Q&A: Parlee Jones, Abby’s House shelter advocate

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I had never been to Abby’s House. This is either fortuitous, unsurprising or completely inconsequential. One of the three. I’m not sure. No matter, nor time to figure it out, because now I’m there and wondering if I’ll be welcomed.

The outside is ambivalent, neither hiding nor exclaiming its presence — the house is a sprawling facility that temporarily houses and provides services for battered and/or homeless women — on a one-way street surrounded by the serenity of churches and the calamity of road construction. As I lose the race to the door to a little old lady in a fashionable shawl, and follow her inside, the ambivalence disappears. “I have a man with me,” she announces impishly around the corner seemingly certain I’m there for a good reason, yet without having fully turned to size up her visitor.

I’m there to talk with Parlee Jones, an accomplished civic leader who counts herself among the success stories of Abby’s House. Early for our meeting, I wait in the hallway and start to see why there exudes a strong a sense of calm in a place that deals with such chaos.

With multi-colored and time-stained quilts hanging from the walls, silver-painted radiators in the corners, a table bubbling over with portraits of lost loved ones, and mismatched wooden rocking chairs dotting the sitting room, it feels like grandma’s house. There’s even the tempting aroma of a meal simmering around the corner. (And, just before I leave a while later, that nice woman who let me in offers me a piece of chocolate candy for my ride home.)

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