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.

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!

Recognizing Diana Steele: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Diana is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

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.

Diana Steele has been volunteering with Sanctuary’s Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project since 2014, when she was connected to Sanctuary through the Attorney Emeritus Program.

Diana’s goal had always been to work in public interest law. Prior to her long career in corporate taxation, she had worked in nonprofit organizations such as The Legal Aid Society and the ACLU.

It was this deep commitment to public interest that inspired Diana to dedicate her time to Sanctuary for Families upon retiring.

“I had always wanted to get back into doing something more consistent with my initial public interest goals, and Sanctuary’s mission clearly fit that goal”, she explains.

In her time as a Sanctuary volunteer, Diana has become an invaluable member of the Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project team, a group of attorneys and advocates who provide survivors of gender violence with legal representation to obtain divorce, child support, child custody, and other relief to which they are entitled.

“Diana does research and writing on complex legal issues that arise in our cases.  She has handled everything from researching details about service of process in foreign jurisdictions to drafting arguments for appellate briefs,” explains Amanda Norejko, Director of the Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project.

Diana’s skill and productivity was evident from the beginning and her research and writing has played a central role in supporting a wide range of clients’ legal needs. Some of Diana’s achievements include collaborating on winning briefs in cases before the Appellate Division, providing research for manuals used to train new attorneys in housing law, and stepping in to support time-sensitive case while the primary attorney was on vacation.

“Diana is incredibly productive, enabling us to meet tight deadlines on major legal briefs. We have come to rely on her consistently excellent work product and she never disappoints us.” – Amanda Norejko.

Diana’s commitment to Sanctuary is undeniable, “The most rewarding parts of volunteering at Sanctuary are working with the dedicated, bright, and hardworking legal staff and witnessing the tremendous courage and resilience of Sanctuary clients.”

Pillars of Change is an opportunity to honor extraordinary volunteers like Diana, who bring skill, experience, and passion to our staff and hope and opportunity to our clients.

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