Good ideas take on a life of their own. Communities of Light is a case in point.
In 2002, Womanspace volunteer Lila Cruikshank brought the idea for an awareness-raising neighborhood candle-lighting event to Patricia M. Hart, executive director of the Mercer County nonprofit organization that provides an array of services to women in crisis.
On Monday, December 9, the 12th Annual Womanspace Communities of Light (COL) campaign will light up local towns and neighborhoods starting at dusk on Monday, December 9.
“We didn’t think of it as a fundraiser at first but as an awareness building campaign to shed light on the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault and the services available to victims in Mercer County,” said Ms. Hart. “Lila had seen something similar in the South and was the driving force behind it. We timed it to close to the winter solstice and got people involved in their neighborhoods. Lila worked non-stop and it was totally volunteer driven with team leaders in local neighborhoods, some of whom held parties.”
“The lighting of luminaries throughout the county was a unique way of increasing local awareness of the presence of domestic and sexual violence in our community. It’s also a way to highlight the Womanspace mission of serving victims at the moment of crisis and throughout their journey of healing,” said Ms. Hart.
Soon local churches were interested. The Presbyterian Church in Pennington changed the time of its Christmas caroling to coincide with the event. Then other towns like Pennington, Hopewell, and Princeton got involved. “Now all of them light up their buildings,” said Ms. Hart. “It’s great that municipalities have taken the idea on board since this sends a strong message to victims that their town is here for them. In neighborhoods, the message is clear too: your neighbors care. That was the original impetus of the Communities of Light, to spread awareness and to create support.”
In Princeton, the main lighting is along Nassau Street and Palmer Square. “Visually, it’s very beautiful,” said Ms. Hart. “Princeton does a wonderful job and the University is involved too,” she said. “Thousands of candles will illuminate streets, walkways, businesses, churches, and community centers.”
To mark this year’s campaign, a Communities of Light banner will hang across Washington Road by the Prospect Street intersection. Designed and donated by J. Knipper & Company, a Monmouth county based business that manufactures health care collaterals. Company president and Princeton resident Jim Knipper is a Womanspace supporter whose company has been manufacturing the Communities of Light luminary kits since 2007, in partnership with the Ewing-based Compass Healthcare Marketers, which donated the design of the luminary kit box and all of the Womanspace event marketing materials and website.
“The combined support of both of these companies has enabled us to reap 100 percent of the profits on the sale of the luminary kits,” said Susan D. Klejst, the organization’s director of development.
The event raises some $30,000 from the sale of environmentally friendly luminary kits, which are still priced at $10 for a bag of six candles and safety instructions for a display that will cover 150 linear feet. The simplicity of candles lining streets and walkways is a powerful symbol of hope for women and children who are or have been affected by domestic violence and sexual assault; the message is that “Peace Begins at Home.”
Each year, more than 200 volunteers sell, distribute and display the luminary kits. Kits are sold to friends, neighbors, and co-workers. “Prior to 2007, the luminary kits were assembled by volunteers but were very costly. Expenses to purchase all supplies and packaging averaged between $20,000 and $30,000 each year,” said Ms. Klejst who joined Womanspace in June 2006.
This year, the nonprofit has included members of the faith-based community as honorary chairs of the campaign. Reverend Dr. David Davis of Nassau Presbyterian Church, Reverend Teresa Ely of Hamilton Square Baptist Church, Rabbi Daniel Grossman of Adath Israel Congregation, Reverend Karen Hernández-Granzen of Westminster Presbyterian Church and The Very Reverend Rene Rory John of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral are all active advocates of non-violence.
At dusk on Monday, hundreds of people, scores of organizations and community groups, and the 13 municipalities within Mercer County will light thousands of COL candles and domestic violence agencies from neighboring counties will also participate.
“It’s not too late to light up your home and your neighborhood with votive packs from local stores and realtors. You will find them at Gloria Nilson Realtors, 33 Witherspoon Street; McCaffrey’s Supermarket, 301 North Harrison Street; Pennington Quality Market, 25 Route 31 South, Pennington; Terhune Orchards, 330 Cold Soil Road; and Weidel Realtors, 190 Nassau Street, among other venues. They can also be purchased from Womanspace Administrative Office, 1530 Brunswick Ave, Lawrenceville, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. For a full listing, visit: www.womanspace.org.