Womanspace launches annual Communities of Light fundraising campaign

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Womanspace, which helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, launched its annual Communities of Light awareness campaign at a reception at D&R Greenway headquarters in Princeton.

Communities of Light, which is Womanspace’s flagship event, aims to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault, officials said. The campaign kicked off on Oct. 25 and peaks on Dec. 5, when supporters place luminaries — candles in paper bags, weighted with sand — in front of their homes at dusk in Mercer County.

Fixture kits are $10. The money from the kits is collected to support the efforts of the Lawrence Township-based organization and contains six candles, sand and bags in which to place the candles. They can be purchased at eight Mercer County businesses.

Michelle Bajwa, chair of Womanspace’s board of directors, said the nonprofit group exists to help prevent abuse, protect families and change lives through a safety net of support services.

“For those who suffer from domestic violence and sexual abuse, the isolation is profound. Around the world, COVID-19 lockdowns are imposing restrictions on physical and financial capabilities, heightening the risk of intimate partner violence” , said Bajwa.

Domestic violence has been recognized as an epidemic parallel to COVID-19, and police departments have reported an increase in calls for domestic violence, she said. The Lawrence Township Police Department reported an increase in domestic violence calls — from 227 calls in 2020 to 238 calls in 2021, an increase of 5%.

“At Womanspace, we have seen the impacts firsthand. Our phone support business slowed, but support requests poured in via social media and text messaging,” Bajwa said.

The control and power dynamics that fuel domestic violence mean victims have limited information and knowledge of services to help them, Bajwa said. It is “exacerbated” by their limited access to attend – and benefit from – these services, she said.

“That’s why, perhaps 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 from allies such as community organizations, businesses and institutions,” Bajwa said.

Among those allies is the Mercer County Education Association (MCEA), which has been named honorary chair of the Communities of Light kickoff, Bajwa said. MCEA represents an important partnership with local educators, who play a central role in Womanspace’s advocacy for survivors and in prevention through their guidance to children, she said.

“Everyone deserves healthy relationships. Partnerships with education organizations (such as MCEA) help build a kind of knowledge network that helps break the cycle of violence through prevention and intervention,” Bajwa said.

Patty Yaple, second vice president of the MCEA, said the union was honored to help raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault through the Communities of Light luminary program. The union also donated $2,500 to Womanspace.

Through its Outreach Committee, MCEA provided monthly dinners during the school year to Womanspace clients who live at the organization’s facilities, Yaple said. It’s a relief for clients who are working to get back on their feet, she said.

Customers can order whatever they want from the menu at a local family restaurant, Yaple said. A Womanspace employee delivers the food to the customer. This is the third year that the MCEA has offered dinners to patrons, she said.

Regarding Communities of Light’s fundraising and MCEA’s donation to Womanspace, Yaple said it would encourage other groups and individuals to “do whatever they can” to support Womanspace.

“In the twilight of December 5, after hundreds of lighting kits [having been] purchased by residents and business owners, we envision seeing the luminaries light up cities and neighborhoods in Mercer County,” Yaple said.

Fixture kits can be purchased at McCaffrey Supermarkets in Princeton and West Windsor Township; Dandelion Wishes in Hopewell Borough; and Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township.

Additionally, kits can be purchased from Keller Williams real estate agents in Robbinsville Township; Pennington’s Quality Markets in Pennington; the orchards of Terhune in the canton of Lawrence; and at the Womanspace administrative offices at 1530 Brunswick Avenue in the Township of Lawrence.

Kits can also be purchased online at https://womanspace.org/21st-annual-communities-light.

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