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Women Aware


Women Aware Timeline

Our Vision Statement

Women Aware envisions a society where individuals can live free from violence and injustice.

Our mission is to promote the safety and self-sufficiency of individuals and families affected by domestic violence in Middlesex County, New Jersey.


1976 Women Aware started out as a project of the counseling agency, Women Helping Women, Inc. While concerned for all women and the variety of problems facing them, a special interest arose among a small group from the Board of Directors of Women Helping Women for victims of Domestic Violence. This group of women separated themselves out to research the issue and to develop programming which included a hotline. They quickly saw the need for support and counseling was only the beginning and that there was a desperate need for a shelter. As Abused Women’s Services, they entered into a search for funding and housing.

1978 Women Aware (formerly known as) Abused Women’s Services, part of Women Helping Women, opened the first shelter.

1979 Funded by the United Way, Abused Women’s Services became a separate, incorporated entity with a Board of Directors of its own.

The first Executive Director was Diane Palladino. A 24/7 Hotline was available for crisis counseling and referrals for victims of domestic violence.

1981 In March, the staff of Abused Women’s Services submitted a new name to their board members and Women Aware, Inc. was established.

In August, the down payment for a larger shelter in a house was made with generous assistance from the Division of Women and monies from Community Development Funds.

In October, “Day of Unity” was observed by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. The Day of Unity soon became an entire week devoted to a range of activities conducted at the local, state, and national levels.

1982 In January, a new shelter for abused women, opened by Women Aware, replaced the original shelter in Middlesex County. With 10 to 12 beds, it housed six to eight families and was dedicated its first director, Felicia Cohen.

Jackie Marich was hired as the Executive Director of Women Aware.

The Domestic Violence Protection Act of 1982 established to protect victims of domestic violence. Women were now able to obtain orders of protection from their abuser.

1984 The Outreach Program was started with a grant from United Way. A small room was rented at the YWCA, Livingston & New Sts., New Brunswick, where a support group was run, along with drop-in counseling.

1987 The Legal Advocacy program was implemented. The program assisted and counseled women in the shelter with filing complaints, obtaining restraining orders and court preparation.

In October, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed.

1989 The United Way of Central NJ presented Women Aware with a SILVER AWARD for outstanding support of the community.

1992 Legal Clinics started with attorneys donating their time and expertise to victims of domestic violence.

1993 The 40hr Domestic Violence Training Program for Domestic Violence Response Teams (DVRT) was developed.

The first Soup Kitchen fundraiser, A Taste of Kindness, was held on March 2 at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick.

1996 In January, the current Safehouse, with 21 beds was opened with funding from DYFS.

The United Way of Central Jersey presented Women Aware with a SILVER AWARD for outstanding support in the community.

The United Way of Central Jersey and the Middlesex County Human Services Advisory Council presented Women Aware with a certificate of completion of the Comprehensive Evaluation using the Human Services Performance Standards as developed by the State of NJ Dept of Human Services.

1997 Manavi (New Jersey-based women’s rights organization that works to end all forms of violence against South Asian women living in the U.S.) established their Transitional Housing in Women Aware’s former shelter. Manavi occupied the space until 2002.

Middlesex County Addictions Association presented Women Aware with an AGENCY SERVICE AWARD for outstanding support to families affected by addiction.

1998 The United Way of Central Jersey presented Women Aware with a GOLD AWARD for outstanding support of the community.

1999 The United Way of Central Jersey presented Women Aware with a SILVER AWARD for the generous contributions and support exhibited by the employees to the community.

2000 The United Way of Central Jersey presented Women Aware with a GOLD AWARD for the contributions and support to the community.

2002 PALS (Peace: A Learned Solution) Program started. The program offers counseling and supportive services to families that have been victimized by domestic violence.

The first March/Rally sponsored by the New Brunswick Domestic Violence Awareness Coalition, in which Women Aware is a member was held in New Brunswick. The Coalition was formed to decrease the incidence of domestic violence, give support to victims, and increase awareness in the Latina Community in New Brunswick.

2003 “An Amazing A Cappella Amalgamation” fundraiser was held at South Brunswick High School. The concert consisted of 5 different A Cappella groups that performed to benefit Women Aware.

2004 Executive Director, Jackie Marich, began to serve as a member of the NJ Advisory Council on Domestic Violence and the NJ Coalition of Battered Women, providing advocacy for Women Aware at the state level.

Women Aware participated in its first “Communities of Light.” Middlesex County joined Mercer, Somerset and Hunterdon Counties in the awareness and fundraising project.

2007 Jackie Marich retired as Executive Director of Women Aware after 25 years of service.

Phyllis Yonta was named the new Executive Director. As a board member on the NJ Coalition for Battered Women, she provided Women Aware with continued advocacy at the state level.

Phyllis Yonta received a Special Recognition Award for her Outstanding Contribution in the Prevention of Domestic Violence by the NJ Coalition for Battered Women.

Women Aware received the Governor’s Grant for a Bilingual Spanish-Speaking Legal Advocate position.

2008 Women Aware held their first production of The Vagina Monologues. The production included Women Aware staff, Board Members and volunteers. The Vagina Monologues, fundraiser helped to raise awareness about the violence against women and girls within our communities.

Women Aware received $92,000 from the Division of Women to completely renovate the Safe House.

2009 Women Aware, The Puerto Rican Action Board and the New Brunswick Domestic Violence Awareness Coalition kicked off the Orquidea Campaign at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. The campaign provides awareness of domestic violence to the Latino community while honoring the memory of Orquidea, who was living and working in the New Brunswick area when she was killed by her husband in 2001.

The Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB) in conjunction with Women Aware has announced the start of the “Esperanza Domestic Violence Project” which offers legal information, referrals and support to undocumented victims of domestic violence.

Women Aware joins with Rutgers University and Puerto Rican Action Board in a collaborative research project to evaluate the Esperanza project.

In August, Ann Shamy, Robert Wood Johnson Chaplain and Women Aware Board Member began the Clergy Program, providing spiritual support to the Safehouse residents and Women Aware staff members.

The Old Bridge Domestic Violence Response Team adopted five rooms in the Safehouse.

Women Aware received a client assistance grant from The Mary Kay Foundation.

Women Aware receives a perfect score from the Board of Chosen Freeholders during our annual site visit.

The Visiting Nurses Program at the safe house expanded to include educational sessions and vaccinations.

Women Aware, Inc. proudly announces its 30th Anniversary Celebration, “Moving Beyond Abuse” with noted writer, lecturer, editor & feminist activist, Gloria Steinem on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 from 6:30pm – 9:30pm at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple 222 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

2010 Safe House expands to 24 beds and installs central air conditioning

2011 Women Aware creates a Domestic Violence Liaison program in collaboration with the Department of Children and Families, Division of Youth and Family Services (now Division of Child Protection & Permanency) in Middlesex County. DVLs support clients through the processing of domestic violence cases, connecting them to WA and other supportive services. DVLs also conduct trainings with DCP&P staff to help them identify domestic violence and work with victims and abusers.

Women Aware unveils new logo and tagline, “Moving Beyond Abuse” to build a compelling and trusted association between our name, logo and the essential services WA provides.

2013 Women Aware establishes the first Permanent Supportive Housing in New Jersey to provide families exiting the emergency shelter with permanent housing to call their own. PSH’s goal is to help families move toward financial stability and responsibility on their journey beyond abuse.

Women Aware partners with the Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) to establish a Batterers Intervention Program that provides group counseling for perpetrators of domestic abuse in the company of other men who have demonstrated violence in their relationships. Groups were conducted in English and Spanish.

Women Aware connects with 1,643 students through “Teen Aware” in-school trainings at local high schools to being conversations about dating violence.

2014 Domestic Violence Liaisons developed and conducted a series of trainings on the interaction between mental health and domestic violence. They trained over 300 Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) caseworkers and supervisors.

2015 Women Aware marks 35 years of service to Middlesex County with an event at the Zimmerli Museum, featuring interactive stations that gave attendees a window into what it means to move beyond abuse. Women Aware honored Giorgina Cimino Nigro, a resident of Woodbridge, NJ, and mother of three, whose life was ended by her ex-husband. Her family honored Giorgina by dedicating her wake to domestic violence awareness.

Bachelor and Master of Social Work candidates provide a total of 2,749 hours of client services in WA’s Safe House, Creative Arts Therapy and Legal Advocacy programs as interns.

2016 Women Aware staff receives over 200 hours of specialized training to better serve transgender victims, immigrant victims and victims with service animals.

Legal Advocates secure 820 legal protections for victims in court, including custody of a victim’s 3-week old baby.

2017 Women Aware provides over 9,000 nights of refuge in our confidential Safe House to women and children fleeing violence

New Middlesex Chapter of BW NICE (professional women’s philanthropic organization) names Women Aware as charity partner.

For the first time, Women Aware secures over $2 million from foundation and government grants.

2018 Women Aware hosts first 5K fundraiser, Racing Beyond Abuse: Women Aware 5K and Fun Run, netting $13,000. Women Aware

secures funding for a full-time Child Advocate.

Community outreach and training reaches nearly 2,000 people, including the Administrative Office of the Courts and Department of Children and Families staff.

Toll-free hotline number, 833-249-4504, is put in place and publicized through grant-funded billboard and bus advertising.

2019 Women Aware’s Legal Advocacy Department co-locates within the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Advocacy Unit in downtown New Brunswick.

Women Aware contracts with The Alliance for HOPE International to begin to lay the foundation for a Middlesex County Family Justice Center, a first for Middlesex County and the 5th in the state. The FJC, endorsed by the U.S. Department of Justice, is a cross-sector collaboration with the goal of establishing a one-stop shop where victim-survivors of domestic violence can access justice, services, and healing under one roof.

2020 February-Women Aware hosts a Community Forum to bring together community members and service providers for an in-depth discussion of the FJC model, with The Alliance for HOPE International, to ascertain how partners can best collaborate to make the FJC a reality.

Women Aware’s 24-hour hotline and emergency shelter remain open, providing uninterrupted service through the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Women Aware is the first agency in NJ to facilitate clients’ Zoom restraining order hearings by providing safe space, technology, advocate support and childcare.

Women Aware celebrates 40th Anniversary with first-ever Virtual Candlelight Vigil on October 21, featuring keynote addresses from shelter founders Diane Palladino and Ellen Koteen, raising $25,000; and drawing 130 attendees on Zoom.

Thanks to a grant secured by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office from Middlesex County, Women Aware’s space adjacent to the Victim Advocacy Unit expands in December 2020 to include Legal Advocacy, Domestic Violence Response Team and Housing Navigation programs, while providing space for community partners to provide on-site services.

The Housing Navigation program launches in direct response to the housing crisis created by COVID-19 to provide safe and affordable housing options, rent and relocation assistance and address confidentiality to victims of crime.

2021 NCVRW CAP grant funds virtual bilingual panels on Rights & Resources for Victims of Crime in Middlesex County. Participants included Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Central Jersey Legal Services, Monroe Township PD, Perth Amboy PD and Women Aware.

Women Aware hosts Strategic Planning for the family justice center led by Casey Gwinn, Gael Strack and Raeanne Passantino of the Alliance for HOPE International. The May event was first in-person event since March 2020. Held at Hyatt New Brunswick. Attended by over 50 representatives from 15 community partners. NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal recorded opening remarks.

Theresa’s Fund and awards Women Aware Purple Ribbon Awards for Outstanding Fundraising Event (2020 40th Anniversary Virtual Candlelight Vigil) and Outstanding Community Presentation (National Crime Victims’ Rights Week bilingual panels on Rights & Resources for Victims of Crime in Middlesex County).

Women Aware names Mildred Torres Director of the Family Justice Center.

Women Aware secures $1 million grant from U.S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women (OVW).

Housing Navigation program helps 528 families and assists adult clients in obtaining $330 thousand in rent and relocation assistance.

Board President Diane Palmer receives 2021 New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award for Lifetime Service

Women Aware serves more survivors in a single year than in any one year since it was founded.

2022 Women Aware breaks all records for levels of service: 2,638 clients served, including 193 children; 278 women and children sheltered for 17,938 bednights in the safe house and hotel placement; 8,763 hotline calls answered; and 1,672 clients served by legal advocates

Chief Executive Officer Phyllis Yonta celebrates 15 years of leadership and service to Women Aware

Women Aware expands staff at the Middlesex County Family Justice Center (FJC) to include a Director of Legal Resources and Intake Specialist, utilizing funding from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women (OVW)

Women Aware expands partnerships at the Middlesex County FJC to include Dress for Success Central New Jersey, REPLENISH (Middlesex County Food Bank), and Middlesex County Family Court

Women Aware offers 40-hour Domestic Violence Training for 30 participants: potential Domestic Violence Response Team volunteers, Middlesex County FJC partners, and Women Aware staff

Women Aware hosts the Moving Beyond Abuse 5K & Charity Walk fundraiser at Johnson Park, raising $20,000 to support free and confidential services for survivors

2023 Women Aware continues to achieve remarkable levels of service: 2,993 clients served, including 206 children; 258 women and children sheltered for 18,116 bednights in the safe house and hotel placement program; 9,015 hotline calls answered; and 1,656 clients served by legal advocates

Women Aware responds to increasing incidents of strangulation and sexual assault among victim-survivors by developing a high-risk team composed of senior staff to review cases, and provide additional support and follow-up to victims; facilitating all Client Services team members’ becoming certified in the Jacquelyn Campbell Danger Assessment; and providing Jacquelyn Campbell Danger Assessment to Middlesex County Family Justice Center (FJC) partners

Women Aware completes branding and website launch for the Middlesex County FJC,, utilizing funding from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women (OVW)

Women Aware’s Domestic Violence Response Team volunteers receive the 2023 Emergency Services/First Responders New Jersey State Governor’s Volunteerism Award

Women Aware increases revenue from the Moving Beyond Abuse 5K & Charity Walk by 57% to more than $32,000 to support free and confidential services for survivors and their children. Registration soared to 234 participants and individual donations jumped 51%

Women Aware and Middlesex County FJC partners (Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Middlesex County Center for Empowerment, and Central Jersey Legal Services) create a series of law videos titled “Victims’ Rights: Understanding and Accessing the Protections Afforded by Law.” This project is co-sponsored by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and made possible through funding from the IOLTA Fund of the Bar of New Jersey. Recorded in English, Spanish, and Urdu, the brief videos are available on Women Aware’s YouTube channel. They address the topics of Restraining Orders, Immigration, Child Custody, Sexual Assault, and Victims’ Rights/Victim Advocacy

Middlesex County FJC Director Mildred Torres receives the 2023 Being Brave Outstanding Advocate Award from Town Clock Community Development Corporation