Sohaila Abdulali was 21 years old and had just graduated from college when she saw an ad in the Boston Phoenix: “rape crisis center looking for coordinator.” She had written her thesis on the subject of rape, but had no idea where to go for a job.
This would be Sohaila’s first job, so she didn’t know enough to be scared of an interview with 35 people. BARCC was a collective at the time, and everything had to be done by consensus: that meant all 35 people in her interview had to agree to hire her.
“They seemed perfectly nice, and we chatted and they said, ‘you got the job,’” she said. She was BARCC’s first full-time employee, hired in 1984 (there was a part-time employee there at the time).
Sohaila’s first task was to raise her own salary by applying for grants. She was the youngest at BARCC, and all the women were essentially her bosses. Sohaila recalls going to work in the Cambridge Women’s Center, a big blue house in Central Square.
“Only women were allowed, and it was filled with the biggest characters,” she said. “It was this revelation, because all of it was totally new to me. There was always something very interesting going on.”
Sohaila said all the women who worked at BARCC were very supportive. They all worked full-time jobs, but someone would always bring in food for the other volunteers and the few employees who worked there.
There were a couple cats that hung around the Cambridge Women’s Center at the time, including a nasty black cat, who was named Tituba the Counseling Cat, Sohaila said. Tituba, despite refusing to let anyone else near her, took on the job of comforting the clients that came in for counseling.
“If someone was distressed and crying, she used to always show up,” Sohaila said of Tituba. “She would show up and sit next to them. She wouldn’t let anyone else near her.”
Sohaila’s job description developed over time. She came to manage the hotline, fill out paperwork, count the minutes that the hotline was utilized, and went on speaking engagements. Sohaila also testified at the Massachusetts State House in favor of legislation that supported survivors, and did several media appearances.
“I felt accepted from the very first moment. They just had complete faith in me.”
Hiring a full-time employee was a big deal for the volunteer-powered organization and was a stepping stone for BARCC’s growth. Forty-five years later, BARCC is a nonprofit with more than 40 staff members. One thing has stayed the same: BARCC’s dedicated volunteers outnumber the staff, now 200 to 40.