Survivor Leadership Institute Graduation: Celebrating leadership and each other

Sanctuary Client Renata writes about her experience as a member of the Survivor Leadership Institute’s Graduating Class of 2019.

Renata is a Survivor Leadership Institute graduate from the Class of 2019.  Our Survivor Leaders are former clients of Sanctuary, who go through a 12-week training and certification course to prepare them to make system-wide change through advocacy, training, program development, and working directly with other survivors.  Our graduates have completed this 12-week Survivor Leadership Institute, which consists of training in public speaking, vicarious trauma, self-care, media re-exploitation, advocacy, boundary setting, and many other skills.  

The Survivor Leadership Institute has a rigorous application and interview process, as the content of the training program is very challenging and can be triggering.  Each of the graduates has participated in counseling in the past, and to graduate this intensive program, they have leaned on their skills, their strength, their robust support systems and one another in our Survivor Leadership community. They have done the work to make it this far, and we are honored to have them become Sanctuary Survivor Leaders.

We often think of graduation as a milestone marking an entrance to a higher standing and the receipt of a diploma. To graduate also means to move from one stage of experience and prestige to a higher one, such as leadership. On May 13, 2019, the new cohort of survivor leaders at Sanctuary for Families did just that. I’m proud to say I am a part of this tribe, a part of the new cohort and a part of the story that extends before my time and to individuals who remain hidden and still in trouble.

As each of us stood at the podium to speak our truth, we celebrated life. Life after pain. Life after heartbreak. Life after trauma. We joined a brave tribe of survivor leaders fighting for justice, lifting shame, eradicating stigma, and promoting healing—all of whom are doing so with courage and strength that this work requires. Most of us didn’t choose our experiences. We didn’t choose our hurt. We didn’t choose disappointment and struggle. Now we certainly don’t choose what happened in our lives to define us. We choose to stand up, speak up, break the cycle, fight the system, educate the world, and be there for each other along the way. Today we choose to do something. Standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, today we are ready to support others on our shoulders. Our past drives us. Our future excites us. Our present allows us to show up—for ourselves, each other, and hopefully, many others.

For me, and I suppose for many others, healing is a process with ups and downs. It involves empathy and forgiveness—especially for myself. Healing also involves love for myself and others. My fellow survivor leaders and I are here today because the deeply broken people who tried to break us didn’t succeed. Unfortunately for many others, this is not the case. I hope that one day we will focus on the troubled situations that give rise to people who think it’s their right to take the lives of others, in one way or another, but we still have a long way to go. It’s an honor and privilege to stand among individuals paving the way for the justice that many of us never received and as a reminder that this can happen to anyone, and if it’s happening to you, you are not alone. We need to close the chapter on the narrative of broken, fragile, and gullible victims. No one standing at the podium at the Survivor Leadership Institute Graduation embodies any of these qualities. Instead, it was a night celebrating courage, determination, strength, vulnerability, resilience, and hope, along with intelligence, beauty, inspiration, and humor.

I recognize that I get to tell my story because I am lucky, and I survived. But becoming a leader isn’t luck—for me, it’s about being grateful for my life with all its twists and turns, the support of my fellow leaders, and Sanctuary for Families. This leadership opportunity is so much bigger than my story. The truth is that to get where I am today, I had to experience my yesterday. I stand with my humanity intact, and I no longer bear the weight of the lack of it in others.

Graduation night was a testament to the fact that our tribe is getting bigger. Our collective voice is getting louder. As Oprah says, our voices are our power. By breaking our silence and sharing our stories, we are taking our power back. Power we didn’t give away. Power that was taken from us by people we loved and trusted. This is an important distinction I hope others come to accept and recognize as we move away from painting inaccurate caricatures of victims and begin to focus on the individuals, ideologies and systems perpetuating gender-based (and related forms of) violence.

NY Must Do More for People in Prostitution, but Full Decriminalization Is Not The Answer

Our statement regarding the recently-introduced bill aimed at fully decriminalizing the sex industry in New York.

As service providers, advocates, and survivor leaders, we believe that people bought and sold in the sex trade should not be arrested, prosecuted, or criminalized. Though Senator Salazar’s and Assembly Member Gottfried’s bill (S.6419/A.8230) does decriminalize prostitution for victims of the sex trade, it also decriminalizes the most heinous and exploitative elements of this industry: sex buying and pimping. For this reason, Sanctuary for Families strongly opposes this bill. We urge legislators and advocates to dig deeper before supporting legislation that will promote pimping, sex buying, and the expansion of the sex industry.

Prostitution causes severe long term psychological and physical harm. An estimated 90% of people in prostitution in the United States are trafficked. Decriminalizing the system of prostitution would, in effect, sanction human trafficking because it would decriminalize all components of the sex trade. It would render illegal businesses, currently run by organized crime, legal. Brothel and illicit massage parlor owners would be deemed bonafide business owners or managers, and the profits they make off the sale of the bodies of women, children, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups would be legitimized.

We are better than this. We must ensure victims are protected, but cannot do so while extending the same protections to sex traffickers. Unfortunately, this bill does not take this nuanced approach, and it, therefore, should not become law in New York.

Warmly,

Hon. Judy H. Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families

Recognizing Jennifer Escobar & Rita Pascarella-Ronk: Pillars of Change Honorees

Jennifer and Rita are 2019 Pillars of Change honorees.

In anticipation of Pillars of Change on June 11th, we are highlighting Sanctuary Volunteers who will be honored at the volunteer recognition event! Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

Rita Pascarella-Ronk was introduced to Sanctuary for Families over 15 years ago through former Board President and the current Chair of Sanctuary’s President’s Council, Stephanie Ferdman. After being involved for a while Rita recalls, “The most memorable incident was when one of my friends was having a difficult day and asked me to dinner to catch up and talk. I was already committed to attending the graduation for clients in Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program and told my friend that she could come with me. To see the women stand up and be proud of each other and their accomplishments, my friend looked at me and said: “Thank you, I needed this perspective”. From that day forward this friend has never stopped volunteering and being involved with Sanctuary.”

That friend was Rita’s colleague, Jennifer Escobar! Since Rita introduced Jen to the Sanctuary network, they have been an incredible team of support for the agency and the clients we support. The two friends have moved jobs (together!) and have created and grown a multi-faceted partnership with their current employer, City National Bank. Over the past two years, Rita and Jen have organized multiple trainings for their colleagues at the bank that cover an in-depth overview of Sanctuary for Families and the challenges faced by clients. The wonderful colleagues within the bank’s Women’s Network have volunteered their time and skills, creating a customized, once-a-month, Financial Development series for the clients living at Sanctuary’s large, transitional residence, Sarah Burke House.

Sarah Burke House is New York’s largest transitional housing shelter located in the south Bronx. The shelter houses 58 families at any given time and provides supportive services to the residents as well as those who have moved out of the shelter through their comprehensive Aftercare Program. Lorena Zavala, a Case Manager at Sarah Burke House shares: “Jen and Rita foster a warm, welcoming, learning environment. This much-needed service is vital for our clients in getting back on their feet after shelter, and Rita and Jen have perfected making our clients feel comfortable and safe around a topic as daunting as personal finances. Their programming has made a huge impact on the lives of our survivors by making financial planning accessible, giving them the tools to progress toward their financial goals, and for some of our residents, providing the first encouragement and guidance to help them become financially independent. They even ensured diversity within the group of volunteers which made a big impact on the residents and helped everyone feel that their financial goals are attainable.”

Although Jen and Rita most often volunteer as a dynamic duo, they each have volunteered as individuals in “personal volunteer side projects” including but not limited to: resume writing, mock interviews, providing support to individual clients, participating as members of our Career Advancement Network which supports the clients within the Economic Empowerment Program, organizing volunteers to provide hundreds of Mother’s Day shoeboxes (thanks to Shoebox NYC) and participating in our gift drives during the end-of-year holiday season.

On one particular occasion, I had one of the women I was helping prepare a budget look at me with tears in her eyes and ask why I was doing this for her and I could only respond, “Why wouldn’t I?” Everyone deserves to be helped. She was so grateful, we hugged at the end of our meeting.” -Jen

“I hope showing up for the events shows the women they have individuals who are cheering for their success and are willing to help them.” – Rita 

“The idea that a small investment of my knowledge and time I can help make a positive impact in someone’s life is very rewarding.” – Jennifer Escobar

We thank Rita and Jen for their combined years of service to Sanctuary for Families. They both have provided an immeasurable amount of educational tools, resources, and encouragement to the lives they have touched, and our clients and staff alike are eternally grateful!

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on June 11th, 2019 to recognize Rita, Jen, and all of our volunteers for their dedicated service. Please RSVP for Pillars of Change today!

Recognizing Gail Friedman: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Gail is a 2019 Pillars of Change honoree.

In anticipation of Pillars of Change on June 11th, we are highlighting Sanctuary Volunteers who will be honored at the volunteer recognition event! Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

“When I am at Sanctuary for Families, I am surrounded by family, and I am home.” – Gail

Approximately three years ago, Gail Friedman became an invaluable member to Sanctuary’s In-kind donations team.

Since her first day, Gail has been working in Sanctuary’s Butterfly Boutique and adjacent storage room. The onsite clothing boutique is space at Sanctuary’s Manhattan service providing an office where clients and their children can select from a range of new and like-new donations in a calming and empowering environment. Donations of clothing and other items are an important way that Sanctuary can meet the immediate needs of clients and help them on their paths to safety and independence.

Gail began volunteering at Sanctuary’s original lower Manhattan office and continued to volunteer the agency’s big move to a new location – a location where the Butterfly Boutique did not yet exist. Sanctuary’s Director of Corporate and Volunteer Relations explains, “We didn’t have a Boutique, and our only “In-kind” staff member had just left to return to school. I knew it was going to take a lot to get the in-kind donations program up and running again, but with Gail’s ‘can-do’ attitude and support, I knew it was possible.”

After raising her own family, Gail felt that it was the right time to give back to an organization that provided so much support to so many people. Gail has not only been essential in organizing and maintaining such an integral part of the in-kind program but goes above and beyond to provide a warm and welcoming experience for clients.

“I want clients to leave the Boutique not only with clothing but with a feeling of self-worth.” – Gail

Additionally, because the service is open to all clients throughout the agency, Gail has touched many lives of those who she has never met at Sanctuary’s other 10 locations. “Gail has been one of the best volunteers I have interacted with, ever! She is always very cheerful and ready to assist our clients. I have multiple clients who ask for her and thank her for all that she does for them just by being in the Boutique. Gail has given clothes and items to clients who are the most in need. Always very friendly, kind, respectful, tentative, caring, compassionate, and many more descriptive words,” says Melina Hernandez, Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project Assistant.

Marissa Rosenberg-Carlson, a Case Manager within the Anti-Trafficking Initiative, shares that many of her clients look forward to seeing Gail when they come to Sanctuary for appointments. She says, “Gail always remembers what clients like & details about their children, and she goes to great lengths to make them feel comfortable and supported. Seeing her is often a highlight for my clients, particularly after they discuss heavy topics in case management sessions.”

We thank Gail for her years of commitment to Sanctuary’s staff and clients! Her impact is felt far beyond what can be expressed in words.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on June 11th, 2019 to recognize Gail and all of our volunteers for their dedicated service. Please RSVP for Pillars of Change today!