This Women’s History Month, Newsday is profiling four women who, through their daily efforts, are working to better the lives of other women and their families in Nassau and Suffolk.

For one woman, that means providing diapers and baby formula to struggling moms. For another, it’s helping women navigate life after incarceration. For yet another, it’s providing a community for moms of color to share the highs and lows of parenting. And for one woman, it’s advocating for victims of domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, as well as child abuse and human trafficking.

Here are their stories:

Serena Martin-Liguori

In 2013, Serena Martin-Liguori co-founded New Hour for Women and Children-Long...

In 2013, Serena Martin-Liguori co-founded New Hour for Women and Children-Long Island, which is dedicated to advocating for the rights of women and children impacted by incarceration. Credit: Barry Sloan

Coming home from prison was almost like being a soldier coming home from war, Serena Martin-Liguori said.

Martin-Liguori, who was incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility at age 19 as a result of what she describes only as "a terrible tragedy" related to a family member with a mental health issue, had at 21 survived abuse and solitary confinement, and, she said recently, was "so traumatized, all I wanted to do was keep it in, keep that part of my life a secret."

Instead, Martin-Liguori has used her experience to help other women like her. In 2013, she cofounded New Hour for Women and Children-Long Island, an organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of women and children impacted by incarceration and helping them find the safe space needed to rebuild their lives.

Based in Brentwood, New Hour helps more than 100 women each month — 75% of them mothers, 90% survivors of what Martin-Liguori calls "serious harm, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse," and 100% previously incarcerated.

“There's an overt bias against anyone who's been incarcerated, a lack of understanding that a lot of women become involved in the carceral system because of circumstances … What we do is help them navigate what are the systemic barriers for women who have been through incarceration. To give them every opportunity to succeed," Martin-Liguori said.

Serena Martin-Liguori, of New Hour for Women and Children-Long Island, discusses her non-profit, which helps women impacted by incarceration. Credit: Newsday/Barry Sloan

Martin-Liguori, who is Latinx, grew up in Sayville. As a result of her criminal conviction she was sentenced to 1½-to-4½ years at Bedford Hills.

Vowing to "do something to change the system,” Martin-Liguori earned her associate degree in prison then put herself through Adelphi University at night, where she earned her bachelor's degree.

As associate director of policy at the Correctional Association of New York's Women in Prison Project, Martin-Liguori was a key organizer in the creation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act Expanded Discretion Law, which helps secure parental rights for incarcerated parents, as well as the Anti-Shackling Law, which prohibits the shackling of incarcerated mothers during labor.

The programs offered by New Hour have had such impact, Martin-Liguori said, that while the prison recidivism rate on Long Island is 65%, the rate for New Hour members is just 2%.

She credits that success to the services and goods provided — from an Uber card to pro bono legal counsel — to help formerly incarcerated women get back on their feet, as well as the organization’s educational programs.

That educational process includes helping members learn how to not only make better choices, but, as Martin-Liguori said, "to take accountability for the harm that you've done — and to give back to your community.”

She added, “A lot of our work circles around not just how do I fix me, but how do I break the cycle … Once you stabilize the mother, stabilize the parent, you also stabilize and empower the child. When our women realize they have more choices, there's another way, they say, 'I'll never settle again for what I settled for before.'"

Kerry Gillick-Goldberg

"In some cases you have moms in desperate, desperate need,...

"In some cases you have moms in desperate, desperate need, wondering how they'll be able to afford diapers and formula and clothing....Knowing there's supplies in hand reduces the stress they're under," said Kerry Gillick-Goldberg, whose organization Baby Essentials of Long Island provides needed items to new mothers. Credit: Johnny Milano

When the coronavirus pandemic first shut down the world in 2020, Kerry Gillick-Goldberg pondered what she could do to help.

In response, Gillick-Goldberg — who helped start Long Island's first diaper bank in coordination with the Allied Physicians Group — created Baby Essentials of Long Island. Two years later, the nonprofit, based out of her home in Bethpage, has helped distribute diapers, baby formula, clothing and other essentials to more than 2,000 new mothers and their newborns, helping women who are single parents, victims of domestic violence, the working poor, or who are, for whatever their circumstance, in need of assistance.

"If you can't provide the very basics for your child it can be overwhelming," Gillick-Goldberg said recently. "Our goal is to decrease the stress."

Gillick-Goldberg’s organization is unique, because she delivers needed items — mostly diapers and formula — directly to new mothers.

"The organizations up and running all delivered to food banks or places like that. But most of the people who were truly in need during the pandemic did not have access to transportation,” said Gillick-Goldberg. “They had no way to get to some place that might have the items, the supplies, they need."

So Gillick-Goldberg, who grew up in Merrick, and her husband Joseph bought diapers, baby wipes and formula to hand out to those in need. Recipient lists were assembled with information gathered through Help Me Grow, the nonprofit whose diaper bank Gillick-Goldberg helped set up, as well as through the 211 system, which assists callers in a variety of languages, including Spanish and Haitian Creole. Then, Gillick-Goldberg loaded up her Nissan Rogue and delivered essentials to new moms.

From a handful of clients, Gillick-Goldberg said the number of those helped has grown steadily and Baby Essentials, which has storage space in Deer Park, recently acquired additional storage in Bethpage, where gift bags are packed with assistance from part-time employees and volunteers.

One key part of what Baby Essentials does, Gillick-Goldberg said, is supply new moms with a month’s worth or more of diapers and necessities, instead of perhaps just a week's worth.

As Gillick-Goldberg said: "In some cases you have moms in desperate, desperate need, wondering how they'll be able to afford diapers and formula and clothing. A lot of these people worked in a cash economy and now, during COVID, they're destitute. Knowing there's supplies in hand reduces the stress they're under.”

Malika Elwin

As co-president of Mocha Moms of Long Island, Malika Elwin...

As co-president of Mocha Moms of Long Island, Malika Elwin aims to provide a forum for moms of color to interact, discuss, socialize and share. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

One night, it might be a cooking class. Another, it might be painting.

"Sometimes," says Malika Elwin, co-president of Mocha Moms of Long Island, "it's moms just getting together to talk."

Mocha Moms of Long Island, one of more than 100 chapters nationwide, provides a forum for moms of color to interact, discuss, socialize and share — though the group is also open to those of all races and religions, as well as educational and income levels.

The Long Island chapter is about 10 years old and currently has between 40 and 50 active members. Members pay annual dues of $50.

Meetings and events might be in-person or online and include national events with other chapters, as well as local Long Island-based get-togethers, said Elwin, who lives in Elmont.

Recently, Long Island Mocha Moms with younger children got together for an outing to the Long Island Children's Museum. Those moms also had discussions about the historic nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court — if confirmed, Jackson would become the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the land.

Malika Elwin, the co-president of Mocha Moms of Long Island, spoke about the importance of mothers of color connecting on issues involving motherhood and parenting.  Credit: Steve Pfost/Newsday

Members receive a national newsletter and participate in event segments such as Teens & Tweens support, Mocha Entrepreneurs and Homeschooling Moms.

On the local level, upcoming events include: Mom's Night Out; Mother's Day Brunch and Tea, which will feature an induction ceremony for new members, at the Viana Hotel and Spa in Westbury; and Black Marriage Day Date Night. There are also weekly and monthly Sister Socials.

Members also share pictures and stories on Instagram and other social media, as well as share favorite quotes.

For a recent online cooking event, members were given a shopping list and then joined in to make a jerk pasta dish and dessert along with a guest chef, Elwin said.

"Our main goal," former chapter president Lareicha Hunter of West Babylon said, "is to support sisterhood and bonding and Black motherhood through partnerships and friendships with other moms.

"We're all moms," she said, "and sometimes it's hard for us to make time for ourselves with all we have going on. This helps."

Cynthia Scott

"It's scary, sometimes, for people to first make that decision...

"It's scary, sometimes, for people to first make that decision to pick up the phone, to reach out to someone,” said Cynthia Scott, executive director of The Safe Center LI. “When they do, we're here to help." Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

For more than two decades Cynthia Scott, executive director of The Safe Center LI in Bethpage, has been on the front lines in the fight to protect, assist and empower victims of child abuse, domestic, dating and family violence, rape and sexual assault, and human and labor trafficking.

A native of Greenlawn, Scott had been directing a youth agency in the Town of Huntington when she first became involved in what would become The Safe Center. The nonprofit, located at the old Northrop Grumman site, was formed through the 2014 merger of the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Coalition Against Child Abuse and Neglect, which enabled, Scott said, women, children and men to access services dealing with all aspects of a given family situation.

The Safe Center, which Scott said has about 100 full-time and part-time employees, provides a wide range of legal, educational, vocational, immigration and counseling services and also works with Child Protective Services and local law enforcement and legal agencies to investigate crimes and protect clients.

There's even housing assistance, so a client does not have to return to an abusive situation due to financial reasons, and emergency shelter space for those in immediate danger.

"We are here to help victims decide what they have to do, to provide them access to services, to provide hope," Scott said. "Sometimes, that might be getting a person to safety, other times it might be helping them deal with the trauma of what they've been through. Some of it may be helping them navigate the system.”

Cynthia Scott, executive director of The Safe Center LI, discusses the center's work helping victims of domestic and dating abuse, child abuse, and rape and sexual assault. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The Safe Center has an $8.5 million annual budget, funded mostly through private sector and corporate fundraising, as well as government contracts that are county, state and federally fed, Scott said.

The center’s 24-hour hotline handles about 6,000 calls each year, while the child advocacy center handles upward of 1,200 cases a year.

"It's scary, sometimes, for people to first make that decision to pick up the phone, to reach out to someone,” said Scott. “When they do, we're here to help."

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