Womanspace, which helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, launched its annual Communities of Light awareness campaign at a reception at the D&R Greenway headquarters in Princeton.
Communities of Light, which is Womanspace’s signature event, seeks to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault, officials said. The campaign launched on Oct. 25 and culminates Dec. 5, when supporters place luminaria – candles in paper bags, weighted down by sand – in front of their homes at dusk across Mercer County.
The luminary kits cost $10. The money from the kits is raised to support the Lawrence Township-based organization’s efforts and contain six candles, sand and bags in which to place the candles. They may be purchased at eight Mercer County businesses.
Michelle Bajwa, the president of Womanspace’s board of directors, said the nonprofit group exists to help prevent abuse, to protect families and to change lives through a safety net of supportive services.
“For those suffering from domestic violence and sexual abuse, the isolation is profound. All around the world, COVID-19 lockdowns put restrictions on physical and financial abilities, intensifying the risk of intimate partner violence,” Bajwa said.
Domestic violence has been recognized as a shadow epidemic to COVID-19, and police departments have reported an increase in domestic violence calls, she said. The Lawrence Township Police Department reported an increase of domestic violence calls – from 227 calls in 2020 to 238 calls in 2021, or a 5% increase.
“At Womanspace, we observed the impacts firsthand. Our hotline activity slowed, but requests for support poured in through social media and text messaging,” Bajwa said.
The control and power dynamics that feed domestic violence means victims have limited information and awareness of the services to help them, Bajwa said. It is “exacerbated” by their limited access to attend – and to benefit – from those services, she said.
“That is why, perhaps now more than ever, an event like Communities of Light is so important. It raises awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual abuse in many ways by demonstrating support through allies such as community organizations, businesses and institutions,” Bajwa said.
Among those allies is the Mercer County Education Association (MCEA), which was named as the honorary chair of the Communities of Light kickoff, Bajwa said. The MCEA represents an important partnership with local educators, who are pivotal in Womanspace’s advocacy for survivors and in prevention through their guidance of children, she said.
“Everyone deserves healthy relationships. Partnerships with organizations in the education space (such as the MCEA) help to build a kind of knowledge network that helps to break the cycle of violence through prevention and intervention,” Bajwa said.
Patty Yaple, the second vice president of the MCEA, said the union is honored to help raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault through the Communities of Light luminary program. The union also donated $2,500 to Womanspace.
Through its outreach committee, the MCEA has been providing monthly dinners during the school year to Womanspace clients who are living in the organization’s facilities, Yaple said. It takes the stress off the clients who are working to get back on their feet, she said.
The clients can order anything they want from the menu of a local, family-owned restaurant, Yaple said. A Womanspace employee delivers the food to the client. This is the third year that the MCEA has provided dinners to clients, she said.
Turning to the Communities of Light fundraiser and the MCEA’s own donation to Womanspace, Yaple said she would encourage other groups and individuals to “donate whatever they can” to support Womanspace.
“At dusk on Dec. 5, after hundreds of luminary kits [having been] purchased by residents and business owners, we envision seeing the luminaries lighting up towns and neighborhoods throughout Mercer County,” Yaple said.
The luminary kits may be purchased at McCaffrey’s supermarkets in Princeton and West Windsor Township; Dandelion Wishes in Hopewell Borough; and Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township.
Also, the kits may be purchased at Keller Williams realtors in Robbinsville Township; Pennington Quality Markets in Pennington; Terhune Orchards in Lawrence Township; and at Womanspace’s administrative offices at 1530 Brunswick Ave. in Lawrence Township.
The kits may also be purchased online at https://womanspace.org/21st-annual-communities-light.