“Natalie’s” Story: EEP emboldens me to be the best parent I can be

“Natalie,” a Sanctuary client, shares how our Economic Empowerment Program empowers families and communities to thrive.

The following speech was delivered by “Natalie,” 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 “Natalie’s” story:

Hello, my fellow New Yorkers! And good afternoon to the graduates of Sanctuary for Families’ Fall 2018 Economic Empowerment Program!


Parenting has always been the most important driving force in my life. Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) emboldens me to be the best parent I can be. My child learns and grows into a person by looking at the choices I make in my own life: how I embrace new challenges, how I pick up myself from falls, how I stand on my own two feet in our society, and how I touch the people in it. To me, the most powerful aspect of the EEP is the impact it has on families.


A great pillar of our economic empowerment is the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Certification program. I used to joke, “Anything developed in this century, I choose to have no mastery over.” After being certified in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, however, I am a new person! If so much of my life is still uncertain, the Microsoft world is no longer. MOS training gave me a sense of stability, control and direction – and, as a bonus, I now have street cred with my teenage son!

I am realizing computer skills are an exceptional equalizer, in this exceptionally unequal world. It really doesn’t matter if we don’t have a degree, can’t remember any of the math, or don’t speak English fluently. We can come from anywhere, have any history, be of any color or gender. With proper commitment, we can now make up the years lost.

I discovered powers beyond the keyboard, too – inspiration and warmth, as we supported each other through our own unique strengths. I think there’s a certain, galvanizing kind of energy that gets generated when people from diverse ethnic, racial, cultural, religious, educational, professional, and generational backgrounds work together. A program like this is rare and makes a believer out of us. And it is made possible, thanks to the magically coordinated efforts of the Sanctuary’s EEP team, and the invaluable resources offered by the extended team of volunteers and sponsors. This is teamwork at its best. The program is a community for a problem that is impossible to solve alone.

Moving Toward the Future

Intimate partner violence is like a serious illness in that it can happen to any of us. It affects the victim’s families and friends leaving them puzzled, hurt, and lost – helpless in finding answers or paths for us. It is like high interest loans – the problems compound and eventually freeze us into powerlessness. When this vicious cycle starts to get reversed, however, families and friends – and communities – perk up. My friend texted me recently, “Everything you’re working towards is very important, not just for yourself, as you said. I feel the effect as well. So, keep it up for me, too.” This program is impacting families across generations. My son’s future is brighter as a result; and my mother is given hope, through her hopes for me.

EEP is beyond charitable work and saves individuals; it is a no-brainer investment in the resourcefulness and resilience of women. This kind of investment makes families and communities thrive. My classmates and I will be uplifting and revitalizing the work force – and empowering everyone along the way. Our children, as well as our future employers and colleagues will witness and feel our force. We are here, in this city, for a reason. We are coming and making a difference in the new world that our children deserve. Congratulations, everyone, on starting this new powerful journey.

Orthodox Jewish women find success in Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program

Naomi R. was one of four elected speakers at the January 2018 EEP graduation and one of the first Jewish Orthodox women to graduate from the program. Read her graduation speech.

This past January, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empower Program (EEP) held its semi-annual graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of fifty-one strong and inspiring women, all survivors of domestic violence. With friends, family and Sanctuary staff in attendance, the women accepted their diplomas thereby marking the start of a new stage in both their personal and professional lives. To honor the occasion the class elected fellow graduates to speak on their behalf. Naomi R. was one of the four women who spoke that evening. She was both one of the youngest women and one of the first at-risk Orthodox teens to graduate from EEP.

Read her graduation speech and learn more about Sanctuary’s work with Orthodox Jewish women below.

My name is Naomi and I am proud to have the opportunity to speak to you this evening.

To my dear teachers, classmates, directors and family that came today and to all involved in caring for us and making sure we are all okay on a day-to-day-basis-I would like to start off by saying thank you. Thank you, for investing your time and effort into every single one of us that will all be okay, cheering us on by laughing, and crying and for validating us when times were tough.

To my fellow classmates who have encouraged me whether it was a hug a nice word or gesture, you are all responsible for helping to restore my faith in myself. To Rocky, you have been a big part of my support throughout this program.  When I felt discouraged you were there to pick me up. Let us not forget about our wonderful volunteers who have practiced interviewing with us, tutored us- and to all the firms who have given us the opportunity to set foot inside the corporate world of business, you too have helped me gain the confidence to stand up here and tell you my story and my journey of growth and my belief in myself as a person.

From the very first day, I was honestly skeptical about the whole program and how it worked. As I looked around and saw the many different faces I began to realize how, no matter the background, color, or race- that I was not alone in this struggle. Looking back now, I recall Sarah saying to us at orientation, that some of you will graduate and the person sitting next to you-may not. This made me feel uneasy, yet a part of me began to feel comfortable with the fact that I and no one else would be responsible for getting through this program.

I also realized that some of my fellow participants were mothers – and that I was one of the younger participants in the program. As the program went on I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone and came to discover how strong, capable, and motivated I really am. This led me to write a letter to myself which included ways to cope under stress, bad days, and negative feedback. I made sure to include a reminder to myself that a bad day-doesn’t mean a bad life. Alas, day in and day out of interactions with my teachers who really loved and believed in every single one of us no matter where we came from-all that love would change the world I see and experience.

Not only was it the Economic Empowerment Program staff, it was also my fellow classmates. If they believed in me, then I must believe in myself and walk away from my anxiety because I am not my anxiety! Before I knew it, I was being gentle with myself and soon enough I began to accept myself. After a while I was actually having fun laughing with my teachers and I even learned some Spanish!

Some of the things I got from this program are that, although I graduated from high school, my knowledge of computers was limited, so Microsoft Word and Power Point meant a lot to me. I learned how easy it is to dress and act professionally and I got a taste of what it’s like to be in the corporate world thanks to Goldman Sachs and Linklaters.

Now I am able to think on my feet, type at a speed of 50 words per minute, and voice my opinions without being judged for it. I have learned to be patient with myself. Another lesson I’ve learned is that there are kind hearted people. I think that a specific example was, my intake interview with EEP, where I met this selfless man named Angelo (who was so enthusiastic about the use of coffee in America). He restored my faith by telling me that just because I’ve quit a number of jobs or switched schools, it doesn’t mean I’m a quitter like I always thought I was.

To conclude – in all that I have gained and learned, what I will take with me is not to take things too seriously, to enjoy every opportunity that comes my way in terms of education and self-growth, and that saying “I got this” really helps (thank you Miss Lee, the computer teacher). So I’m going to end by saying that I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity and the friends I have made and the personal growth I’ve achieved.

The Orthodox Jewish Domestic Violence Initiative

Sanctuary launched The Orthodox Jewish Domestic Violence Initiative in 2015 in response to an increasing number of calls for help we had been receiving from Orthodox Jewish women. Desperately seeking help with civil and religious divorces from abusive spouses, these women had virtually nowhere to turn for free, high-quality legal services. As New York City’s largest non-profit agency dedicated to providing services and outreach to abuse victims and their children, Sanctuary recognized the need in these often insular communities, and hired a family law attorney and a case manager, both from the Orthodox community themselves, to lead our work.

Since 2015, The Orthodox Jewish Domestic Violence Initiative has served over 100 women and teenage girls. Services include legal representation in complex divorce, child custody, child and spousal support, and safe visitation cases, as well as representation in the Beit Din religious courts. In addition to legal representation, staff assist with several of the urgent non-legal needs seen among these women—many of them in dire situations with multiple dependent children and tenuous housing situations, serious food security concerns, and extensive abuse-related trauma.

Over the last year and a half, Sanctuary has also begun to serve at-risk teenage girls who have grown up in ultra-Orthodox homes but who have strayed from the traditional paths dictated by their families. Shunned by their families and communities, they are at grave risk of drug and alcohol abuse, and deeply vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Thanks to Sanctuary’s holistic service model and network of partners in New York City, staff have been able to provide critical support to these young women as they begin to rebuild their lives. Naomi R. was one of these young women. She and seven others were part of the January 2018 Economic Empowerment Program graduating class. Today, Naomi and her fellow graduates are on their way to achieving both personal and professional success. As we continue to test and expand our services to the Jewish Orthodox community, we look forward to seeing what she and others achieve with the skills they’ve developed while at Sanctuary.




Stories of Courage and Empowerment

Economic Empowerment Program graduates share stories of struggle and perseverance.

This past June, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empower Program held its semi-annual graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of forty-three strong and inspiring women, all survivors of domestic violence. With friends, family and Sanctuary staff in attendance, the women accepted their diplomas thereby marking the start of a new stage in both their personal and professional lives.

To honor the occasion the class elected fellow graduates to speak on their behalf. The speeches delivered by Coleen, Rebecah, and Yijie reflect many of the challenges that an estimated 25% of women in the U.S. have/will face in their lifetime. Follow the links below to read their speeches and hear their remarkable stories.

Coleen’s Story

Finding opportunity in every difficulty

“Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.”

Read on here.

Rebecah’s Story

Another chance at life

“Thinking [back on] a time when I sat in my unit at the shelter thinking to myself I am a single mother, jobless, and who the hell cares  I never thought I would be standing here basking in my own achievements. I didn’t want to constantly be a burden to people who had their own worries, so I shared a little and kept everything else to myself.”

Read on here.

Yijie’s Story

I am not a victim

“Even though I was free from abuse, my freedom was a harsh experience of shelter and struggle – I lost hope and wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going. This program has allowed me to improve myself as well as my professional skills. I was a professional in my native country of China. Now I feel confident and ready to be a professional again in America. Most importantly, I feel human again.”

Read on here.


Coleen’s story: Finding opportunity in every difficulty

Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, overcame numerous challenges in order to complete the Economic Empowerment Program. Hear her story.

The following speech was delivered by Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Coleen’s story. 

What if I were selected to speak at graduation?

It gives me great pleasure to stand here before you and address all of the guests in attendance tonight and my graduating class. Before I proceed any further, I would like to seize this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to a few people who journeyed with me along this path.

The first person I would like to thank is Ms. Deborah Lee who afforded me the opportunity to participate in this empowering and uplifting program. To you, I will forever be grateful and indebted.

Secondly, the reason for me standing here delivering this charge, my classmates. Thank you all for selecting me!

Lastly, to the staff of the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) for doing an amazing job with the graduates.

When I was selected to speak on behalf of the class just a few days ago, I smiled and chuckled to myself before positively responding. You must be asking why? Why did I smile? The average person would have been terrified out of their wits if they were asked to do [something] similar.

Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.

An opportunity to do better for myself and my children

Today, I wish to bring a message of inspiration  a message of hope and a message of continued perseverance. My journey with E.E.P. has been a bitter-sweet one and I say bitter-sweet for [a few] reasons. Upon my acceptance into the program I was overwhelmed, excited and of course clueless as to what was ahead of me. With these mixed emotions I hurried home to share the good news with my children.

We discussed for hours how things would change knowing the program was five days a week, 9 am – 3 pm, leaving just a few hours for me to work at the beauty shop. Being a single mother of three and having to provide for two households was not an easy task. I worried [endlessly about] how I was going to adequately provide for my children.

In the face of these adversities I still went ahead and gave it a try. I saw this opportunity as one to do better for myself and my children. I saw it as an opportunity that would only come my way once.

At the commencement of the program I was told that I would be given a monthly metro card, a stipend to cover my expenses and free daily meals. This support really made it possible for me to do the program, and provide for my family! Through this assistance, I was able to get myself to class. Even with the assistance [though], I still needed income to cover rent and food and bills.

It was a huge struggle, and I started to second guess my move. I questioned if this program was the right thing to do. But, as the days of training went by, I started to see the long-term benefits of being a part of this program.

It struck me that I had been afforded an opportunity to elevate myself professionally and personally – how could I not seize my best chance at success? When I changed my perspective and attitude towards my situation everything slowly started to work.

I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally

Over the following few weeks I acquired computer skills, developed my business communication and literacy skills. I saw major improvements in my work life, my professional life and my personal life. I was completely transformed. It continued to be a lot of work, but [I had no doubts].

I thought to myself, what would have happened if I had passed up an opportunity like this? As the program progressed, I was privileged to visit so many professional places, meet so many people and most importantly create friendships that will last after the completion of this program.

Apart from this, internally, there were so many times I felt like giving up  so many times I doubted myself, so many times I broke down and cried. I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. There were days [when] I was so tired from waking up very early to prepare myself for school and [my] daughter for the sitter, making lunch for her and juggling through the rain and sun to get to both places on time.

Other days I was so tired from leaving work really late to head home to do home-work, study and my basic housekeeping. There were times I got frustrated and angry at myself when I couldn’t get a problem or exercise right but I toiled day and night until I got it right. I constantly kept these words with me, “God is with her and she will not fail” (Psalm 46:5).

Be Relentless

With hardly any sleep and a heart filled with determination, I was able to persevere, overcome my shortcomings and most importantly, stand here before you. Together these were the challenges of Coleen.

There is so much more I want to say but in the interest of time I’ll stop here. I’ll leave you with this message: be relentless! When faced with trials, be relentless – in the face of unpopularity, be relentless. In your darkest hours, be relentless! For “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I further charge you ladies today to be the optimist and be relentless in all your future undertakings!

Thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this amazing program!


Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.