Community Catalyst and Visionary
The Women’s Resource Center became a reality in 1973 thanks to the insight and leadership of founder Estelle Leven. Most of her life she has worked to enable people to make a difference, especially women, whom Estelle has perceived as an underdeveloped resource. She visualized a place where women who were going through a time of crisis could learn to take control of their lives. Estelle, herself was going through such a time. She describes it “I was a struggling woman trying to become a whole person and still be a good wife and mother.” The idea for the center continued to gnaw. Then in her position as the Michigan State University coordinator in Grand Rapids for Community Relations, she was enjoined to do something for women. She organized a conference for women expecting 50 participants; 450 came. And the rest is history.
Estelle has the ability to translate community need into a viable solution. Wherever she is, things happen. While a member of the League of Women Voters, when worked diligently for the new Michigan constitution. While on the Child Guidance Clinic Board, she supported the building of a new center and helped raise money for it. She helped restructure the Baxter Community Center board so it could manage its own funds. Combining her positions as a member of the Art Museum Women’s Committee and as MSU’s Coordinator of Community Relations, Estelle facilitated the implementation of the Art Mobile using student interns to staff this innovative summer outreach program for children.
When both her girls had started school and she was working on her Master’s degree, Estelle was offered a full time position teaching at Grand Rapids Junior College, a job which turned into the first shared time post in the area with another teacher who also wanted to work only part time. It was a smashing success. Subsequently, she was offered a position with Michigan State University. This led to the founding of the Women’s Resource Center. In 1975, long before glasnost, Estelle had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union on a Ford Foundation program. She was one of 800 educators from around the country chosen to study the Soviet educational system. As a result of this experience and conscious that the world was getting smaller and technology greater, she founded a chapter of the World Future Society in West Michigan. In 1991 she was selected as a Community ambassador to Omihachiman, Japan, sister city of Grand Rapids. She lived in a Japanese home and she studied cultural patterns one on one.
Estelle has received numerous honors for her ideas, her work, her leadership. However she is continually looking for new challenges, driven by her philosophy that only by fulfilling your obligations to others can you grow. She quotes Hillel, an important Jewish philosopher. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if, I am for myself only, what am I? If not now, when?”