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This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the December 11, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Illuminating Family Matters
What with Santa and his flying entourage and an array
of astronomical sights — the full moon of December 19, the winter-solstice
sky December 21, and meteor showers now and then — people have
good reason to look up this month. But for those who glide to a different
drummer, looking down at Mercer County on Sunday, December
22, should be a visual treat: some 50,000 softly glowing luminaries,
ringing homes and dotting lawns.
Each candle lighted that night will represent Womanspace, the county’s
only service facility for victims of domestic violence and sexual
assault. Together their message is "peace begins at home."
These "Communities of Light" are intended to heighten awareness
of the Womanspace mission and facilitate more victims being helped.
Proceeds will benefit the Campaign of Womanspace, to fund the purchase
and renovation of transitional housing.
It is impossible to imagine a more incongruous pairing than the joyous
winter holiday season, all about love, charity, and togetherness,
with the dark, ongoing reality of "family abuse." Now in its
25th year, Womanspace has selected this time period, and Sunday, the
day of the week when the most reports of domestic violence reach police,
to symbolically illuminate the issue.
Starting at dusk on Sunday, December 22, luminaries — candles
set in sand-filled paper bags — will glow all over Mercer county.
On sale since mid-November, they are available from volunteers and
a wide variety of retail outlets, including most area supermarkets.
From banks to boutiques, the distinctive white plastic bags printed
and tied in purple can be obtained for a $10 donation.
Each bag contains the makings for six luminaries: a bag of sand, white
paper bags, and votive candles, and even a matchbook imprinted with
a Womanspace reminder: "Serving victims of domestic violence and
sexual assault." The six luminaries can light a path about 100
feet long. Rain dates for the observance are Tuesday, December 24
Traditionally symbolizing relief from darkness, hope, enlightenment,
faith, and even faithfulness, candles are a mainstay of similes and
metaphors in sources ranging from the Bible ("it giveth light
unto all that are in the house") to Shakespeare ("How far
that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty
world") to Edna St. Vincent Millay ("My candle burns at both
ends; I will not last the night"). And then there’s the Christophers’
motto: "It’s better to light one candle, than to curse the darkness."
Founded in 1977 and opened the next year, Womanspace is a non-profit
agency that has been figuratively lighting candles for a quarter-century.
Beginning as an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence
and their children, Womanspace today offers myriad programs, including
24-hour hotlines, counseling, support services, and court advocacy.
Lila Criuckshank is chair of the capital campaign and of the December
"Communities of Light" project.
The agency’s records show that more than 6,500 women and their children
have found shelter at Womanspace’s confidential and secure location.
"Next Step" is a long-term, transitional housing program for
those coming from shelter or counseling. Nearly 170,000 callers have
been assisted through the 24-hour crisis hotlines during the last
The ongoing capital Campaign for Womanspace is designed to establish
a general endowment fund for its programs and expand the agency’s
services by funding and renovating a new short-term housing facility
for clients leaving shelter. A search for a multi-family home, which
may be located in Hamilton Township, is underway, and the eventual
locale will be named "Barbara’s House," in honor of the agency’s
founder and former Princeton mayor, the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund.
"The lighting of luminary candles along driveways and sidewalks
in our communities on December 22 will be a powerful symbol of hope
for all those who struggle with violence in their homes," says
Criuckshank. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "The smallest
candle fills a mile with its rays." Here’s hoping.
— Pat Summers
make a contribution, volunteer, or learn more about the "Communities
of Light" project, call 609-394-0136 or visit www.womanspace.org.
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