At 16, the Women's Center is hoping to have another growth spurt.
Founded in 1974 in Vienna in response to the influx of women into the job market, the nonprofit center has given a growing number of women advice and information on everything from the trials of the business world to the trials of a divorce.
The center's growing clientele has kept it seeking enough money and people to meet the demand for its services, but it nevertheless is venturing out for the first time to open new offices and expand its services where they are most lacking in the area, said Judith O. Mueller, executive director of the center. The key to that goal is a year-long fund-raising campaign.
Last year, about 68 percent of the center's clients were from Fairfax County, 10 percent came from Arlington County and the rest from neighboring jurisdictions. The average client ranges in age from 31 to 40, has at least a bachelor's degree and income of $11,000 to $31,000, said Deborah C. Johnson, the center's director of information systems. Last year, she said, the center served almost 60,000 people, 95 percent of them women.
"For years people have said, 'Can't you bring the Women's Center out into Warrenton?' Or 'Wouldn't you like to come into the District?' " Mueller said. "But we're really based on volunteer labor, and in order to announce our presence and get set up in other communities, we need more money."
The center has an annual budget of slightly less than $1 million, most of it from foundation and corporate grants, Mueller said. Women's Center clients pay for its services on a sliding scale based on their income, she said.
The Women's Center offers individual, personal and career counseling from 67 part-time counselors, all of whom have at least a master's degree in education, social work or clinical psychology and generally work at a university or in private practice.
The center also offers support groups, educational programs, career testing and workshops organized and run by volunteers. The career workshops deal with issues such as job-sharing and child care and fields such as banking and finance. Other workshops touch on such topics as the financial and legal implications of divorce. Mueller said workshops on separation and divorce are increasingly in demand and that occasional workshops on prenuptial agreements have been crowded.
But the center's Information and Career Advisory Network (ICAN) is perhaps its most successful program, Mueller said. For the people who ask the center's advice on entering a particular field, ICAN is a network of more than 500 volunteer women who can meet with people and tell them of their experiences in the field.
The center has five full-time employees and 10 part-time staffers, but most of its counselors work on a stipend of up to $13 an hour. And the bulk of its programs are staffed by 1,115 volunteers. Many of them have been clients, Mueller said.
The $300,000 that Mueller hopes the fund-raising campaign will raise by next May will be used during the next two years to open offices in the District, Arlington, Leesburg, Manassas and Warrenton. The center isn't considering opening offices in Maryland because the Montgomery County Commission for Women runs two programs that duplicate many, if not all, of the center's programs. But Prince George's County, which has no such programs, may be considered in the future, Mueller said.
Mueller said she knows how difficult it is to expand on a little money and a lot of goodwill. While she is committed to opening more local offices, and wants to help other communities nationwide start similar programs, she is careful about the center becoming too big.
"The best possible thing would be for us to go out of business altogether, because then women wouldn't need us, and that would be the true sign of success," she said. "But that's not happening. I think women's lives are just getting more and more complex."