May 14, 2010
| By: 
Lynette Wilson

Zion Episcopal Church in Avon, New York, decided to expand its mission, converting the church's rectory into a six-bed transitional home for women veterans when its rector and the community realized women veterans, more so than men, can fall through the cracks.

The idea for Zion House began to take hold a few years ago when Zion's rector, the Rev. Mark Stiegler, was serving as a part-time chaplain at Veterans Affairs hospital, and noticed a gap in services provided to women veterans. He shared his observation with his church, and after much planning, including securing a grant and renovating the rectory, Zion House is planned to open next month, he said in a telephone interview.

"The goal is to give these women the courage and the wherewithal to find a job, sustain a job and move on to independent living," said Stiegler, adding that the VA will make case referrals to the house.

On May 12 Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Rochester Bishop Prince Singh gathered with the Zion community in Avon -- a small town 40 miles from Rochester and within an hours' drive of four VA facilities -- to dedicate the house.

"Zion House represents mission to the 'least of these,'" Jefferts Schori said in a quote provided to ENS. "Women veterans have often been forgotten and deprived of the benefits and services normally provided to men -- a reality from the time of Deborah and Jael to the present day. May Zion House be a beacon of light welcoming all into God’s healed community."

Zion took advantage of a VA grant program that covers two-thirds the cost of refurbishing a home and provides money to assist the staff in providing services to the women, and is working in partnership with Post 294 of the American Legion.

The house will have live-in director/house manager and two part-time social workers (the grant doesn't cover operational costs). The house is the first such transitional home for women veterans in New York and the fourth in the nation, Stiegler said.

Sharon Walburn, co-chair of the Zion House board of directors and a veteran herself having served 30 years, 10 on active duty, in the Army, hopes the house is a success and that it will become a model for others to follow.

"Historically the VA had resources for men only and very few for women and of course that has changed quite a bit, but not enough," she said in a telephone interview. The resources are few and far between as transitional homes go … and very few halfway houses just for women. I think it's amazing and a big investment for the church to take on as a mission."

Zion's other missions include Circle Nursery School and Martha's Kitchen, a lunch program.

"Zion House is an excellent model of what we already are, and are intentionally striving to be as a church: agents of healing and transformation. We are grateful to the saints of Zion in Avon and for all the collaborating partners, for this moment in history is when we can breathe deeply and we can say to ourselves and the world around us, this is who we are," said Singh during the dedication.

The Zion House website provides a resource section, including news stories here.