Gigi Yan: kind, compassionate, trustworthy

Gigi Yan is a 2017 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.

Gigi Yan had only recently moved to New York City when she started searching for local volunteer opportunities. She had just started her first semester at Columbia University and missed volunteering, something that she had always done before coming to New York.

Luckily for Sanctuary for Families, Gigi was “inspired by Sanctuary’s mission and objectives” and applied for an open position within our Anti-Trafficking Initiative.

As a native Mandarin/Cantonese speaker, Gigi utilizes her language skills as a Volunteer Outreach Assistant. In this role, Gigi supports Sanctuary staff in helping them meet the needs of a growing Chinese client population.

Gigi travels to the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court every Friday morning, talking to potential clients and helping them to schedule appointments to speak with attorneys for immigration consultation. She has also provided in-house Mandarin/Cantonese interpretation for legal screenings between clients and attorneys. This extremely important work requires the upmost confidentiality, sensitivity, and compassion.

Gigi’s supervisors within the Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Julina Guo and Yvonne Chen said of her, “A longtime volunteer and always eager to help, Gigi has shown tremendous talent in connecting with clients and colleagues alike with her kind spirit and fierce dedication.”

Gigi found it hard to select only one favorite memory of her time (so far!) at Sanctuary. She explains that the most rewarding part of her work is the process of “seeing people slowly trust that I am there to help them, open up, and seek help”.

She also has piece of advice for others, something that she has learned from meeting with survivors: “we should all take a moment to hear someone else’s life story. Individual stories help to eliminate stereotypes and prejudice that we have unconsciously put on people who we do not know”.

We sincerely hope that the Anti-Trafficking Initiative team, our clients, and Sanctuary as a whole will benefit from Gigi’s dedication, insight, and passion for a long time to come.

We look forward to celebrating Gigi, and four other amazing volunteers at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2017!

You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now. We hope to see you there!

Christine Salinas: dedicated, thoughtful, dependable

Christine is a 2017 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.

Three years ago, Christine Salinas was searching for volunteer opportunities dealing with issues that were close to her heart: children and young people, domestic violence, and immigration. That’s when Christine found Sanctuary for Families.

After completing Sanctuary’s volunteer application, she was set up with an opportunity supporting childcare staff at the Queen’s Family Justice Center. “Despite their situations, I found that their experiences didn’t stop them from being kids”, she remembers, “They are incredibly resilient plus they help me stay young!”

Due to Christine’s Spanish language skills, she soon transitioned into another volunteer role: providing written document translations within Sanctuary’s volunteer-led Translation Project, which fulfills translation requests in multiples languages from staff throughout the agency.

The best part of this new role for Christine: translations can be completed virtually, via e-mail, in the volunteer’s own time. “Many volunteer opportunities are not available after 5pm but I was extremely fortunate to have found Sanctuary”, she explains.

Christine has become an indispensable part of the Translation Project, having completed over 50 unique translations with a cumulative donation of almost 150 hours of her time and skills supporting Sanctuary staff and clients.

Christine has translated everything from birth certificates, divorce decrees, and asylum applications to transcriptions of videos, outreach and training materials, and children’s books. She always makes herself available for translations and often replies with an enthusiastic, “keep ‘em coming!” to requests from Volunteer Program staff.

In addition to the superhuman speed in which Christine is able to complete translations, her attention to detail and genuine care for Sanctuary’s clients has not gone unnoticed. As such, Christine has been continuously entrusted with sensitive translation requests that require a volunteer with the strongest sense of confidentiality, professionalism, and thoroughness.

Not only has Christine never disappointed, staff consistently rave about the quality and efficiency of her work.

Christine intends to build upon her passion for helping others (with help from her newly-developed skills in both English and Spanish legal jargon) to pursue a career as a lawyer within the social services field. We wish luck to Christine in all of her endeavors and hope to keep her involved in Sanctuary’s work for a long time to come!

We look forward to celebrating Christine’s service at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2017.

You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now. We hope to see you there!

Survivors Organize First-Ever Leadership Conference

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out?

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out? How do we share our experiences while protecting our emotional and mental health? Can we create a safe space for survivors of all backgrounds to share and celebrate their stories?

These were some of the questions that guided our survivor leaders as they organized and led Sanctuary’s first-ever Survivor Leadership Conference in October.

dscf7148-editHosted by Gibney Dance, the Conference aimed to celebrate survivors’ journeys, strengthen resiliency and build survivor leadership within Sanctuary. Drawing on these questions and common goals, Conference organizers developed a program as empowering as it was healing.

dscf7143-editThe day’s events began at noon with a delicious buffet lunch catered by survivors and conference participants. As attendees filtered in and settled down, Sanctuary’s Executive Director Hon. Judy H. Kluger welcomed everyone and introduced Gwen Wright, Executive Director of the NY State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Gwen’s deeply personal speech about her abuse, escape and evolution as a survivor leader set the tone for the afternoon.

dscf7196-editPanel discussions throughout the day covered a range of topics and were interspersed with self-care exercises and art-therapy projects. The first panel, moderated by a Sanctuary board member and survivor leader, highlighted the diversity of survivor experience through powerful testimony. Panelists spoke of their experiences as survivors of sex trafficking, forced marriage, breast ironing, and domestic violence in heterosexual, as well as same-sex relationships, and shared how they are each working to raise awareness through community, education, art and nonprofit advocacy.

dscf7314-editThe second panel delved further into the process many survivors go through in realizing and nurturing their inner leader. Between panel discussions, attendees wrote notes on a Sanctuary tapestry, snapped a few photos for the survivor-led selfie project and practiced meditation to ease the weight of the day’s discussions. Towards the end of the afternoon, staff members shared how survivors could get involved in survivor leadership opportunities at Sanctuary, including advocacy and outreach efforts, and the larger movement to end gender violence.

Joan Hutton Mills

The conference came to close with a special interpretive dance performance by a survivor entitled Points of Change and the reciting of a poem titled, “Change,” by Sanctuary survivor and poet, Joan Hutton-Mills.


Sanctuary is grateful for the generous support of Gwen Wright, Gibney Dance, and Project Playdate (which oversaw childcare during the conference). A special thanks is of course due to Sanctuary staff, volunteers, our board members, and the survivors who organized and led this incredible event.

For over 30 years, Sanctuary has served those escaping abuse, helping them transform from victim to survivor. Moving forward, we will build on this experience, working closely with our survivors, to create an organization that not only helps victims become survivors but helps survivors become leaders. By harnessing their energy and knowledge we, as a movement, will transform society’s response to gender violence.

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Appropriate Housing for Son with Autism

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cahill Gordon & Reindel attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Julie” and her four-year-old child “Luis” who has autism.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Julie” and her four-year-old child “Luis” who has autism.  The Cahill team, consisting of partner Jason Hall, and associates Krista Friedrich (currently of the New York City Law Department), Tara Curtin, Komal Patel, and Jamie Stinson (currently of King & Spalding) helped Julie and Luis obtain an apartment with a private bedroom for Luis in their federally-subsidized housing complex as a reasonable accommodation for Luis’s autism.

Pro Bono Council Co-Chair Ben A. Schatz talks with Tara Curtin and Komal Patel about their experience working with Sanctuary on this matter.

Ben: Tell us briefly about the work you and your team did on behalf of Julie and Luis.

komalKomal: Luis was diagnosed with autism when he was just over a year old, and received intensive, in-home therapy five days a week to help him manage the physical and behavioral symptoms of his disability. Julie, Luis, and another family member were living in a small, one bedroom apartment in a federally-subsidized housing complex.  The only available space in the apartment for Luis’s therapy sessions was in the corner of a small living area connected to the apartment’s kitchen, restroom, and entrance doorway.  However, because of his autism, Luis is easily distracted and hypersensitive to noise.  Luis’s therapists advised that Luis needed a closed, designated space for his in-home therapy to be productive, in order for him to sleep, and for Luis to generally manage the symptoms of his disability.  Julie had informed her landlord of Luis’s disability, and requested to be placed at the top of the waiting list for a larger apartment as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, New York State and City Human Rights Laws, and HUD policies.  The landlord denied her request on multiple occasions. 

The Cahill team, in collaboration with Sanctuary, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Julie and Luis in the Southern District of New York.  After multiple court appearances and a lengthy negotiation process, we reached a favorable settlement agreement on behalf of Julie and Luis, which allowed them to move into a two-bedroom apartment suitable for Luis’s needs.

Ben: How did working on this case help you grow professionally?

tara-cahillTara:  This case offered the opportunity for some incredible litigation experience.  We drafted and filed a civil rights complaint in federal court, prepared discovery papers, and I personally appeared before Judge Sullivan in the Southern District of New York on two occasions.  We also negotiated a settlement on behalf of Luis, which was approved by the Court.  This case taught me what it truly means to advocate for your clients.

Komal:  Yes!  This case afforded me the opportunity to draft a complaint—a first for this defense-oriented litigator.  I also learned a great deal working so closely with Julie, who fought incredibly hard to get Luis the tools he needs to manage his symptoms and develop as a child.  Knowing how much this case meant to Julie and Luis made us even more determined to achieve a favorable outcome.

Ben:  Sanctuary takes a holistic approach to helping its clients. How did you and Sanctuary help Julie and Luis in ways outside the courtroom?

Tara:  While we were working on this case, Julie had a bed bug infestation in her apartment and she was forced to throw away almost all of the family’s bedroom and living room furniture, clothing, and many other household items.  Julie was devastated and did not have the financial means to replace these items.  Fortunately, Sanctuary was able to secure a grant for Julie and her family, which allowed her to replace all of Julie’s damaged property.  Julie was incredibly grateful to Sanctuary’s generous donors, and to the entire Sanctuary team.

Ben:  Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Komal:  I think I can speak for a number of Cahill associates in saying that the pro bono matters we’ve worked on with Sanctuary have been amazing learning experiences.  I feel fortunate to work at a firm with such a strong commitment to pro bono work—and such a longstanding relationship with Sanctuary—and I am grateful to Nicole Fidler and Kevitt Adler at Sanctuary who provided us the opportunity to work on this case and guided us along way.

Ben:  We asked Julie if she had anything she wanted to express to the Cahill team, and here was her response:

Julie: There are no words nor money to show how grateful I am for everything you did for me and my family. It has been a true honor, help and pleasure to have been able to count on you in the moments where I felt the most oppressed. Thanks to you, my family has a decent roof over their heads, especially my son who has autism, because as a mother his development and progression every day are the most important things to me. . . . . Really thank you so much for all the help. God bless you always.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Cahill team’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event here.  If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.