Olivier Jean Jones, center left, a leader of the St. John's Shelter for Women and Children, hugs Rep. Doris Matsui at an event showing the shelter's future home. The program trains battered women in food services and helps them land a job.

Sacramento's St. John's Shelter for battered women unveils expansion plan

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 - 10:05 am

After yet another beating that left her face bruised and her spirit broken, Michelle Scott got serious about forging a new life for herself and her four kids.

Last year, she left her abusive relationship and moved into the safe haven of St. John's Shelter for Women and Children.

But Scott found much more than just meals and a bed there, she said at a gathering Tuesday at the shelter's future new home off of Jackson Road in Sacramento. She found the keys to a better life.

Scott, wearing a black chef's coat, told a "Who's Who" group of community and business leaders that the people and programs of St. John's put her on a fast track to success. Today she is a professional cook, provides for her children and acts as a mentor to other women seeking inspiration.

"I have a permanent home," she said. "My kids go to school every day. I'm not on any government assistance, which is huge for me. It's all because of the help I got at St. John's."

St. John's got some help of its own during the past two years as it sought a bigger space to house, counsel and educate about 1,200 women and children who come through its doors every year.

On a typical day, said the organization's executive director, Michele Steeb, St. John's is forced to turn away more than 200 people for lack of space.

Thanks to a $1 million state grant and hefty private donations, including a $400,000 check from Wells Fargo bank, St. John's has purchased and is renovating a building that will offer more space and expanded programs, she said.

St. John's, founded in 1987, has been in the Colonial Heights neighborhood of Sacramento for the past 12 years.

The new building, a former office complex, will provide three times the organization's current space, offer a licensed day care facility and provide 31 bedrooms compared to its current 14. It also will have a sparkling new kitchen for its Plates program, which trains women in various restaurant positions. More than 90 percent of its graduates land jobs after completing the program, Steeb said.

Although St. John's now has "the shell" of a new facility, Steeb said, it still needs financial sponsors to complete renovations of bedrooms, a playground, a classroom and other areas.

"This is a place where lives will be transformed and dreams realized," restaurateur Patrick Mulvaney, who along with his wife, Bobbin, are longtime St. John's supporters, said at the event.

More than 100 people attended the celebration and tour of the new site, including Mayor Kevin Johnson, Rep. Doris Matsui, Councilman Kevin McCarty and David Galasso, president of Wells Fargo.

"I have such an admiration for the women of St. John's shelter, who have lived through circumstances we cannot imagine," said Matsui.

For Scott, St. John's was a refuge where she could escape addiction, domestic violence and self-doubt.

"Once I was accepted into the Plates program, I said to myself, 'This is the day I turn my life around,' " she said.

And so she did. Scott developed a work ethic, learned kitchen and restaurant skills and honed the ability to work with all kinds of people, she said. After she graduated, she quickly got a job at the Crocker Art Museum's cafe. Today she is head chef at St. John's.

"Now I can offer hope to other women," she said. "I tell them, 'Don't give up before the miracle happens.' "

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