While rushing a sorority at Marist College in New York, Mellish attended a workshop hosted by the One Love Foundation, founded in honor of the late 22-year-old Yeardley Love, who lost her life as a result of domestic violence. The workshop included a 45-minute video with details of how abusive relationships play out. By Allison Perrine Gina Mellish models the Angel Energy clothing she helped design in support of domestic abuse victims. Photo courtesy Gina Mellish Any man, woman, or child can be sexually victimized. There is no acceptable reason for violence and abuse. If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to 180 Turning Lives Around. Its domestic violence hotline is 732-264-4111 or 888-843-9262. Its website is 180nj.org. “It really makes my heart so happy because you never really know what post can make that difference for people. A lot of the times people have to hear it over and over and it’s very difficult when you have a family or you’re stuck at home,” said Mellish. “I really underestimated the power of social media,” she said. After posting videos and information about such topics as how to make a safe escape plan and how to get help, she found that people were sharing them with others and commenting positive responses to her messages. One important resource for domestic abuse victims in Monmouth County is the Hazlet-based nonprofit organization 180 Turning Lives Around. It is currently offering counseling services to those in need and additional rooms for families to stay in, including those with children and pets. This is important because oftentimes people don’t want to leave their abusers in fear of leaving their loved ones or pets behind, Mellish said. The organization is also working with local police departments to issue temporary restraining orders when necessary while the courts are closed. Since then, Mellish has hosted workshops with the One Love Foundation to help educate other students about the signs of unhealthy relationship behaviors before they escalate into abuse. She continues to teach these lessons today, but now she must do so virtually because of the pandemic. Domestic violence is rising as the quarantine continues. That’s why Mellish, who was crowned Miss New Jersey USA in November 2019, is using her voice to find resources for those in need. She’s even working with state and local elected officials to develop further protections for victims. “I swear, it was like the biggest sign from God for me,” said Mellish. “It goes through all of these unhealthy signs that people don’t normally realize or label as abusive because we’re not really ever taught how to love. We just learn from the people around us, our parents or what we see.” In the meantime, Mellish is collaborating with Hoboken resident Sarah Ripoli who is also a former victim of domestic violence. Ripoli now gives back to others through her clothing brand, Angel Energy, in which 25 percent of proceeds support domestic violence charities. The brand is currently offering a signature line of sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats and T-shirts. The two are working on bringing a new sweat set to the site soon. After speaking with Lynn Lucarelli, 180’s director of development, Mellish learned that the organization has not received a higher volume of calls and reports about domestic violence, despite cases being on the rise. She has, however, seen “a significant increase” in website visits around the hours of 1 and 2 a.m. “For me, what that said is there’s not enough privacy for victims to actually reach out,” she said. “The actual ability for victims to reach out and use their voice is limited because of the fact that there’s no privacy now that they’re quarantined with their abusers.” Mellish feels a personal connection to this cause, as she is a survivor of a three-year abusive relationship that started when she was 16. The relationship continued into her college years and, because her parents weren’t there to see what was happening, they were surprised to learn about what she went through, she told The Two River Times. “I think this is something that could really make a difference,” said Mellish. The article originally appeared in the April 30 – May 6, 2020 print edition of The Two River Times. To help people in that situation, Mellish is working with Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso and former Oceanport councilman Joe Irace to develop a “safe word” for abuse victims to use in pharmacies, signaling that they need help. Mellish said that Italy and other countries first impacted by novel coronavirus implemented this system and it is saving lives. Mellish hopes to do the same for New Jersey residents and, eventually, all U.S. residents. “It’s a fun, positive way to get people involved in this situation because sometimes it’s not easy to talk about or read. It’s an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people,” said Mellish. “We thought this would be a really fun, positive way to give back to charities that are helping victims right now.” OCEANPORT – Gov. Phil Murphy prolonged his executive stay-at-home order this week, mandating that people stay indoors as much as possible until further notice. But Oceanport resident Gina Mellish knows that, sadly, home is not a safe haven for everyone.