WATERVILLE — Pat Byther remembers when her second husband died a few years ago and all she wanted to do was isolate herself.

“I started cocooning and I didn’t want to leave the house,” she recalled. “I started coming to Women’s Initiative one day a week, then it was two or three times a week, and now I’m here five days a week. What I like about it here is that it is like an extended family. You have the laughter, the love, the caring.”

Byther, 64, of Winslow, is one of several women who have found solace and friendship at Women’s Initiative, an all-volunteer organization that seeks to provide a safe, welcoming, supportive and warm setting for women. The women may make crafts, socialize and learn skills such as sewing, knitting and crocheting.

Women’s Initiative moved Nov. 1 from its former home on the Temple Academy property on West River Road to 304 Main St., home of Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area. Women’s Initiative rents from and shares space with Hospice.

“We love our shared space,” said Martha Dempski, Women’s Initiative founder. “The people here are very friendly.”

Dempski created the organization eight years ago, when it was housed in the basement of The Center at 93 Main St. downtown. It moved two and a half years ago to the former Temple Academy Church basement on West River Road.

“Temple Academy School is growing, so they needed the space,” Dempski said. “They’re going to be using it for the school.”

Susan Roy, executive director for Hospice, said she had been wanting to rent out space in the Main Street building for a long time but had not found a tenant that was the right fit.

“So when Martha sent me a Facebook message, I just felt the time was right,” Roy said.

The two organizations share large meeting rooms that are comfortable, with soft leather sofas and chairs. Women’s Initiative is open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and Hospice typically has meetings such as bereavement groups in the evenings. Women’s Initiative also has an office and board room in the building.

Members make and sell items such as aprons, coasters, reversible fabric gift bags, rag rugs and crafts to sell at fairs; and the proceeds are used for renting the Main Street space and buying some materials for crafts. They also make hats, scarves and mittens to hang on the railing outside Waterville Public Library the week before Valentine’s Day so people in the community may take them free of charge.

“We did 870 last year, and the year before that we did 1,000,” Dempski said. “I think we have over 500 now, so we’re always looking for people to do hats and scarves.”

The women call the effort their kindness project, their thank-you to the community for the donations of materials used to make crafts and other items.

Criss Kraus, 64, of Oakland, said she has been a member of Women’s Initiative about a year.

“I enjoy it. I love it,” she said. “I’ve made some great friends just in the last year or so.”

Kraus, who has traveled and lived all over the world because her former husband was a U.S. Marine, said she moved to Maine in 2013 because she was sick and needed to be close to her daughter. She said Women’s Initiative helped fill the void of being displaced.

“This has been a godsend,” she said.

Kraus volunteers in the cafeteria at Temple Academy; Byther volunteers as an art teacher there.

Dempski said they and the other regular members of Women’s Initiative encourage each other, offer ideas, and compliment and support each other. Sometimes in the fall, they take trips to places such as Coos Canyon, Height of Land and Smalls Falls in the Rangeley area, and Jasper Beach in Machiasport.

Once a month, the group hosts Health Talks, at which a health care professional or retired nurse is invited to speak.

The group will sell items at two craft fairs Saturday — one at 9 a.m. at Fairfield Methodist Church and the other, also at 9 a.m., at Waterville Senior High School.

The women are looking for a shop that might be interested in allowing them a little space to sell their items and say they would welcome inquiries.

More information about Women’s Initiative is available at womensinitiativeme.org or on the Facebook page called “Women’s Initiative.”

Dempski, who a few years ago was honored by Business and Professional Women with a state Woman of the Year Award, encourages women to just drop in, because the group would love to have new members.

“We need to see some bright, new faces, always,” she said.

She said the only ground rule is that people are kind and treat each other with respect.

“That’s what’s impacted me most in my life are the people that are really kind to me,” she said.

Women who become regular members are asked to donate a minimal fee of $5 or $10 a month — whatever they can afford, Dempski said.

Hospice, meanwhile, will hold its annual Lights for Life open house and tree lighting ceremony from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13, according to Roy.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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