With a message of strength and hope, Middlesex County's Women Aware Inc. held its annual Moving Beyond Abuse Awards and Awareness breakfast in Edison last week. For over 30 years, Women Aware has provided a comprehensive range of services for victims of domestic violence, with legal services, counseling, meals and emergency shelter.
"We remain mission focused. We really get that it's not about us, it's about the clients we serve," said Executive Director Phyllis Adams. "We're here for one reason. We're here to help people impacted by domestic violence."
Founded in 1979, Women Aware has sheltered over 200 women and children in their Safe House, provided over 24,000 meals and assisted more than 1,000 clients with legal advocacy.
In South Brunswick, the leading cause of homicides over the past decade has been domestic violence, according to South Brunswick Police spokesman Sgt. Jim Ryan.
"Domestic violence will continue to cost our nation billions of dollars annually in medical expenses, police and court costs, shelters, foster care, sick leave, absenteeism, it goes on and on the affects this has," said Women Aware Board of Trustees President and South Brunswick Councilman Joseph Camarota. "It will only be eradicated if all of us realize it and take steps to overcome it. We must commit ourselves to it."
The awards also included the inaugural Blue Bra Society inductees. The awards were named in honor of the horrific events in Egypt last year, where a young woman was dragged by her arms along the street, with her clothes ripped open exposing a blue bra. Photos of the woman being assaulted by guards were shown on the front page of newspapers around the world.
"What I imagined her to be feeling was that I may be oppressed, I may not have rights, I may have to cover up my body and my face, but you cannot destroy my womanhood," said Women Aware consultant Gina Plotino. "You cannot take my power away. That blue bra became a potent symbol of women empowerment around the world."
The list of inductees included Adams, Plotino, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18), Middlesex County First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure, executive director of the Edison Housing Authority Madeline Cook, Women Aware Board of Directors member Ella Mae Mitchell, Syracuse University activist Ashlee Newman, Vice President of the Women Aware Board of Directors Diane Palmer, Middlesex County Sheriff Mildred Scott, philanthropist Sandra Soriano, and director of the New Jersey Division of Prevention and Community Partnerships Lisa Von Pier.
"This is an organization that I respect so deeply, and was founded on the fundamental principle that women have a right to live their lives free from the fear of abuse and disrespect," Buono said. "We show that when women work together, we can improve the lives of our daughters and our sons."
The awards ceremony also included a special tribute to in December last year. Trapp's mother Fran Newman gave a moving speech in honor of her daughter.
"On December 15, 2011, the world lost a ray of sunshine, Heather Newman," she said. "I do believe Heather is with the first man she gave her heart to, her father.
"She was kind and full of life. Heather, we all miss you so much. Heather is gone and will never be forgotten. This horrific tragedy left her sister Jamie, myself, many family members and friends in excruciating pain that will never dissipate."