Womanspace Communities of Light fundraiser brings multiple townships together

Terhune Orchards

It may be just a candle in a sand-filled bag, but to a victim of domestic violence, it can help to light the way out of a dim situation through Womanspace’s annual Communities of Light domestic violence awareness campaign.

Womanspace, which helps victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, sells luminary kits that contain candles, paper bags and sand. The kits, which cost $10 each, are available at many Mercer County businesses.

Communities of Light, which is Womanspace’s signature fundraising event, will culminate on Dec. 2 when households across Mercer County place candles in the sand-filled bags and put them out in front of their homes.

Meanwhile, dozens of Womanspace supporters gathered recently to kick off the 18th annual Communities of Light campaign and fundraiser. They recognized the Mercer County Police Chiefs Association and its members as the honorary chairs of this year’s campaign.

The police chiefs of the Lawrence, Hopewell, Princeton, Hightstown, East Windsor and West Windsor police departments were among those on hand for the kickoff event, held Oct. 22 at Terhune Orchards in Lawrence Township.

Womanspace Executive Director Patricia Hart said it was “only fitting” to honor the Mercer County Police Chiefs Association for working in partnership with the Lawrence Township-based nonprofit group to help the victims of domestic violence.

Hart pointed to the domestic violence victim response team, which is a cooperative effort between Womanspace, the Mercer County police departments and the volunteers who serve on the team.

Since the mid-1990s, police departments have been required to have a domestic violence victims response team, Hart said. The East Windsor Township Police Department was the first one in Mercer County to step up and organize a team of volunteers in 1998, she said.

Within a few years, every police department in Mercer County had a response team that was made up of community members, Hart said. The volunteers, who receive 40 hours of training in domestic violence and 40 hours of training in sexual assault, offer support and guidance to the victims.

“Between Womanspace and the police departments, we recruit, interview, screen and train the team members together. It has been a most incredible partnership,” Hart said.

When a victim calls the local police department for help, the dispatcher alerts the domestic victims violence response team, Hart said. While the police are investigating the incident, the volunteer will meet with the victim and serve as an advocate.

“These are just people who want to help out. It sends a very powerful message when community residents come out at 2 a.m. to help,” Hart said.

“The team member could stay with a victim for 20 minutes, or it could be for three hours. However long it lasts, a volunteer was there. This couldn’t happen without the partnership with the police departments,” she added.

That’s why Womanspace felt “it was the right thing to do” to honor the Mercer County Police Chiefs Association. The law enforcement professionals “made this possible,” she said.

Hart said that since 1998, Womanspace has helped nearly 11,000 victims of domestic violence. When children are added, nearly 14,000 victims have been helped. There have been more than 6,200 calls for help involving sexual assault, she said.

“Those numbers humbled me. These are people who have never heard of Womanspace. Truthfully, it’s our relationship with the police departments that made it possible. Now we work together,” she said.

Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney, who is the president of the police chiefs association, thanked Hart and Womanspace for naming the group and its members as honorary chairs of the Communities of Light.

Chief Maloney said he attended the training sessions and he commended the volunteers for their dedication.

“It is a passion these folks have,” Maloney said.

“This is just a great partnership. You couldn’t meet a better group of people (than the volunteers). They want to help people. I hope the victims feel a little bit better and a little bit safer,” he said.

The Communities of Light luminary kits, which contain a candle, sand and a paper bag, can be purchased for $10 at stores and businesses throughout Mercer County. The list of stores is available at www.womanspace.org.