The homeless women of Walla Walla were in need of a safe haven. With the assistance of two Whitman graduates, they’re getting it.  

Through Helpline, a local organization that provides emergency social services, Mariah Weston ’06 worked to develop a program called STEP (Step to Emerging Possibilities).  This June, Tricia Chow ’09 also joined the STEP team as a case manager.

Opened in June 2009, STEP serves a need in a once overlooked sector of the Walla Walla community – single homeless women. It provides foremost a safe place to sleep. “Our second goal is to identify the obstacles these women face in obtaining and maintaining permanent housing, and we work with them on ways to overcome these obstacles,” says Weston.

Weston began volunteering at Helpline in 2007 and informed Chow, whom she worked with at Prentiss Hall at the time, of an opening as a volunteer caseworker.  Ultimately their volunteerism led to permanent jobs.  Weston now works as the housing coordinator for Helpline and Chow as a case manager at STEP. 

Their success does not come without influence from their alma mater.  “Whitman's focus on critical thinking skills has been invaluable. The ability to analyze a need, research its solutions, conduct myself professionally in meetings, speeches, and writing, and ensure follow-through, are all things I learned at Whitman,” says Weston, who majored in religion.

Chow, a social psychology major, says, “I feel very fortunate to work in an area where I can directly utilize the knowledge that I gained at Whitman in addition to meeting my desire to help people who are in difficult circumstances and expressing my compassion for those in need.” 

Weston and Helpline Executive Director Dan Willms first saw the community’s need for a single women’s shelter, particularly one not centered on domestic violence, and began planning for STEP in April 2008.  Now that the shelter is opened, it can accommodate up to nine women a night.

For more information about Helpline visit or call (509) 529-3377.


Ashley Coetzee