SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 28, 2013

Fashionable friends

Supporters team up to help two homes for women

By Stephanie Francis
Gordon College News Service

---- — SALEM — Jeff Gibley is no stranger to fashion shows. So when a friend asked him to participate in “The Art of Dressing” hosted by the Brookhouse Home for Women and the Woman’s Friend Society, he quickly offered the tuxedos from his shop, J. Gibley Tuxedos in Peabody.

“I never really heard of it before this,” Gibley said of the Brookhouse Home.

Once he did, however, he was happy to help support it.

And he feels confident that the show — set for Saturday at the Nathaniel Silsbee House on Washington Square — will be well-attended.

A rest home for seniors, Brookhouse has been providing a home for women for more than 150 years in a red-brick, 1810 mansion that was gifted to charity in 1861. It is one of the few such options in the area for older women of modest means.

For the fashion show, Brookhouse is teaming up with the Woman’s Friend Society, another venerable Salem institution that runs Emmerton House, an affordable home for 20 working women and students, also located in a historic, red-brick mansion.

Despite their related missions, there’s another connection between the two institutions: Eleanor Soucy, 77, a board member and former president of Brookhouse. Soucy was a member of Woman’s Friend before becoming president of the Brookhouse Home in 2006. Her leadership helped form a partnership between the two organizations, as well as bring about major changes to the house.

“I have a lot of compassion for them,” Soucy said. “I didn’t really have patience for the elderly when I first started, but I realized they can be easily forgotten and not appreciated.”

When she stepped into her presidency, Soucy said, Brookhouse was in danger of closing its doors. She and a few other board members brought in women with specific skill sets — lawyers, event planners, etc. — to fill in empty board spots. Afterward, they went to work to try to figure out what was broken.

“I firmly believed that it (Brookhouse) needed women who were interested,” Soucy said.

The Women’s Friend Society does a lot of outreach now at the Brookhouse Home, including knitting and art projects with the women who live there. However, this is the first time that the two are hosting a fundraising fashion show together. The money that is raised will be used to enrich women’s lives at both homes, through trips, crafts and other activities.

Mimi Ballou, president of the Woman’s Friend Society, has helped organize two other fashion shows, but she said this one is different.

“It’s kind of an unusual thing,” Ballou said. “It’s hard working together with such different organizations. But we thought it would be a good idea to approach the community to raise funds, so they get two (organizations) for one.”

Much of what is needed to put on the show was made possible through community donations and clothing from boutiques such as Irresistibles, J Mode and Beautiful Things, as well as J. Gibley’s Tuxedos.

Soucy and Ballou say they have also raised money for the event through the sale of advertisements.

The show will feature volunteer models, as well as a cash bar and raffles with some appealing prizes — a weekend in Nantucket, four ferry tickets to Boston plus dinner for four at the Chart House in Boston and much more.

“Henry’s Market has given us a deal on hors d’oeuvres,” Soucy said. “We’ve gone to the community, and they’ve supported us.”

IF YOU GO What: "The Art of Dressing," fashion show and cocktail soiree When: Saturday, March 2, 6 p.m. Where: Nathaniel Silsbee House, 94 Washington Square East, Salem To benefit: Brookhouse Home for Women and Woman's Friend Society Tickets: $45, includes hors d'oeuvres, desserts and cash bar. Make checks payable to "The Art of Dressing," and mail to Eleanor Soucy, Brookhouse Home for Women, 180 Derby St., Salem, MA 01970. More information: Call Eleanor Soucy at 978-774-3707, or contact Mimi Ballou at 978-744-0100 or mballou005@comcast.net.