“Our mission is to prevent abuse, to protect families, to save lives.”
Womanspace is a leading nonprofit agency in Mercer County, NJ, that provides a comprehensive array of services to individuals and families impacted by domestic and sexual violence and dedicated to improving the quality of life for adults and their families. In this episode, we were joined by Patricia Hart, Executive Director, Lauren Nazarian, Director of Development, and Matthew Rhodes, Board President. They discuss how Womanspace was founded, what the organization personally means to them, and the 26th Annual Barbara Boggs Sigmund Awards Event.
The founding of Womanspace.
Patricia: “We have a number of founders, but the one that’s the most well-known is Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who at the time of founding Womanspace, was the Mercer County Freeholder. She had heard a lot of stories from constituents saying, ‘this is happening to me.’ She felt like, ‘I have to do something.’ So the first thing she did was gather her friends and get them to take women in who were in danger, which was unheard of.”
Patricia: “She gathered a group of women who became our founders and began to research. She spoke with the county, she spoke with the town, spoke with the state. Womanspace was the first government-funded domestic violence program. We now have domestic violence programs in every county. Barbara was really that shining light. I think mostly what I hear about her, from people who knew her, was you couldn’t say no to her. So she was the perfect person to be able to make this all happen.”
The Annual Barbara Boggs Sigmund Awards Event.
Patricia: “It was just the beginning of my time at Womanspace, we had a great board and the board president just said, ‘we need to come up with a way to raise money that’s creative and that engages the community.’ This is a way that we can honor Barbara’s legacy.
Patricia: “At the time, she was gone, she had died from cancer, but she still was larger than life in the community. So it was a way to be able to honor her and to choose an award winner who really inspired the way Barbara did. That was our criteria in the beginning to find someone who inspired to greatness, who was a role model for others coming up behind. That’s kind of where it started. Our first award winner was Cokie Roberts, who was Barbara’s sister, who passed away last year, unfortunately. She’s been a guardian angel ever since then. It’s an exciting event. It didn’t just raise money, that was great, but it really made a presence in the community in ways we had not seen before.”
Lauren: “It’s our biggest annual fundraiser each year. Not only do we hope to make the most money from it, but we also hope to bring everyone together to learn about us more. Like Pat had said, we never want any client, any victim, any survivor to ever not know that we’re in existence. So getting out there is key and it’s huge.
This year’s honeree: Elizabeth Smart.
Lauren: “This year, we’re very fortunate. We have Elizabeth Smart. She’s amazing. She’s strong. She’s a hero. I’m sure most people know that she was abducted for nine months, and it was a traumatic and awful event in her life. Luckily, she got away. Now, she’s speaking about it, and she’s taking actions to help other children and parents. She’s working on legislation. She’s working with the Amber Alert. She’s doing a guide for children that helps with healing and moving past the trauma. Which really resonates for us because our clients have had many traumatic events and they’re working on healing, getting past that trauma, and moving onto a rewarding life. That’s what Elizabeth has done. To me, she’s very courageous and we’re really excited to honor her this year.”
Services for organizations to get involved with.
Lauren: “What I first do is ask questions and then see what they’re interested in.There’s a lot of connection to our children’s counseling. A lot of corporations have philanthropy and their main focus is children. So we have children’s counseling, we have childcare during groups, support groups, and counseling. We also have children in our transitional housing and Safe House. Usually, I highlight our children’s counseling. I highlight our Safe House, which, as Pat said, is 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Lauren: “Our staff is amazing there, and they are there for the moment of crisis when they’re needed most. Then our transitional housing is also something that we focus on a lot. Each one is kind of personal, and each person has their own philanthropy goals. So I try to kind of find out what their interests are and go from there.“
Coping with trauma.
Matthew: “So at Penn Medicine Princeton Health, we have a number of different units there. A lot of my clinical work, I see people who’ve experienced a lot of these kinds of things. The aftereffects of experiencing this kind of trauma tend to be either that one becomes hyper-vigilant, one is always scanning one’s environment for threats, or one almost becomes so numb that one becomes disconnected from the world, disconnected from life, disconnected from themselves. “
Matthew: “Much of our work is to be able to help people to be able to attend to the pain, listen to them, and to believe them in ways that oftentimes they haven’t been. So always to kind of bring people back to the current moment to mediate some sense of safety to them so that the world doesn’t have to be quite as small. The world doesn’t have to be quite as scary so that people can have a real chance at life in a way that oftentimes they’ve had taken away from them. “
Patricia: “These days, people really are online and so you can always go to our website and that will give you immediate access. Our hotline, if you’re local, 604-394-9000. From there, those trained staff can really help to direct you. If you are someone who’s experiencing domestic violence, do you need to be safe? Are you not safe? Do you need to get into shelter? Do you just need to talk to someone? Is this domestic violence? What am I experiencing? You can come into our counseling office, which is our only public face, so that’s located right on Business Route 1, 1530 Brunswick Avenue.”
Patricia: “We try really hard to be in as many places as possible so that it’s not hard to find us. We have people out in the community. Every service that we provide is offered in English and Spanish. We have staff members at family court, so if someone goes in there on a restraining order, someone will talk to them there. If they live, say, in Hightstown, which is far from Lawrenceville, we have a staff member who is housed at Rise right in Hightstown on Main Street. We have a staff member in Trenton at El Centro. So if someone’s there and can’t necessarily get to us, they can go to those offsite locations and get the help that they need.”