Sept. 6, 2012 05:59 PM

The Outreach Center's Lighthouse Shelter offers safe haven for women - often with children - in search of a new start.

Although women have made great gains in the workforce since I cashed my first paycheck almost 40 years ago, the gender gap in earnings remains substantial. Paychecks for men are still 20 percent higher than those received by women in similar roles, and the disparity is even greater in management jobs, where it stands at 25 percent.
Minority women fare even worse when it comes to equal pay, and it is most often women who are left to juggle a job with child rearing duties in single-parent households. Life's hard knocks, like disability, injury, addiction and economic shifts, impact men and women alike but given the stack of the deck, women are usually dealt the weaker hand.
There are many services in Lafayette for poor and homeless men seeking to rebuild their lives, but only one organization is focused solely on the needs of homeless women. Once part of the programs under the Acadiana Outreach Center, The Lighthouse Shelter is administered by AOC's new incarnation, the Outreach Center for Women and Children, and currently serves more than 100 women, often with children, each year. The need is actually much greater.
The Lighthouse offers a safe haven for women for up to six months while they find employment, build a small nest egg, and get back on their feet. Residents must stay sober, earn community service points and share housekeeping duties at the shelter. Some once had good jobs, like Ms. Doris, a Sunday school teacher and former state employed surveyor whose industry passed her by. She worked in hotel housekeeping (an injury ended that career) and later as a clerk at a nearby library (a job eliminated by downsizing). Her pension exhausted, she was destitute when she came to the shelter. "She's one of the best receptionists we've ever had," says Executive Director Jill Meaux. Three current 40-something residents will soon take their GED exams and another recently started Remington College. The ladies have also written a play based on their own experiences called "Off the Streets" that will be presented at Theatre 810 Sept. 13-15 under the direction of UL's Dr. Keith Dorwick. Good things are happening there.
The shelter also provides counseling, life skills development, basic health and limited transportation services. The children who live in the shelter go to their assigned public schools. Many of these services are not covered by grants or other funding sources; donations and fundraisers cover the rest.
Palates and Pâté has been the intensely popular centerpiece of the organization's fundraising efforts for over a decade. Just as the Outreach Center has attained a new scale and focus, so has Palates. This year's event is slated for Nov. 15 at The Victorian in Broussard. In true Palates style, the evening will be high energy with a New Orleans Second Line Band (complete with flambeaux) and a Professor Longhair-style pianist along with the trademark great art and fabulous food. On Sept. 16, patrons can also support the center at Cocktails and Cochon, a fun evening at Donald Link's popular River Ranch eatery on the river.
This month, as ABiz shares the stories of some of the most influential women in our community, we are mindful of the Outreach Center with its new and clear focus on our sisters in need. These events are but a few ways to help this mission. As a volunteer at The Lighthouse, I encourage you to get involved. Find out more:

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