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St. John’s gets grant to fight domestic abuse

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Muslim women who were trapped in abusive relationships often did not speak out about the violence because they feared they would be shunned by members of their community who could accuse them of further shining a negative light on Muslims, according to nonprofit workers in Queens.

The realization that women were suffering in silence led Briarwood resident Robina Niaz to launch in 2004 the nonprofit Turning Point for Women and Families, the first group in the city that has the specific mission of helping Muslim women who are victims of domestic violence.

“Sept. 11 pushed the issues within our community to the forefront,” said Niaz, who is originally from Pakistan. “There was nothing in New York that directly addressed domestic violence against Muslim women before us .... A lot of men use faith and religion to justify abuse, and we actively challenge that.”

What started as a one-woman operation evolved into a nonprofit that offers a wide variety of such services from individual counseling to referrals to legal services, and the group will be able to better the direct services they provide to the women and families, thanks to a grant from the Verizon Foundation.

The Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications, awarded $45,000 in grant money during a ceremony Friday at St. John’s University to seven nonprofits that work in the realm of domestic violence in Queens. St. John’s was one of the grant recipients.

“Domestic violence is a problem that affects all members of families and tears at the basic fabric of our society,” said June Jee, Verizon’s director for community affairs in Queens. “These funds will go a long way in helping to educate Queens residents about abuse, the steps needed for prevention, and assisting those people who are trapped in abusive relationships to get help and restore their lives.”

Verizon awarded the grant money as part of its recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

St. John’s will use the money to support the Preventing Adverse Reactions to Negative Events and Related Stress, or PARTNERS, program, which is designed to help multicultural, inner city youth and families who have suffered from domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse or bereavement.

Other groups that received grants included Flushing-based Garden of Hope, which offers support to battered Chinese immigrant women; Center for the Women of New York, a Kew Gardens-based nonprofit that will use the money to offer workshops designed to meet the needs of victims of physical and emotional abuse; and Forest Hills-based Forestdale Inc., which will put the money toward its domestic violence prevention training for young fathers as part of its Fathering Initiative program.

Safe Space, which has offices in Jamaica and Far Rockaway, will use the grant to help provide mental health services to children and their families who have experienced family violence, community violence or the loss of a loved one; the nonprofit Sakhi will funnel the funds toward the organization’s Economic Empowerment program, which helps domestic violence survivors originally from South Asia with a range of activities, including career counseling, résumé writing support and financial literacy and computer workshops.

Purvi Shah, Sakhi’s executive director, said the funds are especially needed this year, during which the group has experienced a 16 percent jump in requests for help, in part because of the economic recession. About 30 percent of the more than 700 women Sakhi helps are from Queens.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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