The Vicente Foundation and Marquis Studios Bring Impactful Arts Program to Survivors

Thanks to The Vicente Foundation and Marquis Studios, Sanctuary has been able to offer families new and fun opportunities for creativity and family bonding despite the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Art has always been an essential tool for promoting healing and facilitating bonding within families who are recovering from abuse. Artistic expression fosters a sense of well-being and comfort in the midst of uncertainty and offers an alternative form of communication. For survivors processing feelings of isolation, depression, and fear during COVID-19, having access to the full range of therapy, including art therapy, has been more important than ever. Thanks to a partnership with Marquis Studios, Sanctuary has been able to offer these crucial services to families virtually.

Founded in 1977, Marquis Studios’ staff of skilled teaching artists provides a full spectrum of arts experiences to 40,000 participants each year, including education services in more than 170 New York City public schools. These programs are designed to integrate culturally responsive arts activities with instruction in academic or social and emotional subjects. Marquis Studios’ planning process is individualized for each residency, offered in-person or remotely, with teaching artists, teachers, and other facilitators meeting to discuss goals prior to session planning. Marquis’ program with Sanctuary likewise offers tailored instruction to best meet the needs of Sanctuary clients.

The Sanctuary and Marquis partnership consists of 10 virtual workshops that began in October and run through December. Each workshop caters to 10 families with young children and focuses on a different artistic skill or activity. The visual and performing arts disciplines covered in the sessions include paper collage, drawing, painting, bookmaking, paper sculpture, puppetry, mixed visual arts, hip hop dance, and African dance.

Reflecting on the workshops she observed, Kimberly Roman, Sanctuary’s children & family services program coordinator, shared,

“Marquis Studios has provided families with fun ways to engage with each other and express themselves. Participants encourage and celebrate each other and the facilitator is also very kind and engaging. Every week the activities are new, interesting and appropriately challenging.”

Sanctuary’s partnership with Marquis Studios was made possible by a donation from The Harriet and Esteban Vicente Foundation. Jennifer Stein of the Vicente Foundation notes,

“The Harriet and Esteban Vicente Foundation is proud to support the groundbreaking art education program run by Marquis Studios for Sanctuary for Families. It is our belief that art brings joy and healing.”

Thanks to The Vicente Foundation and Marquis Studios, Sanctuary has been able to offer families new and fun opportunities for creativity and family bonding despite the unprecedented challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sanctuary Announces New Co-Chair of the Pro Bono Council

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of December 2020, Victoria Abraham, associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, is serving as PBC Co-Chair.

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of December 2020, Victoria Abraham, associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP,  is serving as PBC Co-Chair along with Sharon Barbour, associate at Cohen & Gresser, LLP, who has served as PBC Co-Chair since January 2019.

Victoria succeeds Louisa Irving, who served as Co-Chair of the PBC from January 2018 to October 2020.  We are very grateful for Louisa’s outstanding dedication and leadership over the past two years.

About the PBC

The PBC was formed in 2003 as the Associate’s Committee, later changed to the Pro Bono Council and currently known as the PBC, with the goal of bringing together young professionals committed to supporting and promoting the work of Sanctuary through active community engagement, pro bono projects, and client-centered events. The PBC currently has approximately 25 active members. Each fall, the PBC hosts the Above and Beyond benefit, an event that supports the Legal Center by honoring the pro bono lawyers and other volunteers who have worked on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients during the past year. This year’s Above & Beyond event raised over $200,000 in support of the Legal Center.

Introducing Victoria

Victoria has been passionate about gender equality and gender-based violence since college. She first learned about Sanctuary while at Harvard Law School during a class on sex equality taught by feminist scholar and activist Catharine MacKinnon. After graduating and joining Skadden as an associate in the Mergers and Acquisitions group, she connected with Sanctuary and became part of the PBC in 2016.

Victoria studied journalism and Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and it was her experiences working at a radio station in Gulu, Uganda after graduating that inspired her to pursue a law degree.

“Working and living in Uganda made me realize that I wanted to have a more substantive understanding of how the law shapes society,” she recounts. “In my reporting, I came across situations where it seemed like Ugandan women and girls seemed to not be able to enjoy the same rights of citizenship as Ugandan men and the law seemed essential for understanding why that was the case.” Through her work at the radio station reporting on various aspects of life in Gulu, Uganda, Victoria realized that she was not satisfied with only telling someone’s story but that she also wanted to have tangible, lasting positive impacts on people’s lives. Her experience in Gulu inspired Victoria to spend her 1L summer at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, where she had the opportunity to work on a class action case on the denial of Anti-Retroviral treatment to women working in the sex industry.

She has continued to passionately pursue this goal through her pro bono work, where her focus is predominantly on immigration matters. Her fluency in Russian enables her to work with LGBTQ asylum seekers and Violence Against Women Act clients from Russia and former Soviet Union countries.

“Working with pro bono clients is very rewarding because you get to help an extremely strong person who has gone through a lot. It’s so rewarding to build relationships with clients and give them a chance to make their life what they want it to be.” — Victoria.

Victoria also brings new insight to her pro bono work through her background in journalism, as demonstrated by her empathetic approach to interviewing clients and crafting compelling stories that are true to their experiences.

An active member of the PBC, Victoria served as Co-chair of the Above and Beyond Gala for the past two years and is eager to take on this new leadership role. Her goals for her time as PBC Co-chair include positioning the PBC as an anti-racist arm of Sanctuary and increasing the council’s diversity. She also hopes to increase membership engagement across the board. Ultimately, she wants the PBC to be a vibrant, constructive community that showcases all of Sanctuary’s invaluable work.

Please join us in welcoming Victoria as PBC Co-chair!

Latham & Watkins Attorneys Obtain Unconditional Permanent Residency for Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a dedicated team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP for their culturally sensitive and compassionate pro bono representation of  “Anam”, a survivor whom they helped to obtain unconditional permanent residency in the United States.

Amy Abramson is a former Sanctuary staff member and current Senior Development Director at AJC. She is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a dedicated team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP for their culturally sensitive and compassionate pro bono representation of  “Anam”, a survivor whom they helped to obtain unconditional permanent residency in the United States.

Anam was an independent young woman living in Pakistan. Shortly after graduating from college, her parents arranged her marriage to a local young man who was the son of a family friend. The couple moved to the United States and Anam, full of dreams, started making plans to build a family and continue her education. Very soon though, she discovered that her husband had different plans.

Anam’s husband forced her to stay in the house, forbade her to call her family and friends, and perpetrated incredible physical violence against her. After seeking help for her injuries due to his abuse, the local District Attorney opened a criminal investigation. Anam found shelter at the home of local distant relatives, but her husband tracked her down and blackmailed her into returning to his house by threatening her widowed, elderly mother living alone in Pakistan.

With local police making regular visits due to the DA’s open case, her husband’s family recognized that Anam could not stay in the U.S. They kidnapped her, made her travel back to Pakistan, and kept her locked up in a relative’s compound under around-the-clock surveillance. Months later, Anam escaped, and with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, she returned to New York City.

The Latham & Watkins pro bono team consisting of Loren N. Finegold, Irina Y. Sivachenko, Sohom Datta, Omar R. Jooma, Abhinaya Swaminathan, and Danielle E. Sekerak showed great compassion and support for Anam from their first meeting together. Due to the deep trauma she had endured, Anam found it hard to trust others with her story and found that certain cultural aspects of her experience were difficult for her to talk about with a mixed-gender team. Because of this, Sohom thoughtfully stepped out of the room during their early meetings, ensuring a female-only environment, and the team spoke with her in her native Urdu as necessary to make Anam more comfortable.

The Latham & Watkins team worked on the case for nearly three years, from June 2017 until they received the decision in May 2020. In that time, they researched cultural matrimonial practices in Pakistan to produce a detailed memorandum, compiled the petition, and included a supporting affidavit from an interview conducted in Urdu with a Pakistani contact. Anam was anxious at points throughout the case that her husband would try to interfere, even physically, to prevent her from achieving legal status. The pro bono team continuously monitored Anam’s well-being and assisted whenever she felt she was being followed or at risk of another kidnapping.

Anam’s resilience is astounding. While the Latham & Watkins team was working on her case, she completed another degree at a local community college and is now gainfully employed as an IT professional. Seeing Anam’s determination over the years, from the day she walked in the door as an intelligent, educated, yet deeply traumatized young woman to seeing her grow, make friends, build a life and further her education was incredible for the Latham & Watkins team. The team is deeply proud of this case and continues working with Anam on her citizenship application.

On the pro bono team, Anam says:

“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for all the care and concern you have shown me, and for working tirelessly to ensure that the immigration law worked in our favor… I feel lucky to work with Latham & Watkins LLP, each and every person I work with.” — Anam.

This case was a true partnership between Sanctuary for Families and the Latham & Watkins team.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Loren, Irina, Sohom, Omar, Abhinaya, and Danielle. Click here to RSVP for free.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Virtual Courtroom Advocates Project: Helping Survivors Get Orders of Protection During COVID-19

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a group of dedicated volunteer attorneys, summer associates, and paralegals who provided virtual pro se assistance to survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection during COVID-19.

Tushna is Of Counsel at Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

One of the unfortunate and dangerous effects of the Coronavirus pandemic has been that the frequency and intensity of domestic violence has escalated during this challenging time. With Family Courts physically closed and operating at reduced capacity as a result of the Covid-19 health crisis, those experiencing domestic violence were not able to receive in-person pro se assistance in preparing and filing family offense petitions against their abuser in order to obtain orders of protection for themselves and their children.

To address this serious gap in services, Sanctuary for Families worked quickly to create a new pro bono project called the Virtual Courtroom Advocates Project (or VCAP), which provided virtual pro se assistance to survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection from abuse and violence.  A group of six firms promptly agreed to staff the VCAP program and a group of dedicated volunteer attorneys, summer associates and paralegals from Cahill, Gordon & Reindel LLP, Davis, Polk & Wardwell LLP, Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Simpson Thacher & Barlett LLP, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and Schulte, Roth &  Zabel LLP made a huge commitment to help these brave survivors. Volunteers from each of these firms immediately began staffing the VCAP program five days a week starting in April 2020. By the time VCAP ended on September 1, 2020, VCAP volunteers had drafted nearly 200 family offense petitions on behalf of victims of domestic violence seeking orders of protection.  Nearly 180 of those petitions were filed with the court, with almost all of the petitioners being granted an order of protection and other requested relief.

Each of the volunteers focused their time, energy, and efforts to help their clients prepare and file their petitions and to serve the Temporary Order of Protection on the respondent. VCAP attorneys were tenacious and skilled in their quest to help the clients obtain full stay away Temporary Orders of Protection. In addition, they were able to achieve hard to obtain additional relief to meet the needs of survivors of domestic violence, such as stay away orders for petitioner’s children and pets, child support orders, and orders preventing the electronic dissemination of intimate images and videos of the petitioner.

Each pro bono attorney was compassionate and patient in assisting these courageous survivors to get protection from their abusers and offered empathetic and trauma-informed support, empowering petitioners to find their own path to safety and justice. For example, one pro bono attorney worked for over a week with a petitioner who was afraid to file her family offense petition, patiently supporting the client and empowering the client to make her own decision regarding whether to file the petition. Ultimately, the client decided to move forward with filing the petition and obtained the protection she needed.

As a long-standing member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Sanctuary supporter, I am deeply grateful to each of the caring pro bono attorneys, summer associates, and paralegals for their fierce advocacy combined with kindness and deep empathy, and the law firms that supported and facilitated their work. I am also thankful to the Sanctuary for Families staff attorneys who were instrumental in swiftly setting up this innovative program that met the urgent needs of the moment.  And, as always, I am also grateful for, and constantly inspired by, the courage and strength of the clients who stepped forward to protect themselves and their families from violence and abuse in the midst of a global health crisis.

In the words of VCAP volunteer attorney Amy Barton of Paul Weiss,

“Although my clients repeatedly expressed their appreciation to me for my assistance, in the end, they were the ones who deserved my thanks for inspiring me with their strength to find help when needed and allowing me the opportunity to try to make someone’s life a little safer in a world that seemed to be turning upside down for all of us.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the VCAP volunteers’ outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.