When Midge Wilson was a divinity student at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in the mid-1970s, she bought a silk-screen painting with a compelling message: "Risk going out on a limb. That's where the fruit is.""I kept asking myself, 'What is the limb for me? Ms. Wilson recalls. "For some of my friends, it was the Peace Corps. I was more interested in doing something to help people in this country." That desire led her eventually to the Bay Area Women's Resource Center, where she is now executive director. Located in the heart of the culturally diverse Tenderloin neighborhood, the nonprofit agency helps more than 1,000 low-income women and children a month. Wilson and associate director Jacky Spencer-Davies, a former nurse, typify a largely invisible network of workers striving to improve the lives of poor families across the country. Day after long day, they offer not only a listening ear but practical help, including free clothing, food, and referral services. "We're a stabilizing factor for women and families in this community," explains Wilson. "Sometimes it takes more than one attempt for people to make major changes in their lives. If women come in and tell us they've gone back into drugs or back on the streets or whatever, they know the next time they come here we'll welcome them just the way we did the first time. We're not going to give up on them, even though we might wish they had made different choices." The center's latest project involves helping recently homeless women to become entrepreneurs (See story at right). Earlier, the staff joined forces with another agency and spent seven years lobbying the city for a neighborhood playground. They succeeded, and construction is now under way.

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