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Reading a message of hope

It was the stories that gave them hope to hang on.

For the past two months, women who were domestic violence victims and their children participated in a literacy program at the New York Family Justice Center in Kew Gardens, and they said the time spent reading, as well as the stories they were able to share about their life’s hardships, made them believe that tomorrow would be a brighter day.

“The older son witnessed what was going on in the house, he’s very sensitive and coming here is helping him forget what he saw,” a 35-year-old mother of two boys, ages 2 and 4, said in Punjab through a translator at a graduation ceremony held Sept. 8 for the program participants. The woman did not wish to be identified.

The Family Justice Center, which is at 126-02 82nd Ave. and was founded in Queens in 2008 to help domestic violence victims, offered the Brooke Jackman Family Literacy Program for the first time this year after the program’s success at the center’s Brooklyn site. The program is sponsored by a nonprofit of the same name that promotes literacy and was established in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that took the life of 23-year-old Brooke Jackman, one of 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees to die in the twin towers that day.

As part of the program, 11 children and eight mothers in Queens spent two hours every Friday evening for the past two months eating dinner, doing arts and crafts and reading books in English, Spanish and Punjabi — the main languages spoken by the participants — together. All the program participants are clients of the Family Justice Center.

“It’s wonderful. The family has pulled together to make sure Brooke’s dream that reading is part of children’s daily lives has come true,” said Yolanda Jimenez, the commissioner of the mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, who presided over last week’s graduation. “When we first started the program, we didn’t know what to expect. Many of our families are in crisis, and to ask them to take on something in addition to that could be a challenge, but we found this time they spent together was very special. It became a quiet and creative time.”

The women and children in the program quickly formed bonds, and at the graduation ceremony Sept 8 they noted the importance those two hours a week became in their lives. During the ceremony, center employees gave the participants a hardcover children’s book, “Journey Through Islamic Art” by Na’ima bint Robert and Diana Mayor, and a graduation certificate.

“Seeing the other women, seeing that some are in school and some are working, it gives me and my child courage to go and do things outside the house,” a 35-year-old mother of one 4-year-old boy said in Punjab through a translator.

The New York City Family Justice Center in Queens has assisted more than 8,000 victims and their children and has logged nearly 20,000 client visits since it opened in June 2008.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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