For more than 40 years, Women Aware has been a beacon of hope for women suffering from domestic abuse. The state-designated lead domestic violence agency for Middlesex County, Women Aware moves approximately 2,000 survivors beyond abuse each year, said Susan M. Dyckman, development director.
Where barriers between victims and services went up as a result of the pandemic, Women Aware broke them down, and will continue to do so, Women Aware Chief Executive Officer Phyllis Yonta said.
In response to the overwhelming need for emergency shelter in 2021, Women Aware established a hotel placement program, increasing the capacity of their 24-bed safe house. Between the safe house and hotel placement, capacity has increased by 159%.
“During the pandemic, stay-at-home orders created an exceptionally dangerous situation for victims of domestic violence forced to isolate in their homes with an abuser,” Yonta said. “Community support sustained our team even during the most difficult days, and I am deeply grateful.”
Founded in the 1970s, Women Aware started by providing shelter services. When it became incorporated in 1981, the nonprofit began offering additional services. Today, the organization offers shelter along with legal advocacy, counseling, community outreach, supportive housing, liaisons in child protective services, community education and a creative art therapy program for children.
Needy Cases Fund 2021:How to help your neighbors in need this holiday season
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Women Aware has continued to operate the only 24-hour domestic violence emergency shelter in the second largest county in the state, said Dyckman. Client Service staff from all programs, previously cross-trained, provided essential assistance to ensure uninterrupted service.
“Our trained, trauma-informed professional staff are experts when it comes to serving survivors, but it takes an entire community to save lives,” Dyckman said. “We are grateful to our agency partners, corporate partners, funders and individual supporters across Middlesex County who are committed to moving survivors and families beyond abuse.”
In 2020, Women Aware answered 6,394 hotline calls and served 185 women and children in shelter and in hotel placements. That is a total of 7,699 nights of refuge and 30,808 USDA-approved meals in the shelter, Dyckman said.
Further, Women Aware supported the safe relocation of 98% of their shelter clients and assisted 104 victims of crime in finding safe, affordable housing options, and more than 500 individuals through their housing navigation program.
Through their Legal Advocacy program, Women Aware served 825 clients and 51 children were enrolled in the organization’s trauma reduction therapy program Peace: A Learned Solution (PALS).
Recently, Women Aware was awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women. The “unprecedented” grant provides funding for the Middlesex County Family Justice Center, the first of its kind in the county and only the fifth in the state, Dyckman said.
The goal of the family justice center is to reduce domestic violence homicides, and increase the safety and confidentiality of domestic violence survivors and their children in collaboration with co-located victim services agencies. The FJC will help survivors and their families get the resources and support they need at one location. The FJC is open at 100 Bayard St., fourth floor.
“Moving survivors beyond abuse is a community effort,” Yonta said. “Women Aware is grateful for our County partners’ commitment to serving survivors better. Working collaboratively, in one space, under the umbrella of the family justice center, our purpose is to radically improve family safety as well as offender accountability.”
Once again, due to the pandemic, the annual holiday gift program will be comprised of gift cards only. By donating funds for gift cards, survivors are empowered to shop independently and purchase the gifts on their children’s wish lists. Thanks to the community, in 2020, Women Aware distributed nearly $14,000 in gift cards, serving 268 people — 95 families and 173 children.
“We are intent on making this the best holiday it can be for all of our clients,” said Dyckman.
For more information about Women Aware go to womenaware.net or call the free 24-hour hotline at 732-249-4504 or toll-free at 833-249-4504. If it is too dangerous for a victim to reach out directly, a trusted family member or friend can call the hotline. The statewide hotline also is available at 800-572-SAFE (7233). To donate to Women Aware directly and it’s gift card program, go online to womenaware.net/donate.
How to support the Needy Cases Fund
From Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, the Courier News, Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com are focusing on 11 organizations serving Central Jersey as part of the annual Needy Cases Fund.
The Needy Cases Fund is a Central Jersey holiday tradition, stretching back more than seven decades. The community service project has been sponsored by the Home News Tribune and its predecessor, the Daily Home News, working with the Lions Club of New Brunswick. In 2021, the Courier News will again join the Home News Tribune in sponsoring the charity.
Send donations (checks made out to the Needy Cases Fund or cash) to: Needy Cases Fund, Home News Tribune/Courier News, 92 E. Main St., Suite 202, Somerville, NJ 08876. Please do not make checks out to the Courier News Wish Book program this year. Please indicate with a note whether you want to be acknowledged in a wrap-up story about the program, or whether you wish to remain anonymous.
Donations will be gratefully accepted through the end of December.
For any questions, contact Carolyn Sampson at 908-243-6624 or [email protected].
Email: [email protected]