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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Town Clock Community Development Corporation (CDC) is poised to build a housing community inside the First Reformed Church that will be a haven for domestic abuse survivors when it opens in the spring of 2015.
The church, which dates back to 1717, has a congregation of around 60 people but enough space for 600. So, they have decided to restructure the sanctuary from one large room into ten affordable apartments, along with a multiuse worship and community space.
The housing community will be named Dina’s Dwellings, for Dina Van Bergh, an influential woman in the spiritual New Brunswick community during the late 1700’s.
Marlana Moore, a Town Clock CDC board member, said the community will include 7 studio efficiency units, 1 one-bedroom, and 2 two-bedroom apartments, specifically built for domestic abuse survivors. Moore said that the space will “offer a sanctuary and create a place for women who suffered can build and grow.”
Women Aware, the leading domestic violence agency of Middlesex County, will work with Town Clock CDC to place the women, and potentially their children, in each unit. They will also provide services to help the women become more independent.
These new units would be the one of the only two apartment complexes in New Jersey with no limit on how many days residents can stay. Most shelters provide around a month or two of support, but officials say these units will provide support and space without the burden of a time limit.
Rev. Susan Kramer-Mills, the executive director of Town Clock CDC, said, “196 women fall into the category of need [domestic violence survivors] our local area”.
Kramer-Mills explained that First Reformed Church is protected under the NJ historic trust, but a portion of the building can be modified without violating historic preservation laws.
In 1971, the church took in a woman seeking asylum from her abusive ex-boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend attempted to burn down the church and destroyed the sanctuary. The restored parts of the church do not fall under the NJ historic trust.
Kramer-Mills said, “This history is the inspiration for creating the housing units.” Dina’s Dwellings are only allowed to be built in the non-historical sections of the church that are the sections of the church that were rebuilt after the fire.
Although Town Clock CDC is receiving many grants for this project from both the government and private sources, they are still raising funds to pay for furniture and other costs. Donations can be made at the Town Clock CDC’s website.