The immediate impression of the newly renovated Womanspace building at 1530 Brunswick Avenue in Lawrenceville is of a bright, clean, open space. The message is clear. There are no forbidding spaces here, no dark corners.
It houses administrative offices and counseling services formerly divided between two separate locations on Route 1 and on Stuyvesant Avenue in Trenton.
The new building is a much-deserved bright spot for staff and volunteers of the agency dealing with a dark issue — women and families impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
Upstairs are glass-walled offices, a kitchen, and a large conference room; downstairs are private rooms for one-on-one client counseling in the new Barbara and Herb Goodfriend Counseling Center. There is also an area dedicated to serving the agency’s most vulnerable clients, children who have witnessed or experienced violence. Last November, Womanspace became the first agency in Mercer County to provide direct therapeutic care to youth through its Children’s Services Program.
“It’s a long-held dream come true to have a counseling program to help children heal,” says Kay Lory, Womanspace assistant executive director. “An important part of recovery is having a safe place, and this new building is helping us meet the needs of our counseling and shelter clients.”
Having counseling and administration together in one place has long been on the wish-list for the Mercer County non-profit’s dedicated staff and volunteers accustomed to sharing tight quarters.
“Since we moved here we’ve been able to see one-and-a-half times the number (of clients) we were able to see before, so it’s having an immediate impact on the effectiveness of our work,” says Lory, who has worked with Womanspace for 23 years and oversees the agency’s transitional housing program.
Since it began 35 years ago, the Mercer County non-profit has helped some 290,000 victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence through its 24-hour hotlines, crisis intervention, emergency shelter, counseling, court advocacy, and housing.
This new building accommodates programs in education and training, outreach and counseling, and sexual support services. It also houses the coordinators for the volunteer Domestic Violence Victim Response Team, DVVRT, who work with police in every municipality in Mercer County, meeting with sexual assault victims in police stations and local hospitals.
The building’s axis runs north to south, and architect Kyle Rendall of KSS Architects LLP has configured the interior so that the continuity of the line of sight and of light is maintained from one end of the building to the other.
It’s a far cry from the original state of the 40-plus year-old building. “It was like a rabbit warren with small claustrophobic rooms that were dark and scary,” says Lory.
After being gutted down to its plywood subfloor, rebuilt, reconfigured, repainted, and clad on the exterior with cement-siding, the building is like new.
“Having measured the old building to see if it would meet the agency’s requirements for a facility of at least 5,800 square feet on a bus route and with parking, I knew we could really open it up,” says Rendall, who worked pro-bono in providing construction documents and onsite monitoring, together with Facilities Director Bob Hart and contractor Mike Simonelli of SIMCO Construction of Hamilton.
A graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s five-year program in architecture, Rendall grew up in Lawrenceville.
He has been with KSS for five years and is a volunteer firefighter for the Princeton Fire Department with Mercer Engine Company No. 3, located a step or so away from the KSS offices on Witherspoon Street in Princeton. He also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity.
Having worked on new buildings, renovations, additions, and studies for public, charter, and special needs schools, Rendall volunteered his expertise when he heard about the Womanspace project from Womanspace trustee Joan Bartl, his step-grandmother.
His offer was immediately accepted. “We had thought it might take six months but it took almost a year,” he says. “But when it’s a project you like for a client you really want to support, it’s a worthwhile experience, and it’s great to see the building being utilized in the way everyone thought and hoped it would be.”
Enthusiasm for the new space comes across as Lory and Rendall lead a tour through the new building, now made fully handicap accessible by the installation of an elevator.
Future growth has been anticipated by having storage arranged in wall niches throughout, and an uncluttered open space serves as a holding ground for donations at times of need throughout the year when Womanspace has food and clothing drives and events such as its annual Communities of Light campaign that raises awareness of domestic violence.
“When you’re working with an existing building you always expect the unexpected,” says Rendall. “With this project, however, there were surprisingly few glitches; the kitchen ended up being a little smaller than originally planned, so we incorporated some of that space into the hall where it serves as a convenient seating area for visitors.”
Having access to a kitchen for lunch and breaks is a novel experience for Womanspace staff and volunteers. “This makes us feel very special,” says Lory, who is equally enthusiastic about the new conference room. “Womanspace collaborates with other organizations, and this space promotes those relationships; since we’ve moved, we’re seeing a lot more of each other and some have requested opportunities to use our space!”
“The project had a tight budget, and we kept costs down by using readily available materials,” notes Rendall. According to the Womanspace newsletter, the total cost for the new facility is $1.5 million and the agency has launched a fundraiser, “The Campaign for the Children,” to help raise an additional $500,000.
Together with fellow trustee Ingrid W. Reed, Bartl co-chairs the “The Campaign for Children,” which is hoped will support services and additional staff.
The renovation was made possible by an initial gift from the aptly named Sandy Goodfriend, and the Barbara and Herb Goodfriend Counseling Center is named in honor of her parents.
Goodfriend was inspired by firsthand experience of Womanspace as both client and subsequent volunteer. A decade ago, Goodfriend sought counseling after realizing the abusive nature of her 18-year marriage and the toll it had taken on her.
Since then, and free of the abusive marriage, Goodfriend has worked with Womanspace on issues of physical and mental abuse. “Most abuse happens behind closed doors — the perpetrators don’t want others to know. We need to shine a light,” she says in a recent Womanspace newsletter article citing her generosity and commitment with respect to the new building.
Each May Womanspace presents the Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award to an individual who champions causes affecting the lives of women and children. The award is named for Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who founded Womanspace in 1977 together with Ellen Belknap, Valorie Caffee, Mary Ann Cannon, and Deborah Metzger, who is now the founder and director of Princeton Center For Yoga and Health (U.S. 1, March 21, 2012).
Sigmund was mayor of Princeton Borough from 1983 until her death in office at age 51 in 1990 after an eight-year battle with cancer.
Sigmund was the daughter of Democratic Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana and Corrine “Lindy” Boggs, who held the post of Congresswoman from New Orleans for some two decades.
In 1972, Sigmund won a seat on the Princeton Borough council and led a successful campaign to “Save the Dinky,” the single-car train that links Princeton to Princeton Junction and NJ Transit. Three years later she became a Mercer County freeholder. In 1982, following a diagnosis of cancer, she had her left eye removed.
With characteristic panache, Sigmund attended Mayoral events sporting an eye patch that matched her outfit. When she entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1989, her campaign slogan was: “I’ve got my eye on New Jersey.”
The first award was given to the ABC political reporter and New York Times best-selling author, Corrine “Cokie” Boggs Roberts, in 1995.
This year, Roberts, who is the younger sister of the award’s namesake, will serve as honorary chair of the 18th annual award ceremony and reception honoring Stacey Patton on Wednesday, May 9, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village.
Patton, who was born in Montclair and grew up in New Jersey, speaks out on behalf of children in the foster care system. Patton spent the first five years of her life in foster care before being adopted into a middle class home from which she ran away at age 12 after being abused.
She spent the next few years living in foster homes and youth shelters throughout the state before earning a full scholarship to the Lawrenceville School. Her first book, a memoir of her experiences, “That Mean Old Yesterday,” discusses the cultural attitudes and historical roots of physical discipline of children in African-American communities. Last year she launched www.sparethekids.com, an online portal designed to teach alternatives to the physical disciplining of children.
Patton, who now lives in Washington, D.C., and works as a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, has told her story through media appearances on NPR, the Brian Lehrer Show, and Weekend America.
Womanspace was formed in response to the need brought to light in New Jersey by the 1976 Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women, which found that the most pressing concern for women was what was then referred to as “battered wives.”
Until Womanspace opened its shelter for female victims of domestic violence and their children, the Mercer County Women’s Center, at an undisclosed location, there were few safe places of refuge. Today, 35 years later, Womanspace continues to serve some of the most vulnerable members of our community, with a little help from its friends.
“This building is not only very exciting for Womanspace, it’s a marvelous example of what investment in small projects can do to spur revitalization in overlooked places,” says Reed, a recognized advocate of urban revitalization.
Womanspace Inc., 1530 Brunswick Avenue, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-394-0136; fax, 609-396-1093. Patricia M. Hart MSW LCSW, executive director. www.womanspace.org.
18th Annual Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award, Wednesday, May 9, 5:30 to 9 p.m., Westin at Forrestal Village.