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Women Aware Kicks Off Annual Gift Shop

Community Partners Enjoy Inside Look at Family Justice Center

On December 3, 2021, Women Aware kicked off its 14th Annual Gift Shop for clients with community partners from the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners, Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department, Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and Middlesex County Family Court at the new Family Justice Center on Bayard Street, New Brunswick. Partners toured the Family Justice Center space; enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Women Aware Board members and advocates; and learned more about the Center’s goal 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.

The Annual Gift Shop for clients served by Women Aware in Middlesex County is a treasured tradition generously supported by friends, donors, businesses, volunteer organizations, community partners, Board members and staff, who donate gift cards to bring smiles and hope to families moving beyond abuse. To date, Women Aware has collected over $7,000 in gift cards.

Pictured (l to r): Women Aware Board President Diane Palmer, Middlesex County Sheriff Mildred Scott, Family Justice Center Director Mildred Torres and Middlesex County Commissioner Chanelle Scott McCullum.

Breaking News

Women Aware Awarded $1 Million Grant from U.S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women

Women Aware, Inc. recently received an unprecedented $1 million grant from the U. S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women 2021 Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Grant Program (ICJR). The grant provides funding for the Middlesex County Family Justice Center, the first of its kind in the County and only the fifth in the State of New Jersey. The goal of the family justice center 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.

Partnering with Women Aware are Middlesex County (the Middlesex County Office of Human Services, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Middlesex County Center for Empowerment), Central Jersey Legal Services, Jewish Family Services, Partners for Women and Justice, American Friends Service Committee, Middlesex County Board of Social Services, NJ DCF Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Coming Home of Middlesex County, Manavi, Town Clock Community Development Corporation, and A Partnership for Change.

“Moving survivors beyond abuse is a community effort. Women Aware is grateful for our County partners’ commitment to serving survivors better,” said Chief Executive Officer Phyllis Yonta. “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.”

The OVW grant will pay out over four years from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2025. The grant will fund rental costs of the family justice center space; staff and visitor parking; family justice center branding and website creation; and salary and benefits for one full-time Legal Resource Director and one full-time Intake Specialist.

“For over 40 years, Women Aware has provided safe shelter, hotline services, legal services, educational and community programming, and housing services for victims of domestic violence in Middlesex County. On behalf of all the Board of County Commissioners, I would like to thank Women Aware for not just assisting victims but for creating a safe environment that removes the stigma, stress, fear, and hesitation that often influences victims’ ability to reach out for help,” said Board of County Commissioners Director Ronald G. Rios. “This federal award of $1 million from the Office of Violence Against Women is a testament to the work Women Aware has done and the coalition of agencies they have brought together to further develop the Family Justice Center for the benefit of Middlesex County residents.”

“The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office is honored to work with Women Aware. We congratulate Women Aware for their efforts in securing a substantial OVW grant that supports the FJC initiative here in Middlesex County. The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office secured the first grant that allowed for initial space and growth for the FJC initiative. We look forward to working with Women Aware and the additional partner agencies to help best support survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault dating violence and stalking,” stated Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone, Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.

As the Middlesex County Family Justice Center improves safety, access to services, and confidentiality for victims and families, so, too, will survivors in Middlesex County, New Jersey benefit from this project through:

  • stronger legal advocacy and other services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, including strengthening assistance with immigration matters; and
  • safe and affordable housing options for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

“Central Jersey Legal Services has a great working relationship with Women Aware for decades and looks forward to continuing that relationship as a partner in the Family Justice Center,” said Janice Chapin, Executive Director.

“As the coordinating entity in the County for serving people who are homeless and ending homelessness Countywide, Coming Home of Middlesex County, Inc. is looking forward to strengthening its existing collaboration with Women Aware and other partners through the Family Justice Center to help victims of domestic violence regain their sense of self and enjoy the benefits of a warm, stable home,” stated Eileen O’Donnell, JD, MPP, MSW, Executive Director.

“JFS Middlesex (Jewish Family Services) is proud and excited to stand with our valued partner, Women Aware, as we move forward with this innovative new center. As our missions and visions closely align, JFS is ready to serve those affected by domestic violence in one comfortable, safe location with crucial services like counseling, employment services, emergency food and diapers, and more,” said Roni Salkin, Executive Director.

“A Partnership for Change is honored to be a part of the very important work that Women Aware and the Family Justice Center of Middlesex County are embarking upon. We look forward to working with them and their other partners to provide the much-needed support to all victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” stated Allison Bressler, MA, Co-Founder/Co-Director.

“The American Friends Service Committee’s Immigrant Rights Program has been providing representation to survivors of domestic violence in their immigration cases for over 25 years and has seen firsthand the tremendous need across the state and in Middlesex County for holistic, culturally competent services for immigrant survivors. This OVW funding will allow the FJC to provide critical wrap-around services to survivors and their families that will put them on a path to safety and independence,” said Nicole Polley Miller, Esq., Legal Services Director.

The family justice center is open at 100 Bayard Street, 4th floor. Women Aware’s domestic violence hotline is available 24/7 at 732-249-4504, toll-free at 833-249-4504.

2021 Candlelight Vigil

Powerful Testimony and Calls to Action

Thank you to everyone who made time to attend Women Aware’s 2021 virtual Candlelight Vigil on October 13 in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We are deeply grateful to Karen Uyar of Highland Park, NJ, mother of Yasemin Uyar, who was killed in July following a long history of abuse, for her powerful testimony. Special thanks to speaker Siyan Bradley, founder of the Renee J. Bradley Foundation for Domestic Violence and member of Women Aware’s Board of Directors; to Sami Stevens and Music For All Seasons; and to students in the Respect Life Club at St. Joseph High School, Metuchen, NJ. We encourage you to watch the 30-minute program by clicking here.

Save the Date

Virtual Candlelight Vigil - October 13, 2021

Women Aware will remember victims whose lives were stolen by domestic violence and honor survivors courageously moving beyond abuse at a virtual Candlelight Vigil on Wednesday, October 13, 2021, 7:00-7:30 p.m. The candlelight vigil is open to the public and free to attend. Donations are encouraged as all proceeds support services for survivors and their children. For information, to register and to donate, visit: https://givebutter.com/WomenAware2021Vigil.

Special Guests

The event will feature survivor testimony from Karen Uyar, mother of Highland Park-native Yasemin Uyar, whose life was stolen in July following a history of abuse; and an advocate address from Siyan Bradley, founder of the Renee J. Bradley Foundation for Domestic Violence and member of the Women Aware Board of Directors.

Moving forward from the extraordinary challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for Women Aware’s services to survivors of domestic violence has grown and the agency’s delivery of services expanded. Women Aware needs financial support to continue to provide free and confidential services 24/7 to anyone in Middlesex County, NJ who seeks help moving beyond abuse.

Sami Stevens of Music for All Seasons, a longtime partner of Women Aware whose mission is bringing the healing power of music to those in need in all types of residential facilities, will be featured during the program.

Sponsors

Platinum Sponsor – Bob’s Discount Furniture Charitable Foundation

Candle Lighting Sponsor – Independence Wealth Partners

Gold Sponsor – Olympus ConstructionHoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas, LLPThe Higgins Group

Ally – Universal Windows Direct of NJ

For information about sponsorship opportunities, click here or contact Susan Dyckman, development director, at sdyckman@womenaware.net or 732.249.4900, ext. 0428.

How to Help

About Women Aware

Women Aware is the state-designated lead domestic violence agency for Middlesex County. For 40 years, Women Aware has been saving lives through a comprehensive array of services that include a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, support groups, children’s trauma therapy programs, legal advocacy, and supportive housing. Each year Women Aware moves approximately 2,000 survivors beyond abuse.

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, call Women Aware’s free 24-hour hotline at 732-249-4504, toll-free at 833-249-4504.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Please join us Wednesday, October 13, 7:00 p.m.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To remember victims whose lives were stolen by domestic violence and to honor survivors moving courageously beyond abuse, Women Aware will host a Virtual Candlelight Vigil via Zoom on Wednesday, October 13 at 7:00 p.m.

For more information, to register and to donate, visit: https://givebutter.com/WomenAware2021Vigil

Registration is free. Donations are encouraged. Proceeds from the event support Women Aware’s free and confidential services for survivors and their children.

In the News

Letter to the Editor from CEO Phyllis Yonta

July 21, 2021

Dear Editor:

The horrific murder of Highland Park-native Yasemin Uyar, following years of repeated and escalating domestic violence, shook Middlesex County. In spite of Yasemin’s courageous efforts to create a safer life for herself and her young son, Sebastian, her life was stolen. Family and friends will keep Yasemin’s memory alive for Sebastian. Women Aware and like-minded partners will ensure that Yasemin’s voice and survivors’ voices continue to be heard.

The fact that an abuser strangled Yasemin in the past made it 10 times more likely that the abuser would kill her. The word “choked” falls far short of describing what strangulation actually is, a terrifying assault that can kill a victim in a matter of seconds. The lethality associated with strangulation is so high that New Jersey recently enacted legislation (S2503) elevating strangulation assault to a second-degree crime punishable by 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000 or both.

As the lead, state-designated domestic violence agency in Middlesex County, Women Aware has been committed to moving survivors and their families beyond abuse for more than 40 years. All our services are free and confidential. Services include a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, legal advocacy, support groups, children’s trauma reduction therapy, counseling and permanent supportive housing. Our 24/7 hotline833-249-4504 – is staffed by trauma-informed advocates who provide crisis counseling as well as resource and referral information. Calls may be anonymous and are kept confidential.

Continued collaboration with our allies in law enforcement; legal services; judiciary; human services; homeless services; immigration services; and government is critical as we work together to break down the barriers that stand between victims/survivors and the services they need. It takes a community to save lives.

Sincerely,

Phyllis Yonta, MSW, MA, DVS

Mildred Torres Named Director of Family Justice Center in Middlesex County

Women Aware, Inc. is pleased to announce the appointment of Mildred Torres as Director of the Family Justice Center in Middlesex County. In its early stages of development, the Center will be a safe, welcoming space where legal services, human services, social services, law enforcement and judiciary come together under one roof to better serve adult and child survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the County. It is located at 100 Bayard Street, 4th Floor, New Brunswick.

Mildred joined the Women Aware team in 2010 as a Legal Advocate. She quickly climbed the ranks to the Coordinator of Advocacy Services, and is now Director of the Family Justice Center. In her current role, she works closely with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, local police departments and community partners to advocate for the needs of domestic violence victims. In addition, she oversees staff in providing direct services to victims of domestic violence, including education about their rights under the law, assistance with obtaining Temporary or Final Restraining Orders, court accompaniment and housing assistance. Mildred completed the NJ Victim Assistance Academy at Rutgers University in August 2017. She is certified as a Jacquelyn Campbell Danger Assessor and is bilingual in Spanish.

“Mildred has been promoted time and again during her tenure at Women Aware because of her hard work, commitment and, truly, her heart,” said Phyllis Yonta, CEO. “Over the last decade, Mildred has helped more than 10,000 people; I know, for a fact, she has saved lives. She is truly the right person to lead the FJC as Women Aware and our partners work to serve victims better.”

In her new role, Mildred will oversee all clinical, administrative, and managerial aspects of the family justice center. She will ensure ongoing programmatic excellence, quality management, and infrastructure to support and advance the services needed to meet families’ needs.

“Survivors need a place they feel welcomed, believed and supported. I am honored to be appointed Director of such a place, the Middlesex County Family Justice Center,” Mildred said. “I believe the array of skills and experiences I’ve acquired over the years from corporate to government to nonprofit, as well as a survivor of a near fatal domestic violence incident, provides me a unique perspective and ability to successfully oversee the Family Justice Center. Along with my dedicated staff and community partners, I am here to provide survivors compassionate support and comprehensive services. The Family Justice Center is a dream come true.”

The Family Justice Center model, created by the Alliance for HOPE International and recognized by the US Department of Justice, has achieved the following outcomes: reduced homicides; increased victim safety; increased autonomy and empowerment for victims; reduced fear and anxiety for victims and their children; increased efficiency and coordination among service providers; and reduced recantation and minimization by victims when wrapped in services and support; increased prosecution of offenders; and dramatically increased community support services to victims and their children. For more information about the FJC model, visit www.familyjusticecenter.org.

The family justice center in Middlesex County will be the fifth in New Jersey. Centers are currently operating in Essex, Monmouth, Morris and Union counties.

More from Strategic Planning – Family Justice Center

NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal Remarks

In pre-recorded remarks, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal opened the strategic planning conference for the family justice center in Middlesex County on May 18, 2021.

New space in New Brunswick

The state-designated lead domestic violence service agency in Middlesex County, NJ, Women Aware’s legal advocacy, housing navigation and domestic violence response team programs are now located in downtown New Brunswick, with space for community partners to meet with victim/survivors of domestic violence. This is just the beginning of a family justice center for the County.