MONTCLAIR, NJ - More than 200 gathered at Canterbury Park Saturday morning for a walk to support victims of domestic violence.

The theme, “With Awareness There Is Hope,” reflects the mission of the nonprofit organization that hosted the event.  Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (S.O.F.I.A.) is a 501(c)(3) that provides advocacy, supportive services and referrals for temporary housing to “at risk” women and children of domestic violence.

The fourth annual event was organized by the organization’s founder Cynthia Walker and a plethora of volunteers.

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Dr. Nichole Simmons, board president of S.O.F.I.A. and chief operating officer of Babyland Family Services Domestic Violence Shelter, said, “I have been involved for four years and president for three. Today’s event was the biggest out of the four years. I am pleased that people are acknowledging that domestic violence is a problem and acknowledging that the only way to get rid of it and to eradicate domestic violence is through education.”  

Walker and her team attempt to bring healing to the victims and families, as well as awareness to this this issue that so often goes unspoken. Victims often have a sense of fear and insecurity about sharing the truth about their personal relationships. S.O.F.I.A. was founded to create a voice and safe haven for the victims and families affected.

To that end, S.O.F.I.A. is expanding and has recently opened a Success Center. The focus at the Success Center is on creating a health and wellness center for domestic violence victims that offers a variety of workshops to help heal the inner soul.

Among those present at the walk were Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, Mayor Robert Jackson, Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville and President Al Pelham of the Montclair NAACP. Other elected officials supporting this event were Senator Nia Gill, Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill and Deputy Mayor Robert Russo.

At the conclusion of the walk around the park at each participant’s own pace, a brief program acknowledged volunteers and sponsors. A concluding prayer and symbolic release of balloons ended the event on a unified note.

The participants came from all over the state of New Jersey, including Cynthia Strickland of Jersey City, who has been participating in the walk for the past two years.

Strickland said, “This is a great cause. There’s so many women who don’t have a voice and can’t speak up for themselves.” “I have seen more people here this year than last year and these people are doing a great thing, giving a lot of themselves,” she continued.

Adele Perdue of East Orange has become a certified advocate for domestic violence awareness after working with S.O.F.I.A. to help women. Perdue expressed that she will soon begin working with the local police department.

“Three years ago someone called me because a young lady had been beaten and they were looking for some help for her because she was terrified. I happened to see Cynthia on Facebook and I called her for advice on how to guide this woman. As a result of that conversation, I ended up going to the prosecutor’s office and later became a certified advocate for domestic violence awareness,"  said Perdue, who grew up in Montclair and expressed that she is also a survivor of domestic violence.

Perdue passionately continued, “SOFIA is a wonderful organization. People don’t really recognize domestic violence as an issue. They think it is a family issue. It is not, it’s a community issue and it has no color and has no socioeconomic preference. People need help and they need to change their mindset so that we can produce better families to keep our families together. No one should have to be hurt in the name of love.”

“From October to June, we have a support group every second and fourth Thursday. We don’t give out the location. You can go on our website and register and you will receive and email informing you of our location. This is for the protection of our women. Victims and survivors will be there. It doesn't’t just affect the victims, it affects our families, loved ones, and us as a community at whole. The only way we are going to eradicate domestic violence is to speak about it and tell others that it is okay to speak about it,” added Simmons.

For more information, visit www.supportsofia.org, call the help line at (973) 932-0530 or like the supportsofia page on Facebook.