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Needy Cases 2022: Women Aware coordinates efforts to combat domestic violence

Cheryl Makin


Closing doors is never an option for Women Aware.

Throughout the pandemic, the nearly 50-year-old nonprofit organization remained open − and saw its numbers rise to record amounts.

“Survivors of domestic violence count on us to be here,” said Phyllis Yonta, Women Aware’s CEO. “Women Aware’s greatest challenge continues to be answering survivors’ needs for shelter, safety planning and comprehensive services in the wake of the COVID-19 public health crisis. It is a testament to our dedicated professional staff that our 24/7 hotline and emergency shelter remained open through the pandemic.”

Women Aware has been a guiding light for those suffering from domestic abuse. The state-designated lead domestic violence agency for Middlesex County, Women Aware moves approximately 2,000 survivors beyond abuse each year, said Susan M. Dyckman, development director.

Despite the challenges, Women Aware has continued to operate the only 24-hour domestic violence emergency shelter in the second most populous county in the state.

“Our trained, trauma-informed professional staff are experts when it comes to serving survivors, but it takes an entire community to save lives,” Dyckman said.

Founded in the 1970s, Women Aware started by providing shelter services to women seeking safety from domestic violence. When the organization became incorporated in 1981, the nonprofit began offering additional services. Today, the organization offers shelter along with legal advocacy, counseling, community outreach, supportive housing, liaisons in child protective services, community education and a creative art therapy program for children.

In 2021, the organization served 2,195 survivors of domestic violence, including 176 children. Women Aware sheltered 250 women and children, which was 35% more than in 2020 – the most in the history of the agency. The organization provided 11,440 bed nights − 49% more than in 2020 − and answered 7,278 hotline calls, a 14% rise from 2020.

Last year, Women Aware expanded shelter capacity through a hotel placement program to accommodate victims’ need for emergency shelter, spoke with callers in 10 different languages, provided legal advocacy for 1,137 clients − up 38% from 2020 − and increased individual, group and family therapy sessions by 23% in the Peace: A Learned Solution (PALS) program.

Women Aware also hosted and participated in court intervention, accompaniment and preparation sessions as well as case management, legal clinics and workshops.

Women Aware is on pace to exceed these numbers in 2022, Dyckman said.

A major project in the next year is the Middlesex County Family Justice Center (FJC). As the lead agency for this ground-breaking initiative, Women Aware will be laying the foundation for a coordinated community response to domestic violence and sexual assault.

The goal of the FJC is to reduce domestic violence homicides and increase the safety and confidentiality of domestic violence survivors and their children in collaboration with co-located victim services agencies. The FJC will help survivors and their families get the resources and support they need at one location.

“Working collaboratively, in one space, under the umbrella of the Family Justice Center, our purpose is to radically improve family safety as well as offender accountability,” Yonta said.

Last year, Women Aware was awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women. This helped to provide funding for the FJC, Dyckman said

This effort is partnership with the Middlesex County Office of Human Services, Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Middlesex County Center for Empowerment, Central Jersey Legal Services, Jewish Family Services, American Friends Service Committee, Middlesex County Board of Social Services, New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Coming Home of Middlesex County, Manavi, Town Clock Community Development Corporation, A Partnership for Change and Dress for Success Central Jersey.

The FJC is open for walk-ins from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 100 Bayard St. (fourth floor) in New Brunswick.

Dyckman said Women Aware relies on community support to fund and fulfill its mission to provide free and confidential services to survivors moving beyond abuse.

“We are grateful to the individuals, community organizations, businesses, foundations, government funders and service providers who support our mission to promote the safety and self-sufficiency of individuals and families affected by domestic violence in Middlesex County,” Dyckman said. “Individual financial donations are used where most needed and are always welcome.”

The Woman Aware annual holiday gift program will be comprised of gift cards only. Gift cards give victims of domestic violence some financial independence, helping them purchase what they need for themselves and their children, Dyckman said.

Suggested gift cards include Visa, Mastercard, Uber, Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreen’s, ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Amazon and gas cards. Gift cards can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday at 250 Livingston Ave. in New Brunswick. You can call 732-249-4900 ext. 0428 before stopping by or with any questions. Gift cards also can be mailed to Women Aware at 250 Livingston Ave. New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

For more information about Women Aware go to womenaware.net or call the free 24-hour hotline at 732-249-4504 or toll-free at 833-249-4504. If it is too dangerous for a victim to reach out directly, a trusted family member or friend can call the hotline. The statewide hotline also is available at 800-572-SAFE (7233).