Laura Mannix Spring, Recipient of the 2019 Zero Tolerance Award

Each year, at our Annual Benefit, Sanctuary for Families celebrates individuals who have shown time and again, their commitment to ending gender-based violence. This year we are honoring Laura Mannix Spring, Director of Studio Services at Barneys New York and Co-Chair of the Barneys New York Foundation.

Each year, at our Annual Benefit, Sanctuary for Families celebrates individuals who have shown time and again, their commitment to ending gender-based violence. This year we are honoring Laura Mannix Spring, Director of Studio Services at Barneys New York and Co-Chair of the Barneys New York Foundation.

Sanctuary will present Laura with the Zero Tolerance Award for her long involvement with the Mother’s Council, the work she has done to build a partnership between Barneys and Sanctuary, and her passion for supporting gender violence survivors.

INTRODUCING LAURA

Laura is well-known for her expertise across multiple areas, from retail sales to community advocacy and development. Since taking on her current role in 1995, she has turned Studio Services into the premier sales area for Barneys New York.

Laura is an outstanding community advocate and philanthropist. Her charities include The Kevin Frawley Foundation, a scholarship on behalf of a close friend who perished on September 11th, and The Nick Traina Foundation, which fights for awareness of mental illness. Laura has also demonstrated her serious commitment to the revitalization of Yonkers, her hometown — She does tireless fundraising for St. Joseph School in Bronxville, is involved with various local businesses, and has served on many committees and boards of the Amackassin Club.

A LONG-STANDING ALLY

Laura and Sanctuary ED Judy H. Kluger, at a Barneys New York Foundation event in support of Sanctuary for Families.

Laura has been a part of the Sanctuary family for over a decade. In a recent interview, she told us about how she first learned about Sanctuary and discussed the reasons for which she is so passionate about our work with survivors of gender-based violence.

Laura was introduced to the organization by her friends Catherine Shanahan and Stephanie Ferdman, who invited her to attend a Mother’s Council breakfast. Laura vividly recalls the impact that the speaker’s testimony had on her that morning – “His name was Paul, and he was there to represent his sister who couldn’t be there because she was murdered in front of her three children by her abuser.” Being a new mother herself, Laura could not believe that this could happen to someone:

“I was so profoundly moved and thought to myself ‘This is something that needs to change.'”

INTERVIEW

Is there any particular program or project at Sanctuary that you are most passionate about? 

I am definitely moved and inspired by Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program [EEP] and the impact that it has across generations. It has inspired me to advocate for more opportunities within businesses and companies for women who have been traumatized, women who are raising children and teaching them what it means to be strong, what it means to be a warrior.

I think EEP’s impact is two-fold: It provides survivors with the technical skills needed to secure career-track jobs and build the financial resources that are so essential to families that have suffered from violence. It also gives survivors a whole new level of confidence and satisfaction, making them feel viable and capable of lending themselves to greater things, of changing the direction of their children’s lives for the better.

My favorite events are, obviously, the EEP graduation ceremonies. Harvard valedictorians have nothing on our graduates, nothing. They are unbelievable. They are a force, and so is Sanctuary.

What changes would you like to see in how we, as a society, address gender-based violence?

I’d like to see it be less stigmatized and to have more opportunities for survivors to speak out as soon as they begin to experience abuse. We need to reach out to communities and talk about these issues in our companies, in our families, because isolation is one of the biggest problems when it comes to domestic violence.  

I also think there is little awareness of the barriers that survivors face. Leaving their abusers is simply the first step in an arduous journey – Here you are, jumping from a traumatizing situation into another daunting, uphill battle, and it seems like you might never reach the top.

Finally, we need to improve the services available to child survivors of violence. Although they have been traumatized at such a young age, hopefully, with the right treatment, they will be able to alter the course of their lives and become empowered. It is especially vital for them to understand that they are not deserving of such violence, that they are not to blame for what they have had to endure.

The theme for this year’s Annual Benefit is #WeAreSanctuary. What does being a part of Sanctuary mean to you?

What I love most about Sanctuary is that it recognizes the individual challenges faced by each survivor and addresses them accordingly – I have never been a part of an organization that was so hands-on in adapting every one of its services to fit their clients’ specific needs. #WeAreSanctuary means being a part of this community of empowered, smart, and incredible individuals who are committed to serving anyone who crosses its threshold.  #WeAreSanctuary captures that passion that I have yet to see anywhere else.

To purchase tickets to our 2019 Annual Benefit, click here.

“Nina’s” Story: My confidence has reached new levels

“Nina,” a Sanctuary client, shares how the Economic Empowerment Program set her up for success and a career in health administration.

The following speech was delivered by “Nina,” a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Winter 2019 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 52 graduates in this year’s fall class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

Here’s “Nina’s” story:

Isolation

Four months ago, if you were to ask me about myself, I’d be at a loss for words. “So, what’s new?”, “What have you been up to?”, “What are you doing with yourself these days?”. I would try my best to avoid those questions, but no matter who I ran into, they would come up. And so, I began to isolate myself from the world and from the people I loved most. I couldn’t face my parents, who I watched work tirelessly my entire life, or my grandmother who thrived in the Human Resources field for over twenty years and retired a wealthy woman owning several properties and stocks. I couldn’t even bring myself to visit my grandfather, my wonderful grandfather who was a retired cop and navy veteran. I couldn’t stomach the image of that disappointing look in his eyes while sitting on his couch. I felt like I had failed my parents, tarnished my family’s legacy and I had failed myself. To make matters worse, I eventually convinced myself that this was “okay.”

The more I isolated myself, the more content I became with my situation. Quite often, I would fall into a depression about the negative turn my life had taken but talk myself out of it. “Who needs a degree?” I would say. I vowed that I’d never go back to school, that it wasn’t my thing. I had no idea where I was going, yet I was convinced that some opportunity would fall into my lap when the time was right. I totally lost sight of who I was, but although I had disappeared on my loved ones for some years, I never lost sight of who they were. If I turned out to be a failure, I’d probably be the first in the family to do so. I knew I had huge shoes to fill. The question was, how?

Hope

Who knew that the Economic Empowerment Program was that “something” that was going to fall into my lap? The Career Readiness Workshop phase of the program only lasted about two weeks, but in that short time, my vocabulary grew tremendously. I scored a 100 on the first EEP test I ever took. I felt like this was clear proof that I did have what it takes to succeed in New York City’s competitive economy. I met women from all walks of life who were beautiful both inside and out. They were women of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds, from all over the world. We experienced similar yet different struggles in life; however, we all shared one thing in common: the need to succeed. These beautiful women along with the EEP staff are who helped motivate me and carried me through this program. I already had the work ethic from my family’s example, and now I had a network of ladies that I could depend on. More importantly, they were depending on me.

During the Office Operations Workshop (OOW) phase of the program, I learned something new about myself every single day. I came into OOW with very basic computer skills, poor mathematic skills and no certifications. OOW began October 4th and by December 3rd I was already certified in Microsoft Word and Excel, thanks to my Microsoft Office Specialist instructor Ms. Lee, who I have to say is phenomenal. While math had always been my least favorite subject, I managed to get a perfect score on math test 1 on the TABE and was one and was one answer away from a perfect score on test two. I feel ready to ace an interview now that I have taken interview prep. Any relationship I’ve built, every conversation I’ve had, and anyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting has been instrumental in my success here at EEP. The dedication and effort that was put into my success by the instructors was something that I’ve never experienced before, and it was quite inspiring.

Giving Back

By the time I was accepted into a supplemental training in Electronic Health Records the Borough of Manhattan Community College, my confidence had reached levels I thought were unattainable for a person like me. Surely, this was due to so many years of the self-doubt and the lack of positive support I experienced prior to EEP. I along with twelve of my colleagues, were challenged to take on the responsibility of completing the Office Operations Workshop and Electronic Health Records (EHR) course at an offsite location and find the time to prepare for the remainder of the certifications we needed in Microsoft Office Specialist. I walked into my EHR class with two certifications under my belt and an additional five was my personal expectation. It was going to be hard, but it definitely wasn’t unattainable! The course was very difficult and required some intense study sessions. I earned a score of 96% on the midterm exam and the results of my labor just made me all the more determined.

I’m really looking forward to a career in Health Administration where I will have countless opportunities to touch the lives of people and really make a difference by leaving a positive impression on everyone I make contact with. Am I prepared? Well, with so many certifications, an expanded vocabulary, and the additional knowledge and skills I’ve acquired, I’d have to say that I’m more than prepared. So, I guess it is safe to say that I proved all my detractors wrong! I’m more than capable and I AM good enough. I finally believe those words when I say them. I’m on my way to places I thought I’d never go. I even managed to prove myself wrong. In my past life, I was convinced that I had lost my way, but in truth, I just needed to get myself on track – to brush up on my skills so I could be reminded of who I’ve always been. Thank you EEP for reminding me. Thanks for helping me find myself again. Thanks for all your guidance and most of all thank you for believing in me. This opportunity has truly been life changing.

“Stephanie’s” Story: Because of EEP, I know my strength

“Stephanie,” a Sanctuary client, shares how our Economic Empowerment Program helped her “re-find her inner light.”

The following speech was delivered by “Stephanie,” a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Winter 2019 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 52 graduates in this year’s fall class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

Here’s “Stephanie’s” story:

There are very few things in life that create more meaningful change than the discovery of one’s innermost source of strength. For me, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) was the path that led to this rediscovery. More than obtaining my bachelors from a prestigious private university, more than moving abroad and working overseas in China and South Korea, this program has been the single most impactful experience of my life.

You may see the immediate tangible results of this program as we stand here before you today as EEP graduates, but the unseen and intangible value is priceless and will forever bear fruits for us as women and individuals, for our children and their futures, and for the greater community of the world we have the power to influence for good.

The Shift

I will always remember the day I came in for my intake interview with Alex (Program Coordinator) and Angelo (EEP Director). Full of uncertainty, insecurity, a lack of self-confidence, and more nuanced obstacles than the juggling of car seats, a rolling suitcase, and my three young children.  I was running a few minutes late.  Angelo’s demeanor was stern when he explained the requirements of the program. The words “punctuality” and “personal responsibility” were emphasized by his intense and unwavering eyes.  I could feel the dark cloud of self-doubt and the seemingly impossible task ahead of me.  “How on Earth was I going to do this day in and day out, traveling an hour each way, coordinating my children?”  Impossible. But after the interview, I could see the light of hope reflecting from both Angelo and Alex’s eyes.  That hope gave me the courage to join the program.

The pivotal moment of this program for me, was a few months later at the WilmerHale Career Day.  We had the opportunity to converse with employees, listen to the stories of their professional journeys, and physically walk the halls of the company. From this singular experience, my dreams became a tangible reality. There was a shift from a belief or faith in my ability, to a confidence and awakening to my capability.

Through the WilmerHale volunteers sharing their varied career paths, I began to conceive of the real possibilities for me.  I began to dream again of all that I wanted for myself.  I thought deeply about the possibility and potential that had been stifled in all of us. That evening, after picking my children up from their after school programs, walking the dark tree-lined block from our bus stop to our shelter, I kneeled down and picked up three acorns.  With excitement in my eyes, I told them I had a magical gift. I placed one acorn in the center of each of their palms and asked them to look around at the large oak trees lining the street, and said “Within every oak tree there is an acorn. Within every acorn is the potential for an oak tree.” This little seed is a metaphor of us all, full of such promise and capacity, unknown until the time we are planted and encouraged to grow.

Finding Her Inner Light

To physically stand in the halls and walk the beginning steps of a possible career, to see ourselves dressed in business professional attire, with our names printed with care over and over on name tags, folders, heavy cardstock name cards, thoughtfully organized and prepared, is more meaningful to us than you can imagine. Because of EEP, I now have a clear vision – I know who I am.  I know my strength.  I now look into the darkness with courage and a perfect brightness of hope choosing to move forward with confidence and grace.  With this vision I know that where we came from does not define us – we have the strength, the will and the potential to live our lives with purpose, choosing to love ourselves over fear.

This vision and the growth that has occurred within me during the most vulnerable time in my and my children’s lives, is a direct a result of the incredible execution of the vision and mission of Sanctuary for Families and all its partner organizations and volunteers.  Your contributions and services have created a real, definitive and measurable impact in the form of an internship and living wage, but more importantly those intangible, immeasurable fruits of internal individual peace and freedom.  Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.  As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  Thank you Sanctuary, my EEP cohort, and to all who have made this program possible and for helping us re-find our inner light.

“Lina’s” Story: This is a community that I will cherish in my heart forever

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago and undocumented, “Lina” worked for years as a waitress. When she finally received work authorization, Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program helped “Lina” gain the skills necessary to enter the professional workforce and build a new life in the U.S.

The following speech was delivered by “Lina,” a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Winter 2019 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 52 graduates in this year’s fall class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

Here’s “Lina’s” story:

I have attempted to write this speech several times, asking myself how to go about it, because it is challenging to fully capture the impact of this experience on my life. I wish I had a magical looking glass that would allow you to look into my mind and heart and understand the complexity of the effect that this experience has had on me; short of this, I will do my best to articulate what is in my heart with words.

The Silver Lining

If you met me a year ago and we engaged in a dialogue, you wouldn’t believe that you were speaking to the same person you see before you today. I was pessimistic and hopeless.  For a very long time I felt like a sitting duck here in the U.S. Stuck, to say the least, is how I felt. Without immigration status I worked as a waitress for a very long time, grateful for the opportunity to be able to support my children, but steadily losing hope for the future. I was aware that without legal immigration status, my chances of a bright future within the states was slim.

I made up my mind that if there was no resolution to my immigration issues, fearing that I would eventually be deported and/or separated from my children, I would for their sake go back to my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago in 2019 and try to make it the best I could there.

On February 24, 2018 a silver lining appeared. I was finally legalized to work. As happy as I was with the news, I realized that I only had a high school diploma and no work experience other than the restaurant industry. Needing guidance and advice, I spoke to my case manager at Sanctuary about my problem to see if she could point me in the right direction. Shortly afterward, my case manager presented me with the opportunity of participating in the Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) – this, I can say was one of the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

A Community of Support

Hard work perseveres through all. This is one of the major things that have I taken away from this program. I cannot and will not say that it was ever easy, but what I can say is that it was more than worth it. Through workshops, classes and professional development, the Career Readiness Training Program has given me the confidence to know that I can and will find my place in the professional world. This program was the type of push that I needed, the push for me to challenge myself and reach my maximum potential.

Along my journey to career readiness, I stumbled across something beautiful. A group of women from all walks of life, from all over the world, walking on the same path to success. I have grown to look forward to seeing these women each day – and as this phase comes to an end and friendships grow, I know that I have made lifetime connections.

We encourage each other to do our best and assist each other in any way possible. I have learned the importance of sisterhood through these women. I appreciate every kind word, pat on the back and occasional checking when needed because that’s what sisters do. This is a community that I will cherish in my heart forever.

I will close by saying this: EEP has changed me for the better. As I said, it was tough, but I came out on the other side stronger and more prepared for the world and economy that we live in. My peers and the staff have believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and encouraged me all along the way. When I began this program, I had the misconception that I was in it alone. I am not a person who asks for help – I find it very hard to do that. And, although I still struggle with this, I am comforted in my heart and mind by the fact that if I needed anything and they could and would help me.

I thank all of you for that. You have shown me that good people still do exist in this world. I am no longer a sitting duck but an eagle, soaring through life, confident and strong with nothing to stop me but myself – and I have no intention of doing that.