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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Last in a Long Line

Holiday House
The cost of maintaining Holiday House keeps increasing, so the Girls’ Friendly Society, which operates the facility, is seeking to raise $50,000 with a GoFundMe campaign.

By Karen Knight

Holiday House, once a haven for working women, seeks to adapt to new challenges

CAPE MAY – Surrounded by multimillion-dollar homes and summer rentals starting at $5,000 a week, the Holiday House on Hughes Street is struggling to keep up in modern times.

Owned by the Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) USA in the (Episcopal) Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Holiday House is the last of more than 30 such GFS houses and lodges, which existed in the early 1900s as housing for women who worked in factories.

Maintenance of the historic Holiday House is taking its toll, and the owners, the Girls’ Friendly Society in the (Episcopal) Diocese of Pennsylvania, is attempting to raise $50,000 to help offset costs. Photo Credit: Holiday House

The Holiday House has been operating as a Christian-based, mostly volunteer-run home that has provided “very modest” communal living for families and Christian-affiliated groups that wanted to spend time at the shore, Holiday House Chairperson Colleen Anderson said.

This summer, part of the house will be used to house international J-1 visa students who come to the area for work. “We’re trying something different,” Anderson said. “We are providing affordable housing for 14 women who will be working in the area. The Holiday House is returning to its original mission, although the women are not working in factories like they did originally.”

Nikkol Simms, Holiday House vice president, said, “As we figure out ways to continue to exist in these modern times, with upgrades and repair needs, we realize we need to reach out to those beyond our group. Our numbers have dwindled, and our leaders and sponsors are aging in Pennsylvania.”

The society’s Facebook page lists the cost of one night at $125 based on single occupancy, which includes two meals. If no meals are included, the rate is $90 a night for a single. This compares with nearby rentals that are much higher. Holiday House has a maximum occupancy of 42, and while you don’t need to be a member of GFS to stay there, you must be referred by a member or church. Men and boys are allowed to stay at Holiday House, but Anderson noted that they have two weeks restricted for just the girls in the GFS program.

“At one time, each state had a holiday house, originally for GFS members who worked at the factories,” she said. “We offered worship, study, fellowship and recreation. This is the last house left, but it’s hard to run it by a mostly volunteer effort. We’re a nonprofit organization, so our rates are very low.

“It’s been tough since Covid. We used to have several choir groups stay during the summer prior to Covid; we lost them after Covid.

Women from all walks of life visit the Holiday House in Cape May. Originally, the houses provided safe quarters for female members who worked in factories. Photo Credit: Holiday House

“Maintaining the building and taking care of it is expensive. A column on the front porch had to be replaced; that was $10,000. We had to replace the sprinkler air compressor and industrial dishwasher; that was another $10,000. We subsidize some lower-income women as well, and they will volunteer for us for a period of time for free room and board.”

To help with the costs of running the house, the GFS is sponsoring a GoFundMe campaign with hopes of raising $50,000. At press time, less than $200 had been raised.

“We host people from so many different walks of life” Anderson said. “It’s women supporting other women across multi generations.” She said that in the past, some women have learned skills at the house that transferred into jobs for them as well.

She herself remembers coming as a toddler with her mother and aunt, who were members of GFS. “I was born into it,” the 50-year-old said. “I remember doing games, crafts and having fun as a kid. As an adult, I’ve stayed active and met many interesting women.”

The girls in the yellow swim caps that can be seen at Cape May’s beaches represent the Holiday House. Photo Credit: Holiday House

Offering sea breezes, porches with rocking chairs, pleasant rooms, two daily meals and a warm and friendly atmosphere, Holiday House is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day with single, double and triple occupancy rooms for individuals, families and affiliated organizations.

Anderson said there is a communal dining room that seats 60 for family-style meals, a communal living room, parlor, fully equipped kitchen and a cozy chapel. There is no heat or air conditioning, however.

GFS is open to females of all ages, she added, with ages 5-13 called “juniors,” ages 14-17 called “seniors” and ages 18-35 referred to as “ambassadors.” Those older than 35 typically are “sponsors” who run the activities and are elected or appointed to various group positions.

Contact the reporter, Karen Knight, at kknight@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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