When the author Ashley C. Ford comes to a Rosie’s Place fundraiser next week, she’ll be reading a story she’s chosen especially for the event — about strong family ties, and women who emerge as survivors. The story should have special meaning for Rosie’s, which was founded in 1974 as the first women’s shelter in America.
Tuesday’s lunchtime event, “Funny Women…Serious Business” is always a high point of the Rosie’s calendar, and after two years as a virtual event it returns in person to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Susan Wornick and Karen Holmes Ward, both WCVB/Channel 5 personalities (Wornick is now retired) and longtime friends of Rosie’s will host the event. As usual it will feature a mix of serious moments and humor; characterized by Director of Development Michael Oliver as an “awareness raiser” as well as a fundraiser. Four women whose lives have intersected with Rosie’s will tell their stories before Ford’s featured slot.
The roots of “Funny Women…Serious Business” go back to the ‘90s, when Lily Tomlin joined with Rosie’s founder Kip Tiernan to create an event called “Lunch With Lily and the Ladies” (Tomlin appeared in character as Madame Lupe, the world’s oldest beauty expert). More recently the event’s gravitated toward authors and some notable ones have appeared over the years– including Piper Kerman (author of “Orange is the New Black”), writer and MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Walls, and acclaimed motivational speaker Glennon Doyle.
Ashley C. Ford is best-known as the author of the memoir “Somebody’s Daughter,” which deals with her growing up poor and Black in Indiana, surviving sexual assault and learning the surprising truth about her father’s incarceration. The book became a New York Times bestseller and led to her hosting two popular podcasts, “Lovecraft Country Radio” for HBO and “Into the Mix” for Ben & Jerry’s. She’s been named one of Forbes Magaine’s “30 Under 30 in Media,” though she’s since passed that milestone.
When Rosie’s hosted its last in-person “Funny Women” in 2019, Oliver recalls an experience that reminded him what the event is all about. “We just happened to be standing around the tables, and one of the luncheon servers came up to me and said, ‘I used to go to Rosie’s Place. That’s me up there, and that’s my story you’re telling.’ She was stable, working, living on her own terms, and it was so powerful that she saw herself at the other end of that story. And unexpected, because we think we know what homelessness looks like — We think it’s indelible, something you see on peoples’ faces — as opposed to something that people go through.”
What’s certain is that Rosie’s will continue its mission to get women to the other side of that experience. “I was at a conference years ago when someone said, ‘You know how your non profit has a vital mission? If you closed the door tomorrow, nobody else would fill that gap.” While Rosie’s may not be the only resource available to women in need, it’s one of the few that has never accepted government funding. “That allows us to respond quickly and effectively to women who come to us in need. We help them gain access to things that should be available to all citizens of the United States — health care, legal aid, housing and jobs. Most people think of us as a shelter, but we’re really much more than that,” said Oliver.