ways that ministry happens that you can't see."