Women Aware, a lead domestic violence agency in Middlesex County, recently received an unprecedented $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to fund the establishment of the Middlesex County Family Justice Center (FJC).
This is the organization’s first OVW grant, with its goal being to create a coordinated response to domestic violence, said Maria Betanzos, the chief operating officer of Women Aware. The funding of the grant will provide four years for the organization to work in partnership with first responders, judiciary, attorneys, medical teams, forensics, social services and more, to respond to each victim.
Betanzos said she is excited and eager to receive a grant of this nature as it will largely aid the organization's efforts.
"This grant is very special because it offers a chance to change community response to domestic violence,” she said. “The grant represents an investment in the way we are looking at our collective response to domestic violence in our county and creating a better system for survivors.”
Betanzos said the organization is aware of the diversity in Middlesex County and wants the grant to serve everyone, especially as the FJC will be the first of its kind in Middlesex County and fifth in the state.
She also said that as a centralized resource, the FJC will benefit other organizations and programs. For instance, domestic abuse survivors in Middlesex County will have access to training, community education and support through the Center.
Betanzos said Women Aware was chosen over similar organizations due to their practice model developed over the past three years with help from consultants. She also said that Women Aware has been trusted to provide equal and accessible services to survivors and their families.
“We received technical assistance from consultants, the Alliance for HOPE International, as we prepared to establish the (FJC),” she said. “The OVW recognized all the work we have done, and the sustainable plan we created to improve the way Middlesex County serves survivors. More than 12 county partners agreed to support us in this project.”
The funds will support the FJC's physical space, Betanzos said, including rent and parking, and will also be utilized to create two new positions: a director of legal resources and an intake specialist.
“Funds (will also) allow for branding the FJC and developing a website,” she said “These resources are an investment in a poly-victimization intake process that will assess the needs of survivors through a trauma-informed lens.”
Betanzos said the grant will be paid out over a total of four years, which started on Oct. 1 and will end on Sept. 30, 2025.
The first year will focus on planning and drafting the blueprint for the FJC and hiring staff, with the following years focusing on additional growth of partners and work toward the goal of becoming an Alliance for HOPE International-affiliated FJC, she said.
“Where we are today in serving survivors is not where we want to be in four years,” Betanzos said. “This funding plants the seed to bring all services for survivors on-site under one roof. This funding advances our vision of providing a completely coordinated response to domestic violence in our county.”