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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

and 31.

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

25 years.

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

Womanspace, 1212 Stuyvesant Avenue, Trenton, 08618. To

make a contribution, volunteer, or learn more about the "Communities

of Light" project, call 609-394-0136 or visit

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