The Circle – Sister Alicia Gutierrez is the Executive Director of The Circle of the Society of Helpers – A Community Resource Center for Women. Back in 2009, Sr. Debbie Williams was working in a Community Clinic in Chicago and saw that there was a need for immigrant women’s mental health. She was encountering many women who were depressed, had limited social interactions outside of their family, and had no outlet or space to destress. She brought these concerns up in a conversation with Sr. Alicia which was the start of a new beginning. The Helpers created a group that included: Sr. Alicia, Sr. Margaret, Sr. Ana Maria, and Sr. Jean. The task for the team was to research what resources were offered for women in Chicago. This was the beginning of a long process, from researching what areas were most in need to finding a place big enough to where services and resources could be offered to women specially immigrant women. Finally in 2013, the “blueprint” for The Circle was being established and opening its doors to the public.
The Circle is located in the Brighton Park area and has been loved by many since the first day it opened. Sr. Alicia and other Helpers hosted an open house to help engage the community and to invite them in to see what The Circle would be like. About 200 community members joined the Helpers at this open house and had one simple request: open it this week. The Sisters were excited about the engagement but still weren’t fully ready to open its doors completely. They didn’t have any classes or volunteers lined up for the women, but with such a strong engagement, they knew they had to do something. Sr. Pat Hottinger volunteered to do Healing Touch with the women, a friend of Sr. Alicia volunteered to do meditation sessions, and another to help teach cupcake decorating. Another volunteer, Sonia Soriano, offered her services as a Zumba teacher and continues to do so today. This was the beginning of The Circle, a center for the community created by the community. In 2013, there were only a few services being offered, now there are multiple levels of ESL classes, citizenship classes, support groups, counseling, arts and crafts classes and seminars of the women’s choice, and so much more! Sr. Alicia states, “Really…the life of The Circle started because of the community. The women were eager to help make this place their own.” Many of the participants of the Circle have expressed how empowering it is to have a space like this. The ESL classes have helped them learn English which pushes them out of their comfort zone. Some women were accustomed to their children translating for them, but are now learning to communicate in English on their own. Not only do they have the power of language, but these women have been able to have a social life outside of their families. They have created their own support group with other women who understand them. The space is theirs and they value it immensely.
Sr. Alicia is the Executive Director for the Circle but before her work here, she worked with the Archdiocese of Chicago where she helped with the formation of the ministers. For many years, Sr. Alicia was teaching about the gospel, and now feels that her service to the women is encouraging her to always live gospel values and implement them in her everyday life of service. The Circle isn’t just a building but a way of living, continuously respecting and loving one another. The Circle is here to serve the women, the community, and their families. To keep up with what is happening at the Circle, please sign up for our email list at thecircleresourcecenter.org and follow us on Facebook.