OGDEN — Stacie Harris was a single mother with three small children when she enrolled at Weber State University.
Having a full-time schedule and a 2-, 3- and 4-year-old at home didn't give her much time to hold down a job. Money was tight, but she was determined to find a way to get her degree. That's when she discovered the Women's Center on campus.
The Women's Center, now in its 30th year, offered Harris scholarships, support and counseling, volunteer opportunities — and friendship.
Today, seven years after graduating from WSU, Harris is the director of Axeon, an auditing, consulting and training firm in West Haven.
"The Women's Center is full of emotional support," Harris said. "Great words of advice and counsel were given."
Harris said the center's director, Carol Merrill, did everything she could to provide her with opportunities to succeed.
"I probably need to buy stock in Kleenex or at least buy Carol Merrill a case or two because of the tears that were shed in her office," Harris said.
The Women's Center, originally named The Women's Resource Center, was established to provide one-on-one advice and mentoring to women, and help them find the campus and community resources that would help them become successful students, Merrill said.
The center helps female students find scholarships and child care, and also coordinates dialogues and programs around issues that disproportionately affect women, such as poverty, domestic violence, eating disorders, single parenting, and sexual assault and harassment.
"We have educated them about resources that can help them get into school and stay in school," Merrill said. "A lot of the women that come into our office are scared about starting school, and when they leave, they are much more confident."
Mindy Lundgreen graduated from WSU in 2000 and returned in 2008 to work in the Women's Center as a master's level intern.
"I sought out the Women's Center … while on the heels of an unexpected divorce," she said. "I had two small children and wondered how I would support my little family without an education. It was a frightful experience stepping on a college campus after several years of marriage and time only spent as a stay-at-home mom."
As she anxiously sat in the waiting room at the Women's Center, Lundgreen said, she was greeted by Merrill, who instantly calmed her fears.
"She inspired me with her personal story of success as a single mother," Lundgreen said. "Through this contact, I began to slowly believe that I, too, could graduate from college and achieve similar success."
Today, Lundgreen has a master's degree in social work and is working in both a clinic and private practice.
"The Women's Center acted as a catapult, sending me forward in the direction I wanted to go," she said. "My first-year internship in the master's program, I was able to go back to the Women's Center and, this time, give instead of take. It was a great experience sitting on the other side of the desk.
"Now, as a clinician, one of my specialties is women's issues. I have the opportunity to help other women recognize that they have the power to not only reach for the stars, but to touch them."
While the goals remain the same, the center continues to change and grow in its efforts to meet the needs of students and prospective students, Merrill said.
"There has been a tremendous increase in collaborating with the community to help women understand that there are ways to achieve their college degree and that support systems are in place for them," Merrill said.
Wendy Henrie, office specialist at the center, said the center sponsors programs that include the Single Mom's United Support Group, Healthy Women workshops, a women's empowerment conference and an empowerment group for Spanish-speaking women, and parenting programs.
Although the Women's Center is on campus to help women, Merrill said, men are welcome to use its services and attend programs as well.
"We are here to help anyone who is interested in coming to school and help any student to stay in school," she said.
Harris said she will be forever grateful to the Women's Center.
"I was given confidence and zeal through my Weber State University experiences. I am a mother now of three teenagers who were able to reap the rewards of an educated parent," Harris said. "Some of my closest friends are the ones I met at the Women's Center."