Klara Tammany sits with her dog, Sophie, on Monday morning outside the Center for Wisdom’s Women on Blake Street in Lewiston. Tammany is retiring soon after 11 years at the helm of the center. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Klara Tammany grew up in Ohio, spent time in Maine and had moved to Maryland for work.

In 2005, after nine years away, Marguerite Stapleton, a friend from graduate school, drove Tammany around the city as she contemplated a move back.

“She wanted to show me the women’s center that had opened in 1999,” said Tammany, 65. “Sister Irene was out in the parking lot,” one of the three nuns who’d founded the then-Wisdom’s Center.

“We talked with her through the window of the car, I didn’t even get out. As we were leaving the parking lot, I turned around to Marguerite and said: ‘Well, I guess I am moving to Lewiston. I think my future’s tied up here.'”

Something indescribable clicked. She needed the center. And as it worked out, it needed her.

“I was a single woman, both parents had died, no children, resettling myself, sort of lost in my career path, thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?'” Tammany said. “Just really seeking and unsettled. This was a really grounding place to be.”

This winter, she will retire after 11 years as the Center for Wisdom’s Women’s executive director.

Tammany’s leaving the post but not going far: She’s moving into Sophia’s House, the women’s housing project she helped raise $1.6 million for to bring to life.

Tammany’s parents bought a camp in Monmouth in 1981 and she moved to Brunswick in 1984, beginning a long career in religious education at St. Paul’s Church.

“I just loved it here,” she said.

Work for the diocese brought her down to Maryland, but eventually, “something in me didn’t want to do that the rest of my life,” Tammany said.

Settled in Lewiston, she connected with Trinity Church and began volunteering at the women’s center.

“(In 2008), the sisters announced one day that they really didn’t think they could maintain the center and maybe it was time to close it,” Tammany said. “I remember saying, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t do that! You just can’t do that.'”

A group of volunteers kept it open two mornings a week. In 2009, with the help of Trinity Church, she quit her job at Advocate’s for Children and became the center’s full-time executive director.

Close to 3,000 women have been through the door since.

They come in for art therapy, writing workshops, support groups, games and sometimes just coffee and a change of clothes.

“We have a shower if you don’t have a shower,” Tammany said. “You can get free hygiene items once a month if you ask for them.” That might be the initial draw, but “then, if they need someone to talk to, then they’ll show up.”

It’s meant to be a supportive experience, in what you need support in.

“It really is a place that tries to bring women together so they can build relationships, not be isolated, and help each other,” Tammany said. “The common root of every women that comes here is adverse childhood experiences.”

That might be abuse, homelessness, a jailed parent, not enough food in the home.

With each experience like that, “the less resilient you become,” she said. The results can be addiction, illness, social isolation, trouble keeping a job.

Knowing some women needed more help then others, and learning about the Thistle Farms residential support model, inspired the creation of Sophia’s House, which will open in December.

Tammany will live in one of the five former convent’s rented apartments and help support the women living in six single rooms on the third floor as they go through a Thistle Farms-like program.

She will work part time for several months setting that house up. With more free time, she would also like to devote more time to the Urban Confessional free listening movement, making up a sign, settling on a bench and being an ear to anyone who needs it — without giving advice or judging.

She will officially retire as executive director sometime this winter, after the center hires her successor.

“I called this my encore career,” Tammany said. “What a way to end a career. Leaving religious ed. was a chance to do one more something different before I retired, and my God, what a trip.”

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