For three hours every Wednesday afternoon for the past four years, Avis Drucker of Chatham has answered the telephone and greeted clients at We Can in Harwich Port.
“I take incoming calls from women trying to cope with many challenges,” Drucker says. “They’re overwhelmed and emotional. It takes a lot of courage to make that first call.”
When the women come into the office they’re “nervous and quiet,” and Drucker settles them into the cheery waiting room and offers them a coffee from the Keurig coffee maker. After their appointment they come out smiling and thank Drucker.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” she says.
We Can – Women’s Empowerment through Cape Area Networking – was founded in 2001when a need was perceived for a non-profit to aid women through life’s transitions. Today the 16-year-old organization links women Cape-wide with one of over 50 volunteer attorneys who help with legal issues and divorces, refers battered women to appropriate outside agencies, and leads mentoring sessions for budding businesswomen. Some women need help with financial planning when they lose child support or are widowed. What all of these women, ages 20 to 86, have in common is that they are in transition — moving from one job to another, looking for housing, struggling with family problems – and transitions are stressful.
“So much of it is knowing there’s a place that will listen without judgment so that women really are in charge of their lives – and that’s our empowerment,” says Executive Director Andrea Genser.
After seven years at the helm of We Can, Genser, 65, recently announced she will retire next June. When she took the job at We Can, Genser says she knew it was her last “big job,” one that she describes as “the highlight of my long career working in non-profits. It’s kind of bittersweet to be leaving.” After she retires, she hopes to take up volunteer work and spend more time with her 10-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Maine. She will have time to devote to her photography and her bicycling.
Last week board president Pam Kukla sat down with Genser at We Can to reflect upon how We Can has grown and prospered under Genser’s leadership.
Genser and Kukla began here at about the same time in 2010, and We Can “was one of the best-kept secrets I had ever come across,” Kukla remembers. In 2010 We Can’s office was in two rooms above a bakery in Harwich Port and had two part-time staff, an executive director and a limited number of volunteers. The group served 500 women. An enormous improvement came in 2013 when the organization moved to its new headquarters at 783 Route 28 in Harwich Port. Here, a converted garage behind the main building serves as a place for board meetings and even has a kitchen.
Fast forward to the end of 2016, when the group served 2,500 women and had the equivalent of six full-time staff members and over 300 volunteers.
“Our budget has also grown,” Genser says. And “the community has really embraced us. We couldn’t have done it if the community hadn’t embraced us.”
“The community has come to understand the depth of the need,” Kukla says. “Most people understand if you help a woman, you help a family. If you help a family, you help the community.”
Over the years, We Can’s services have evolved. For example, many grandparents are now raising their grandchildren due to the effects of the opioid crisis on their children. We Can provides services to them.
“When we see a need, we meet it,” Genser says. Because the organization is funded 99.9 percent privately, the group does not need to go through “17 layers of bureaucracy to make a decision. We see direct results every day from the services we provide.”
A woman might be transitioning to a new career at the age of 50, after working for many years cleaning houses. We Can can help her, too, through personal development workshops led by four life coaches.
One of the blessings of We Can is its devoted volunteers like Drucker, who retired from a career in corporate training for Staples. Volunteers do everything from IT services to working in the gardens and buildings. “We make every dollar count,” Genser says.
Since Genser took over, the group has expanded its geographical reach. As of this year the group offers its services in Falmouth and Hyannis. The group has a trilingual staff member, and the local Portuguese radio station promotes We Can’s programs. The group has also built numerous partnerships with businesses such as Gustare Oils and Vinegars, which sells a We Can Oil and Vinegar at its stores in Chatham and Mashpee.
And what does Genser consider her greatest achievement at We Can?
“I’m most proud of the people we’ve been able to help — the lives we’ve improved,” she says. “I’ve seen so many lives changed.”
Both Kukla and Drucker praise Genser’s leadership of We Can.
“The staff under Andi’s leadership is phenomenal,” Drucker says. “It’s a joyous place to work.”
We Can is currently searching for a new executive director, and has set a Nov. 10 deadline for receiving resumes. For details and other information, visit www.wecancenter.org/executivedirector. For general information on We Can visit www.wecancenter.org.