To Young Survivors of Domestic Violence, Summer Camp Brings Hope

This summer, Sanctuary will be leading the second Camp HOPE America: New York. Learn how this trauma-informed camp is helping young victims of domestic violence heal and find hope again.

Annika is a Development Intern at Sanctuary and a high school rising senior at Friends Seminary in New York City. She is passionate about politics and criminal justice and hopes to study government in college.

Summer camp is a place where children can disconnect from technology, be active, grow independent, develop their social skills, connect with nature, and make life long memories and friends. It offers young people an escape from their routines at home, and an outlet to have fun and express themselves freely. For some children, summer camp is the only place where they can truly be kids.

Children who are impacted by domestic violence often have no choice but to grow up quickly, missing essential childhood milestones that inform their development and personal growth. Domestic violence affects roughly 1 in 4 women in the United States; as a result, approximately 15.5 million children in the United States live in families where domestic violence has been perpetrated. Some children and adolescents have no choice but to take on parental roles in the household, act as guardians to younger siblings and take care of their abused parent. Others may turn to risky behavior, including drug use and gang affiliation, to cope with their stressful home environments. Either way, domestic violence robs kids and teens of their childhoods, leading to lifelong trauma and behavioral problems that often promote the continuation of the cycle of violence. Sleepaway camps offer young survivors of domestic violence the chance to be kids, removed from the potential stresses and dangers of their families’ living circumstances.

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In 2018, Sanctuary partnered with Camp HOPE America to run the first session of Camp HOPE New York, a one week sleep away camp that affords children affected by domestic violence the opportunity to access crucial childhood experiences that they may have missed out on as a result of abuse. With its specialized trauma-informed approach and dedicated staff, Camp HOPE is designed to specifically meet the needs of each child who attends. At Camp HOPE, campers enjoy classic outdoor activities that help to build trust and confidence in themselves and their peers. Each session of Sanctuary’s Camp HOPE has approximately 36 campers and 14 counselors, yielding an impressive >3 to 1 camper to counselor ratio which ensures that every camper gets the personalized attention they may need. Camp HOPE America’s website states, “Hope reflects an individual’s capacity to develop pathways and dedicate agency toward desirable goals.” Using the ‘Children’s HOPE Scale’, Camp HOPE America has seen increased growth in its campers’ capacities for hope over the course of several summers.

Andrea Yeriazarian, Sanctuary’s Program Director for Children and Family Services, works closely with the staff at Camp HOPE to ensure that it is a positive experience for campers and counselors alike. When I spoke to Andrea about her experience at Camp HOPE New York last year, she described some of the activities that help campers get the most out of their time there: “Each day, our campers read a story about someone who went through a difficult childhood — which could have included violence, or war, or any number of things — and who were able to find support outside of their family and become a very successful adult. We would then gather around a campfire to discuss these stories and talk about how, despite what happened in the past or what we’re going through now, there is always be hope for a better future. The definition of HOPE that we use is ‘believing in yourself, believing in your dreams, and believing in others’, so those stories are meant to teach the campers that if you believe in yourself and reach out for support from others, that you can achieve your dreams”.

When I asked Andrea how counselors support campers who struggle with taking risks, she described a Camp HOPE motto, ‘challenge by choice’. She explained, “…for some kids who are afraid of water, their challenge by choice might just be putting on a bathing suit and standing on the shore.” Kids are not pressured into doing anything that makes them uncomfortable; rather, they are encouraged to set goals, to challenge themselves, and to overcome their fears.

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Andrea shared a success story from Sanctuary’s first session of Camp HOPE New York:

“A camper told us that trying out new things at Camp– things she had been worried about but that she did really well at – gave her the courage to try out for a school sports team for the first time. She now felt confident and ready to take on new challenges, because she knew she could do it.”

Childhood is a precious time that should be full of fun and excitement, not violence and trauma. All campers who attended Sanctuary’s Camp HOPE last summer had overwhelmingly positive experiences and those who are eligible look forward to returning this summer.  

If you would like to support Sanctuary for Families’ second Camp HOPE and our youngest clients, please click here.

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. The training course includes public speaking, vicarious trauma, self-care, media re-exploitation, advocacy, and boundary setting.  

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 during the program they rely 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.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month Events 2018

Support survivors of domestic violence this month by attending one of our many events.

Support survivors of domestic violence and related forms of gender-based violence by attending one of the many events Sanctuary hosts, co-hosts and supports every October.

Friday, October 5th

Korean American Family Service Center’s (KAFSC) Silent March – march with KAFSC and Sanctuary at KAFSC’s 21st Annual Silent March.

Meet at 5:00 PM – March begins at 5:30 PM
Meet at 109th Precinct – 37-05 Union Street, Flushing
March will conclude at the Queens Library

Friday, October 12th and Saturday, October 13th

Cracks of Light, part of Gibney Dance and Sanctuary for Families’ annual observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, bears witness to survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence in a series of performance works created during the journey from struggle to survival. We are so proud that the evening includes a piece by Sanctuary Survivor Leaders created in collaboration with members of Gibney Dance Company.

8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
280 Broadway (entrance at 53A Chambers Street)
Buy Tickets >

Saturday, October 13th

Women’s Building Block Party – Stop by Sanctuary’s table at the third annual community block party. Bringing together local residents, fellow organizations, activists, business leaders, and community members, this event celebrates girls and women everywhere while showcasing the effort to transform Bayview Correctional Facility into The Women’s Building.

12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
West 20th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue
Learn more >

Saturday, October 13th

The V March: Voices, Victories & Vitality – Join Sanctuary and the New York Coalition to End Female Genital Mutilation as we march to raise awareness about the 65,000 women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation in New York City.

9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
March begins at City Hall Park in Manhattan
Ends at Concert Grove in Prospect Park in Brooklyn
Register Here >

Wednesday, October 17th

Lives In the Balance: Eviscerating Asylum Protection for Victims of Gender Violence – Join Sanctuary for Families, New York Immigration Coalition, and Proskauer Rose LLP for a special panel discussion featuring:

Lori Adams, Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project
Hon. Amiena Khan, Executive Vice President of the National Association of Immigration Judges
Lisa Koenig, Partner at Fragomen Worldwide
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Representative of New York’s 12th Congressional District
William Silverman, Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
11 Times Square – 41st Street and 8th Avenue
Email Rcastela@proskauer.com by October 15th to RSVP
Learn more >

Thursday, October 18th

Wear Purple Day – Wear purple and post photos with the hashtags #NYCGoPurple #DVAM2018. Be sure to tag us @SFFNY (Twitter & Instagram) or @Sanctuary for Families (Facebook).

 

Tuesday, October 30th

Barneys Fundraiser for Sanctuary – Shoppers will receive a 10% discount when they mention Sanctuary for Families at check-out. 10% of proceeds from the evening will benefit Sanctuary.

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Barneys New York – Madison and 61st Street, 4th Floor

Recognizing Kayle Plotkin: A Pillars of Change Honoree

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

Kayle Plotkin has been volunteering with Sanctuary for Families for five years, after being referred to the Volunteer Program by a friend of her daughter who had completed an internship at Sanctuary. She had previously volunteered at a domestic violence organization in Connecticut and was interested in Sanctuary’s work from the first time she heard about it.

“I believed from the beginning that the work Sanctuary does is important and focuses on those who need help the most,” Kayle explains.

Kayle volunteers her time within the Brooke Jackman Family Literacy Program at the Queens Family Justice Center, a program which is designed to engage parents and children in literacy-based activities. The Brooke Jackman Program brings together staff and volunteers to read books (in English and Spanish) with mothers and their children. The families also participate in arts and crafts and share a meal together at the end of each event. As a volunteer, Kayle has played a central role in each part of the program and has consistently gone above and beyond for our clients.

Kayle has been an unwavering and consistent presence at the Queens Family Justice Center since she started volunteering in 2013 and her ability to form strong relationships with our clients has produced some memorable interactions for Marissa Stranieri, Children’s Program Coordinator at the Queens Family Justice Center:

“Kayle is absolutely selfless and doesn’t hesitate to pitch into any task. She freely lends herself to soothe crying children, engage overwhelmed parents, or even clean up after art or a meal—she really does it all!”

Kayle’s time at Sanctuary has also resulted in some memorable moments:

“On one particular occasion, a two year old child was crying inconsolably during the reading portion of the program despite efforts from staff and the child’s mother to calm the child down.  His piercing shrieks seemed as if they wouldn’t stop, when suddenly, the crying turned into laughter. At that moment, everyone noticed Kayle dancing with the child quietly in the back of the room. She is so nurturing, she definitely has the magic touch with all of our clients!”

Kayle’s selflessness and sincere commitment to Sanctuary’s clients is commendable. “Everybody chooses something different for their ‘me time’. Some choose the gym, some choose a spa; for me, the accomplishment of working for such an amazing organization and being able to make a difference is my ‘me time’. I am so grateful to be involved and so proud.”

Pillars of Change is an opportunity to honor extraordinary volunteers like Kayle, who bring warmth, ferocity, and an infectious laugh to our staff and care and comfort to our clients.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018 to recognize Kayle and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!