In 1981, in response to an increasing community need for housing for homeless women and their children, community advocate Nancy Watson Dean and her daughter-in-law, Virginia Fairchild, organized a group of their activist friends that raised money to lease and refurbish a building on East Main Street. Thanks to their efforts, Sojourner Hall for Women, Inc. opened its doors in 1982. A few years later, a fire set by a resident’s abuser destroyed the interior of the building. The tragedy disrupted the program and provided an opportunity to find a new home for Sojourner House.
Finding A New Home
Dedicated board members managed to raise the capital funds needed to renovate an idle building in Rochester’s 19th Ward. In 1989, Sojourner House officially reopened its doors in the former convent of St. Monica’s Church—a move that nearly tripled the number of women and children who could be served in its Transitional Housing Program.
Sojourner House became a pioneer of supportive housing for women and children with the opening of Monica Place, Fairchild Place, and Nancy Watson Dean Place. Together, these facilities provide 40 units of permanent, affordable housing for women and their children, who benefit from on-site case management and support services. The establishment of these services at Greece Commons expanded our outreach beyond the City of Rochester.
The Legacy of Our Leadership
In 1996, Virginia Fairchild tragically passed away from cancer. As President of the Board, Ginny Cornyn kept the organization running smoothly and led the search for a new President, soon finding Germaine Knapp to take the helm. Under Germaine’s vision and direction, Sojourner House and its programs strengthened and expanded, most notably in the areas of supportive housing, outreach case management for graduates, children’s programming, and life skills education. Germaine served as President until her retirement in 2011.
Since 1982, Sojourner House has assisted over 2,500 women and their families in reaching their goals for education, employment, family stability, sobriety, and financial independence.
Sojourner House’s Affiliation with PathStone Corporation
In 2009, Sojourner House affiliated with PathStone Corporation, a Rochester-based nonprofit organization that develops and manages properties for affordable housing programs. The two organizations came together to bring the Sojourner House model of supportive resident services to PathStone’s existing housing programs. This affiliation provides families with safe, decent, and affordable housing as well as the support services they need to transition to economic self-sufficiency.
About Our Name
Sojourner House was named in honor of Sojourner Truth, a traveling orator, a woman who spoke truth to power, a person on a mission for change. Born into slavery in Upstate New York, Sojourner Truth declared her freedom and her name. She journeyed throughout the country as a passionate abolitionist and advocate for the rights of women and African Americans. Sojourner Truth brought inspiration, hope, and a call for justice to all who heard her voice. Sojourner House provides shelter, structure, strength and inspiration to women, their children, and others in need, so they are prepared to lead responsible and meaningful lives. The strength of Sojourner House lies in recognizing and cultivating the strength within each person to overcome the barriers in their own lives.
1982 – Sojourner House opens at original site on East Main Street with space for five women
1987 – Firebomb destroys building, interrupting the program
1989 – Sojourner House reopens in renovated convent in 19th Ward, with space for 16 women and up to 20 children
1991 – Monica Place opens, offering 21 units of supportive housing that are among the first in New York State
1996-97 – Executive Director and co-founder Virginia Fairchild passes away; Germaine Knapp chosen to lead the organization
1997 – First Epiphany Award recognizing an outstanding graduate is given to Wanda Chealey, beginning an annual tradition that continues today
1998 – Fairchild Endowment Fund is established to strengthen organization’s financial future
1999 – Fairchild Place opens, offering 12 additional units of supportive housing
1999 – Briggs Outreach Program begins, providing ongoing case management to Sojourner House graduates
2000 – Dreamseeds program is established to provide tutoring, homework assistance, and arts and cultural activities for the children of Sojourner House women
2001 – Nancy Watson Dean Place opens, offering seven additional units of supportive housing
2003 – Henrietta Hammond Institute for Life Skills (HHILS) is established, a comprehensive life skills program for women in transitional housing
2005 – Sojourner House receives Project of the Year Award from Supportive Housing Network of New York for excellence in supportive housing
2007 – Partnership with Tempro Development Corporation establishes case management and supportive services for Holyoke Apartments (now Greece Commons) and Susan B. Anthony Apartments
2009 – Affiliation with PathStone Corporation leads to renaming of organization as Sojourner House at PathStone, Inc.
2010 – Community and resident services extend to several Tempro Emergency Housing sites and other low-income properties owned by PathStone; supportive and life skills programs expand
2014 – Sojourner House creates “Seedlings,” a youth-development program for children living in transitional housing
2015 – Dreamseeds Children’s Programs celebrate 15 years of providing academic and performing arts opportunities for kids
2016 – PathStone Corporation affiliates with Wilson Commencement Park, making Sojourner House and Wilson Commencement Park sister agencies
2017 – Arts instruction and performance component of the Dreamseeds Program takes root at the YMCA, offering a new after-school option for Rochester youth; seedlings continues to focus on tutoring and other activities for the children living at Sojourner House