Safe haven at the courthouse

Safe haven at the courthouse

Bergen Section of NCJW honored after furnishing and staffing room for domestic violence victims

From left, FAN advisers Tracey Weingarten and Farilyn Hale flank section co-presidents Gladys Laden and Ann Levenstein as they present the award.

Thanks to the Bergen County Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, victims of domestic violence have their own separate waiting room in the county courthouse.

That way, they do not have the added stress of sitting on hallway benches along with their alleged attackers.

The Waiting Room, which opened a year ago, won the Community Impact Award for the section at the organization’s 46th National Convention in St. Louis during the first week of March.

“The state mandates that all county courthouses provide a separate waiting space for victims of domestic violence awaiting court appearances,” Joan Snider of Woodland Park said. “But because the Bergen County Courthouse is an antiquated building and space was an issue, they kept getting waivers to implement the directive.” Ms. Snider is the project’s co-chairwoman and a past president of the NCJW’s greater Teaneck section, which now is part of the Bergen County section.

“We urged them to find the space and agreed to furnish it and make it a pleasant, attractive room, and we did,” she added.

The initiative was undertaken as part of NCJW’s Project Higher Ground, a national campaign against domestic violence.

After researching the importance of a separate waiting room through conversations with social service providers, state and county legislators, family court judges, and courthouse domestic-violence professional staff, the group not only agreed to ready the room but also to provide trained volunteer “hostesses.”

All the preparation took about three years, said Ina Miller Silverstein of Teaneck, co-chairwoman of the project with Ms. Snider and a past section president. “At the official opening in May, all the judges came and spoke to the fact that it never would have happened without us. We got all the flooring, paint, and furnishings donated, and several men helped us get the room ready in conjunction with people at the courthouse.”

Last October, the Bergen County Section won a citizen community service award from the Bergen County Bar Foundation for this program.

Ms. Snider estimates that the section secured between $6,000 and $7,000 in donated cash, goods and services to get the Waiting Room up and running.

“Every time I’m there, the women – and men, it’s not just women – tell me how much safer they feel to have a separate waiting room,” Ms. Silverstein said. “We are a welcoming face and give them information and keep them comfortable. It’s a quiet and peaceful room that reduces their anxiety.”

The Waiting Room is open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. four days a week, when family court is in session. Some 40 NCJW members have trained as volunteer hostesses, and during each shift one of them is there with litigants and their attorneys at all times, along with courthouse support staff and Alternatives to Domestic Violence counselors.

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