HARLEM — There was no sign announcing the new storefront headquarters of anti-violence group Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E.. Even its chairs had yet to be unpacked. But that didn't stop a woman looking for help from dropping in.
"She said someone told her to come here for help," said Jean Corbett-Covington, co-founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. (Stop Another Violent End).
Since starting the group to help grieving parents in 2006, Corbett-Covington and Jackie Rowe-Adams — who have each lost children to gun violence — have never had a formal place to call home.
"We were just going from place to place," said Rowe-Adams. "Harlem Hospital opened its doors to us, different churches. We met at any place that would host us."
Those days are over.
On Friday, the group moved into a temporary space on Frederick Douglass Boulevard between West 132nd and West 133rd streets as part of a deal that City Councilwoman Inez Dickens helped arrange with a developer, the Richman Group, which builds affordable housing in Harlem.
In two years, the group will move to a permanent space in a new development on St. Nicholas Avenue and West 128th Street. The 1,000 foot space will be rent free in perpetuity. Dickens said she worked with Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to secure the arrangement.
"This permanent home for Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. will strengthen their organizational and advocacy outreach efforts," said Dickens.
"Along with being a significant force against violence, Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. will be a safe haven and place for healing for mothers, fathers and loved ones who have had those they have cared for and love suddenly and brutally taken away from them."
Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. will be responsible for utilities, Rowe-Adams said. Both women have full-time jobs to support their families.
"Inez Dickens recognized that mothers and fathers need a place for bereavement and counseling," said Rowe-Adams. "We console each other, we talk not only about our children but what we can do to make a difference. You think your story is bad until you hear the next story."
Their stories are difficult enough.
Rowe-Adams lost her 17-year-old son in 1981 when two young men who thought he was staring them down shot him to death. A second son, 28, was shot to death in Baltimore in 1998 when a 13-year-old robbed him outside of his apartment.
Corbett-Covington's 26-year-old son was shot in the back of the head at point blank range in 2001 outside a nightclub at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and West 131st Street.
"Sometimes when I hear the stories, it brings it all back, but I try to stay strong," said Corbett-Covington. "Sometimes I can and sometimes I can't."
Corbett-Covington and Rowe-Adams met while working on a political campaign. They shared their pain and then decided to do something about it. Now they serve as a lighthouse for grieving parents. Up to 25 attend their regular meetings, and with the level of gun violence in Harlem, there are always new members.
"Every day and every night we hear about shootings," said Rowe-Adams.
The new space will allow them to serve as a resource as well as provide space for other groups.
"A lot of gun violence comes from addiction and mental illness. We don't specialize in that but we know who you can speak to to get help with those issues," said Corbett-Covington.
The group, which is also focused on preventing gun violence, plans to have providers at their space who can give grief and psychological counseling.
They also want to help mothers who suspect their children are carrying guns, and find out who is selling guns in the community. And they want to give parents the language to speak with their children about how gun violence has torn the fabric of the neighborhood.
"We'll be able to help people who have issues but are afraid to go to anyone else," said Rowe-Adams.
"I want us to have a presence in the community," added Corbett-Covington. "We have a vision."