It all started with a Chick-fil-A sandwich. That’s Shante Saulsberry’s go-to for a quick breakfast. It’s also where she met a homeless woman named Janice, who she befriended, and where the story of Janice’s Women’s Center begins.
Saulsberry moved to Arizona in 2019 with her wife, Sheri. They had met and fallen in love in Florida in 2017 and two years later were married. Shortly after their nuptials, they decided to move to Arizona. But before they made their cross-country trek, they found out Saulsberry had numerous blood clots in her lungs and legs. After a long period of healing, the couple finally made their move out west.
“I always tell people that when I moved here, it was the start of a new chapter for me,” Saulsberry said.
That new chapter seemed to start when Saulsberry had a chance encounter with Janice outside of Chick-fil-A near the end of 2020.
“I thought, you know what, let me get two bags today. I asked if the attendant would give her the sandwich and give her water for me,” she said. “I introduced myself, and she asked where she could find me if she needed me. I told her I would find her.”
Saulsberry grew up in foster care as a child, so the meeting with Janice hit home.
“I always tell people that I lost my mother to society,” she said. “When I couldn’t find Janice, I asked my mom, ‘what did you used to do,’ you know, because she’s been through it.”
A month later, she saw Janice outside the restaurant once more. The two would meet and chat occasionally, and one day, Janice asked Saulsberry if she could help her find a shelter. It was then that the idea of a women’s shelter formed in Saulsberry’s mind.
She reached out to various organizations, even handwriting letters asking for assistance, and six months later, she finally heard back from a Valley shelter that wanted to help.
“We spoke on a virtual meeting, and the woman told me ‘Shante, you have a gift,’ and I want to help you,” Saulsberry said.
Unfortunately, Janice wasn’t comfortable with the co-ed housing – but Saulsberry wasn’t about to give up there. She researched another shelter, but again, had trouble reaching anyone.
“What I learned is that our system is broken,” she said. “Sheri told me, ‘I don’t think you can help her,’ and I didn’t like that answer, so I said, ‘That doesn’t sit right with me. I’m going to open my own shelter.’”
Saulsberry learned all she could about nonprofits in Arizona. She talked to a real estate developer, decided what the physical building that will house the center will look like, and applied for nonprofit status in December 2020.
“Then I had to come up with a name. I said, ‘what am I doing? I know the name. It’s Janice,’” Saulsberry said.
What came next was getting the funds for the shelter. Saulsberry reached out to everyone she could think of, and one person she connected with was Sam Stone, chief of staff for District 6 Councilman Sal DiCiccio.
The pair had a meeting, and Saulsberry learned the ins and outs of gaining community support, obtaining volunteers and having fundraisers. Armed with this knowledge, the Saulsberrys set a goal of $8 million to purchase land, licenses and construct their center.
One of the ways they’re raising money is through the recently opened Janice Vaincre Boutique – a clothing store whose sales will help fund the construction of the shelter. The boutique opened in June in Ahwatukee and is volunteer-run, with all of the clothing donated.
“Janice’s is going to be an empire. I’m going to make it that way because I believe I’m supposed to,” Saulsberry said.
She and Sheri will continue fundraising – with a casino night event planned in October – and are hoping that the center will break ground in early 2022.
The Janice Vaincre Boutique welcomes gently-used or new women’s clothing items, shoes and purses, and monetary donations. Learn more at janiceswomenscenter.com.