Kearny Bank Foundation Supports
2023 Back 2 School Store

NCJW/Essex staging 15th annual Back 2 School Store

300 volunteers helping 1000+ students in need

Through its charitable foundation,
Kearny Bank contributes $18,000

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ (July 12, 2023) – For the 15th consecutive year, the National Council of Jewish Women – Essex County section (NCJW/Essex) will be holding its Back 2 School Store, providing essential, school-related items to students in need across Essex County. This year’s Store will be held on July 30.

 The approximately 1,000 students who benefit – each of whom must be registered in advance through any of about 40 supporting charitable or municipal agencies – may “shop” for a range of clothing, school supplies, personal care items, and various accessories. Available attire includes coats, underwear, socks, pants, tops, hats, and gloves. All items are new, and children have choices of current, popular styles.

“Obviously, making sure children are warm, comfortable, and have the supplies they need is vital, but the Back 2 School Store is also intended to be empowering,” says Caitlin Higgins Joy, NCJW/Essex Executive Director. “We regularly hear children say they have never before had an opportunity to shop for and choose their own things. With this initiative, if a child wants – for example – a purple coat, they can pick a purple coat.”

Kearny Bank has supported the Back 2 School Store since 2012. This year, through its charitable foundation, it has donated $18,000.

Learn more about the Kearny Bank Foundation 

Learn more about the Back 2 School Store 

“Our company is committed to helping those communities where we conduct business, and the Back 2 School Store is precisely the type of program we’re proud to support,” says Kearny Bank President and CEO Craig Montanaro. “When you realize just how many children don’t have access to what most of us consider the most basic necessities, you get a little hitch in the back of your throat. At the same time, it’s inspiring – it’s heartwarming – to see what the NCJW/Essex folks are able to achieve each year.”

The Back 2 School Store is a huge, collective undertaking, which requires an ongoing, year-round effort. And that’s why NJCW/Essex sets approximately 300 volunteers to the task. Of note, agencies with clients who aren’t able to shop in person will pick up specially packed bags during the week following the July 30 Store event.

“What our volunteers accomplish is amazing – maybe even miraculous,” explains 2023 Back 2 School Store Co-Chair Susie Botwinick. “The logistics are daunting, but the biggest and most creative challenge is making the funds we have go as far as possible. Our volunteers are constantly tracking down all kinds of sales and discount opportunities. Even a small amount of money saved means being able to purchase another coat, more notebooks, or some other essentials.”

When the children visit the Store on July 30 to shop, volunteers there in Millburn will serve as personal shoppers to help them determine what fits and what looks great. At the same time, parents and other adults who transported the children to the event are able to participate in health screenings and access a range of information from local agencies on topics that include social services, mentoring, and managing personal finances.

Marcina Fox, Executive Director at the Valley Settlement House child-care center in West Orange – which has taken part in the Back 2 School Store since it began – notes: “Our parents are working parents, and we provide childcare and support, including participating in the Back 2 School Store. To see the look on the kids’ faces after they have shopped is amazing, and the items they receive are often enough to last throughout the year.  Not to mention, adding so many resources for the parents to explore while their kids are shopping was wonderful.”  

About NCJW/Essex

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms. NCJW/Essex members and volunteers give back to our community, advocate for issues and form forever friendships. The National Council of Jewish Women was founded in 1893, in Chicago, and the Essex County section was established in 1912.  For more information about our mission and our programs, visit

About Kearny Bank

Combining the finest traditions of community banking with the industry’s latest, most effective financial products and services, Kearny Bank provides business and personal clients with the tools for success. Established back in 1884, and now operating from corporate offices in Fairfield, NJ, Kearny Bank’s footprint covers most of New Jersey, along with Brooklyn and Staten Island. Additional information is available at or by visiting Kearny Bank’s social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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Media Contacts:  

Kurt Praschak / 973.992-7800, x.289 /

Debra Lewis / 973-740-0588, x120 /


2023 Installation & Awards Luncheon Recap

Recap of a Wonderful Day

The scene is set: a room buzzing with warm greetings, big hugs and wide smiles as we came together to thank NCJW/Essex’s incoming and outgoing officers, honor our remarkable award recipients, and welcome friends, new and old, to our celebration. 

Planned beautifully by Co-Chairs Leslie Lavinthal and Sharon Spindel, the 2023 Installation & Awards Luncheon at Cedar Hill Country Club on Tuesday, June 13 reminded us once again why NCJW/Essex is a special place. 

Grounded in our Jewish values, articulated so well in moving words from two Rabbis Cohen, our annual gathering illuminated the impact we have on our community, our fierce advocacy for individual rights and freedoms and the respect and admiration we have for each other, and others have for NCJW/Essex.

This event brings one year to a close and fills us with the hope and promise of another brimming with more volunteers, more advocacy and more connections. Read below for some highlights of a wonderful day.  

Thank You to Outgoing Board and Officers and Installing the New Slate

The business of Installation was handled with grace by outgoing Immediate Past President Penina Barr.  She thanked Nominations Chair Shari Harrison and Nominations Vice Chair Marjie Zucker for their excellent work then led the group through the steps required to pass the responsibility and the excitement of the new year ahead.  The new slate of officer

Penina also shared a few words about her friend NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman, who is entering the second year of her term. Though known for their different approaches – Penina shared she writes her speeches with minutes to spare, and Jennie writes her remarks weeks in advance; Penina captures notes quickly, and Jennie is a fan of binders – the two have become close friends, colleagues and each other’s advisor, all of which will continue well into the future.  

2023 – 2024 Slate of Officers


Jennie Goldsmith Rothman 

Executive Vice President 

Andrea Mintz 

VP, Administration 

Beth Randall-Branigan

VP, Advocacy

Laurie Kahn 

VP, Center for Women

Lauren Tabak Fass

VP, Communications 

Lori Gelman 

VP, Fund Development 

Lisa Santola

VP, Membership 

Adrienne Lewin 

VP, Programming 

Robin Kollin 

VP, Volunteer Outreach 

Cindy Charney


Laurie Schuftan 

Assistant Treasurer 

Sara Goetz

Recording Secretary 

Elisa Madorsky

Corresponding Secretary 

Susie Botwinick

Financial Secretary 

Debra Goldsmith 

Nominations Chair 

Paula Green 

Nominations Vice Chair 

Lauren Scher 

President's Remarks:
Asking the Right Questions

Driven by an innate curiosity and eagerness to learn, Jennie led the organization in the first year of her presidency as we tackled and considered some of the bigger issues of our time: What does the world look like in a post-Roe environment? How do we confront rising antisemitism and hatred of any kind? How do we continue to provide services to increasingly food- and housing-insecure clients at the Center for Women?  

The answers to these and other questions are never simple. However, Jennie reminded us of the importance of asking those questions and more directly, emphasized the importance of taking action.

“While asking questions is definitely a Jewish value,” she said, ” our tradition doesn’t stop there. Jewish tradition requires that we act; we must do our part to make the world more whole and just by engaging in Tikkun Olam.”

That manifests at NCJW/Essex in ways big and small – the way we encourage fostering connections with each other and with our community; the way we act, not always with a perfect outcome, but with the knowledge that we did not shy from the task; and the way we treat everyone with respect and dignity. 

Jennie concluded her remarks where Rabbi Simeon Cohen of Temple Beth Shalom began. They both highlighted the teachings and guidance from the Pirke Avot which says, “we are not required to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.” 

Hannah G. Solomon Award:
Smiles All Around

Known around NCJW/Essex for her fabulous work on the Back 2 School Store, for organizing programs and events and for serving as a member of the Board and Executive Committee, Lori Gelman’s impact in our community has made a massive impact on so many people, especially those who are facing some of life’s toughest challenges. 

As her friend and fellow NCJW/Essex Executive Committee member Cindy Charney said in her introduction, Lori is a woman with many superpowers, the brightest of which might be the ability to find joy and optimism in any situation. That was evident when she co-founded the Comfort Cart at Cooperman Barnabas Hospital’s Cancer Center and when she and her family established the Duke Brain Aneurysm Fund to educate and support doctors, caregivers and other families dealing with this situation.

Lori said she volunteers because it “fuels her spirit and passion and is a constant reminder that no matter how bad my worst day may be, there are others who are dealing with life’s challenges… It reminds me to be appreciate of all the gifts I have and to not take for granted life’s blessings.” 

She also reminded us that “…a warm smile is priceless. Never underestimate its power.”  

Henrietta Weiser Emerging Leader Award: From Generation to Generation

NCJW/Essex is lucky to have many mother-daughter (and even granddaughter) members, but this was the first time a mother and daughter received the same award – 23 years apart!

L’dor va dor — the Jewish concept of ensuring traditions are passed from generation to generation —  was in full effect as Lauren Tabak Fass received this year’s Emerging Leader Award from her mother, Judy Wais Tabak.  Judy introduced Lauren not only to NCJW/Essex, but to the importance of Tikkun Olam and the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected. 

Lauren has long been a leader at NCJW/Essex. From chairing the Back 2 School Store at the height of the pandemic, to serving on the Board and most recently as VP of Communications, she has put her drive, passion, intelligence, and ability to bring others together to further the organization’s mission.

As mother and daughter stood together at the podium, Lauren’s daughter, Skylar, watched from the room. Judy said, “I hope that Skylar, like her mother and me, will come to understand and embrace the qualities contributions and promise this award represents and feel the pull and power of NCJW/Essex to keep us all forever young.” L’dor va dor indeed.  

Helen D. Schwartz Memorial Crystal Award: Girls Helping Girls. Period. and the Fight to End Period Poverty

The Crystal Award is given to an organization that has made an impact in Essex County and exemplifies the goals of NCJW/Essex through an outstanding vision and contributions to the community in education, social action and/or service. This year’s recipient, Girls Helping Girls. Period. and its Executive Director Elise Joy, became a natural choice.

Introduced by NCJW/Essex Executive Director Caitlin Higgins Joy (the familial connection is strong!), Elise shared the history of Girls Helping Girls. Period., which began when her daughters, Emma and Quinn, were bat-mitzvah-aged. GHGP believes that menstrual health leads to overall health and human dignity and their focus is on wiping out period poverty. 

One of the Joy sisters’ first meetings was with NCJW/Essex, long a champion of improving the quality of women’s lives. Over the years the two groups have teamed to educate the community about how students often miss school and women often miss work because of their lack of access to period products. Girls Helping Girls. Period. has generously provided menstrual products to the Back 2 School Store and expects this year to donate two months’ worth of product for each recipient. 

Elise and Girls Helping Girls. Period. have been fierce and frequent advocates for the bill currently in front of the State Assembly that would provide period products in all school bathrooms, at the state’s expense. 

That won’t be the end for GHGP; there is always a new beginning. They have many more people to educate, more product to collect and distribute, and more lives to impact with their work.  


Golf & Pickleball Invitational 2023

It was a fabulous day at Mountain Ridge Country Club on Monday, May 22 at our Golf & Pickleball Invitational. The course was filled with laughter, a few good shots (and a few that were conveniently forgotten), our first Pickleball round robin, and overall a great time had by all. It was wonderful to see so many return participants and to welcome new friends. Most importantly, the event raised funds to support our work on programs including the Back 2 School Store, advocacy and outreach and more.

Great thanks to our Co-chairs, Penina Barr and Nancy Eskow, to ShopRite, our title sponsor, and to everyone who played, attended, volunteered and donated. Can’t wait to see you next year!

PASSED! Menstrual Equity Bill Passed Out of Committee in NJ State Assembly

June 22 Update:
Menstrual Equity Bill Unanimously Approved by Appropriations Committee
Next Step - Full Assembly


On June 22, the NJ State Assembly Appropriations Committee unanimously PASSED Bill A1349 providing period products, paid for by the state, in school bathrooms.

Appropriations Chair and bill co-sponsor Lisa Swain said we are “finally close to the finish line!”

NJCW/Essex is hopeful the bill will head to the whole Assembly next week for a vote.

The Women and Children Committee of the New Jersey State Assembly voted unanimously today to advance Bill A1349, which mandates period products in all NJ schools and requires the State to pay the costs. This bill corrects an inequity in education and opportunity by making menstrual products as accessible as toilet paper and paper towels in school bathrooms. 

The National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section (NCJW/Essex) proudly testified at the hearing today in favor of the bill, alongside many of our partners, including The Flow Initiative, Hospeco, The Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the League of Women Voters, Girls Helping Girls. Period., and students from North Star Academy in Newark.  

The students provided perhaps the most moving testimony of the day. They have worked with the coalition to implement a menstrual product dispenser pilot program in their school. 

“I urge you to pass this bill because as a person who menstruates, having a period is very stressful,” said Heissel Contreras, a North Star junior. “I have had to run around the school hallways trying to ask someone for a pad. This not only was highly embarrassing, but it also wastes a lot of the time I could have taken in class.” 

NCJW/Essex helped script the preliminary language for this bill in 2016, and  together with partners at the Thrive NJ Menstrual Equity Coalition, have worked tirelessly for more than six years to move this legislation on what is clearly a nonpartisan issue. The 10 co-sponsors of A1349 include women and men, Democrats and Republicans.  And, since we began our work in New Jersey, 21 other states and Washington DC have passed similar menstrual equity bills.

Committee Chair Gabriela Mosquera, the bill’s initial primary sponsor, also emphasized the need to reshape thinking on menstrual equity. “If we can afford toilet paper in our bathrooms, we can definitely afford menstrual products,” she said during the hearing. “Our students are faced with enough issues today. They should not be forced to take extreme measures… We should just give them the necessities they deserve.”  

Toilet paper and paper towels on the desk in front of NCJW/Essex Director of Advocacy Stephanie Abrahams .

NCJW/Essex’s Period.Project, launched in 2018, works to help end period poverty through distribution, education and advocacy and has distributed more than 900,000 menstrual products to date. Our ultimate goal is to have period products available wherever menstruators need them, and we look forward to that day when this initiative is no longer needed. 

NCJW/Essex and its partners will continue to watch and support Bill A1349 as it moves through the committee process and then on to the full Assembly for a final vote with the hope and commitment that it will become law. 

Card Party Returns!

"It's so great to see you! It has been way too long!"

Those greetings rang through the rooms at Crestmont Country Club on Monday, May 1 as nearly 250 people arrived for the 2023 Card Party.

Card Party returned following a four-year pandemic-related hiatus, and it was not a minute too soon.  

“What a reunion!” Sharon Falkin shared.  “Friends and acquaintances reconnecting in a way only NCJW/Essex can make happen.  Shared memories of programs, projects and advocacy.” 

This event is one of NCJW/Essex’s important annual fundraisers, and it exceeded all expectations and plans.  A giant thank you to our generous benefactors and to everyone who played, shopped, lunched and bought raffle tickets.  Your support enables us to continue the work of improving the lives of women, children and families in Essex County. 

Co-chairs Debbi Fine, Robin Kollin and Lauren Scher produced a wonderful event from start to finish, flawlessly coordinating players and groups, overseeing a record 15 vendors whose tables were filled with fun and fabulous products and creating a festive and bright atmosphere where everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch.  Thank you to our Fund Development team, VP Lisa Santola and Director of Development Alison Haight for their support. 

“Fabulous day!  Kudos to our three chairs who did a top-notch job,” said Rita Isaacs, echoing the feelings of all who attended. 

NCJW CEO Sheila Katz Speaks in Livingston

The pouring rain could not keep a contingent of NCJW/Essex members away from Temple B’nai Abraham on Sunday, April 30 to hear NCJW CEO Sheila Katz in conversation with Senior Rabbi David Vaisberg. 

Sheila, who was named NCJW’s national leader in 2019, has more than doubled the number of NCJW advocates to over 210,000 strong working collectively to ensure that the rights of women, children and families are protected, translated into public policy and upheld in our courts.   Her path took her from teaching at the elementary school level to rising through the ranks at Hillel International to becoming one of only two women CEOs of a legacy national Jewish organization. 

Sheila traced her history in the fight for equality and justice, and the choices she made along the way.  Sparked by her mother’s illness and disability, Sheila realized at an early age that when things are more accessible it’s better for everyone.  “When one person rises, we bring others with us,” she said

That is especially true when it comes to gender equity, and the role of women in the workplace.  And, it starts early.  Women should be making the same as men in their first jobs out of college, setting the stage for equity for a lifetime.  But, data shows that still is not happening, nor is it happening in practice.  Early in her career, when asking for a raise, Sheila was told instead to “get a husband.”

That was also one of many turning points for her, and shined a light on some fundamental truths.   NCJW (and NCJW/Essex) says it operates on and is inspired by Jewish values, but Sheila asked, are we really putting them into practice?  She implored us to pay attention, reminded us that our budget dictates our values, and explained that issues like abortion access and equity, childcare and paid family leave are really at the heart of what our organization does.

Abortion has been at the top of the agenda lately, as it is a harbinger of an all-out war on women in the United States,  As a Jewish organization, NCJW has an important perspective to add to this conversation.  Abortion bans represent a threat to religious liberty, she said, as the Jewish faith prioritizes the life and health of the pregnant person.  

The thought-provoking, and frankly disturbing reality, according to Sheila is that Christian nationalism is making its way into our legal system, and it is up to all of us to speak up loudly – in our community, from the bimah, and elsewhere – because each person has the capacity to make a difference.

Sheila ended on a hopeful note:  “I have hope because I think about history,” she said, telling a story about Rosa Parks, who was a trained organizer before she stepped on the bus. 

“If enough of us do one thing, then one of us will change history.”   

BANNED: A Recap and Resources

Did you know that in 2022, the American Library Association recorded nearly 1,300 attempts to ban or restrict library material, nearly double the previous year and a 10-fold increase since 2020?  More than 2,500 unique book titles were targeted, most of which told stories about race, sex and gender. 

Those stunning numbers created the backdrop for NCJW/Essex’s Lunch and Learn on April 18.  BANNED:  The War on Books, Curriculum & Our Nation’s Schools drew more than 135 attendees to hear from the people on the front lines about what is happening in New Jersey and across the country, and more importantly, what members of our community can do to stem the tide and make our voices heard. 

Former Congressman Tom Malinowski served as our keynote speaker and set the stage with a stark reminder.  These issues are part of a systematic effort by some to remove longstanding institutions of learning, law enforcement, and even government from our lives.  However, when asked where do these people find the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity, he answered. “Schools.”

“We all see what’s happening,” he said. “Put in context, this debate is about what’s going on in our democracy.” 

Malinowski has embarked on a new project, Districts for Democracy, whose mission is to recruit and support candidates, including for local school boards, who are committed to freedom of inquiry, thought and speech for everyone.  It will take work – and money – to raise awareness of each candidate’s positions, and to ensure everyone participates in our democracy by voting.

A common theme surfaced among all the speakers:  public sentiment and polls show people overwhelmingly oppose banning books in schools. And, once again, a small and vocal minority dominates the discourse.  Recent events in Florida, where any resident is allowed to challenge books available in school libraries, have flooded our screens with pictures of empty shelves, frustrated teachers, and angry parents. 

Similar crises are happening close to home, where there are currently book challenges in 11 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, often on the basis of being “pornographic and obscene.”  Martha Hickson, a high school librarian from Hunterdon County, recounted her experience when several parents wanted to ban books that featured LGBTQ characters and themes. 

She fought back by engaging her community and ultimately the local school board voted to keep the books on the shelves.  It was not without personal cost, as Hickson received hate mail, was trolled online and endured attacks by people interested in defaming educators and ruining careers. 

But, she persisted.  “I’m dangerous, I’m going to open a book!” she said defiantly.  She encouraged everyone to get involved by exploring, an organization that vows not to let other parents tell you what your child can read. 

Working with local elected officials, teachers and school boards is also the path two of our speakers chose. Tazmine Weisgerber, a sex ed trainer at Answer, a non-profit based at Rutgers University, reminded us that sex ed should not – and is not – considered controversial and there is bi-partisan support for teaching it in our schools.  She outlined the standards teachers in New Jersey must follow for elementary and middle-school-aged children, noting that while the language has changed, the basic information kids should know has not. 

Citing a recent study about the reasons and the importance of this information, Weisgerber shared, “Educating young people about the names of their sexual anatomy at an early age normalizes talking about their bodies and reduces their risk for sexual abuse.”  

Compelled to come out of retirement to establish the New Jersey Public Education Coalition, founder Mike Gottesman has vowed to engage, educate and collaborate to protect public schools in New Jersey.

He reminded us that our Lunch and Learn coincided with Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, connecting what we commemorate on that day to some of the broader themes that opened our discussion:  the idea that an existential threat to public education is fomenting in our state and in our country, and the idea that a group of people who want to teach what they want, where they want, and to whom they want is a movement we need to acknowledge and fight. Taking action takes many forms:

Thank you to our Lunch & Learn Chair, Meryl Goodman, who brought the idea for this topic to our committee, to the full committee for their work getting ready for the Lunch & Learn and executing a flawless event, our Q&A moderator and Get Out the Vote co-chair Jordana Horn Gordon, and to VP Advocacy Laurie Kahn and Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement Stephanie Abrahams for all their work.  Special thanks to Temple B’nai Abraham for hosting us.  

March 30! Take Action! Free Period Products in Schools

Add Your Name to the Email Campaign on March 30 at 4:30 p.m.

Senate Bill S1221, which established a program in the Department of Education to reimburse school districts for providing menstrual products in public school grades 6-12, passed in December 2022. Yet this bill is still not law because it has yet to pass the Assembly.

Let’s make our voices heard by sending an email to the entire NJ Assembly telling them that it is NOW TIME TO PASS A1349  and finally make free period products in public schools the law in NJ, joining the other 21 states around the country that have already passed similar legislation.

How Do I Participate?

We would like to send the emails at the same time to make as big of an impact as possible. Please set your calendars for Thursday, March 30th @ 4:30 p.m. 


Please DOWNLOAD the flyer or copy the picture below, then paste it into the body of your email for both Gmail and Outlook (please do not send as an attachment). Use the  email addresses below to send your message to the entire Assembly:

Thank you for your support. With your help we can pass A1349 and make sure every student has access to period products in school bathrooms!

March Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Supports Covenant House NJ

Helping Homeless and Trafficked Youth at Covenant House NJ

On Thursday, March 16, a group of volunteers from NCJW/Essex, led by the organization’s Anti Human Trafficking Committee, gathered to learn more about homelessness and human trafficking and to assemble care packages for residents of the Covenant House Newark Shelter, where 12% of the young people they serve say they have experienced sex or labor trafficking.  

A Covenant House  representative shared that they are increasingly dealing with human trafficking situations, in addition to their work with homeless youth between the ages of 18 – 21.  Covenant House Newark Shelter provides immediate housing and care for more than 800 youths every year.  Homeless and trafficked youth suffer disproportionately from trauma, sexual and physical abuse, involvement in the foster care system, domestic violence, mental health challenges, and life on the street.  

Generous donations for the MIM included some of the residents’ most-requested items such as blankets, phone chargers, underwear and umbrellas they can keep as their own.  Volunteers also assembled care packages and wrote notes of support and encouragement to be shared with the accompanied by notes of support and encouragement.  Thank you to Anti Human Trafficking Co-Chairs Carol Cohen and Claudia Sandonato and event chair Sue Shusman.

Advocacy in an Hour: More After Abortion Care Kits

Showing Our Support for Abortion Seekers in New Jersey

Snow may have postponed us a week, but it couldn’t stop this team as another successful Advocacy in an Hour assembling After Abortion Care Kits was held on March 7.

The need is great, and our team of volunteers put together 400 (!!!) kits filled with necessities and comfort items – and notes of support – for people seeking abortions in New Jersey.

Representatives of Planned Parenthood shared stories about how our first batch of kits have made a difference with their clients, many of whom travel great distances for their abortions.  Upon receiving a care package, one client was grateful she didn’t have to stop at a drugstore for items following the procedure and, more importantly, was touched by the personal note and the fact that someone cared. 

Thank you to our event chairs Paula Green and Marlene Tuch, our Reproductive Rights Committee Co-Chairs Sharon Falkin and Phoebe Pollinger and everyone who participated or donated items, and to our partners from Planned Parenthood and elsewhere who are on the frontlines every day.   

There’s always more you can do.  Click the button to contact your legislators and make your voice heard on reproductive justice.