Mercer County was a little brighter for a few hours Dec. 6, as residents from East Windsor Township to Princeton, Lawrence Township and the Hopewell Valley lit candles to support Womanspace’s annual Communities of Light fundraiser.
The goal of Communities of Light, which is Womanspace’s signature fundraiser, is to raise public awareness of domestic violence and of the availability of counseling and related resources through the nonprofit group.
Each year since since 2001, Womanspace has asked residents to buy luminary kits – packages of six candles, six paper bags and sand to weigh them down – to support its Communities of Light project. Residents line their sidewalks and driveways with the luminary kits at dusk.
This year, 1,200 luminary kits – both real and virtual – were sold. The fundraiser generated more than $35,000 for Womanspace, which is based in Lawrence Township, said Lauren Nazarian, Womanspace’s director of development.
“Communities of Light shines a light on domestic violence in Mercer County. By raising awareness of domestic and sexual violence, we hope to get the message out that peace begins at home,” Nazarian said.
Womanspace’s resources include emergency housing in a confidential location for victims of domestic violence, as well as a Domestic Violence Victims Response Team, which meets with victims at municipal police departments on request. The team is staffed by trained volunteers.
Similar services are provided to victims of sexual assault through the Sexual Assault Support Services Advocates program, also staffed by trained volunteers. A volunteer may accompany a victim to the hospital, for example.
Womanspace offers counseling for victims on a family, group or individual basis. The nonprofit group also helps to guide victims through the restraining order process – which keeps abusers away from victims – in Mercer County Family Court.
Womanspace has its roots in the Mercer County Commission on Women, which was created in 1976. The issue of domestic violence quickly came to the forefront during the initial public meetings.
As a result of those meetings, a proposal was developed to provide services to women in crisis. The effort was spearheaded by the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who was serving on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, now known as the Mercer County Board of Commissioners.
Sigmund later became the mayor of the former Princeton Borough.
Sigmund, who is considered to be the founder of Womanspace, signed the original certificate of incorporation for the group in 1977, along with co-signers Debora Metzger, Mary Ann Cannon, Ellen Belknap and Valorie Caffee.
Since its founding, Womanspace has helped more than 89,000 women, 15,000 children and 6,500 men. That number includes more than 10,000 women, men and children who were victims of domestic and sexual violence and who sought help within the last year.
The Womanspace hotline received more than 9,000 calls from people in crisis in the last year. Womanspace also provided emergency shelter for 151 clients at its “safe house” in the last year.