Sanctuary Spotlight: Lisa Dane Corcoran

A current member of Sanctuary’s Legal Advisory Council, Lisa has supported Sanctuary’s work to end gender violence for more than two decades.

Lisa Dane Corcoran, a current member of Sanctuary’s Legal Advisory Council, has supported our work to end gender violence for more than two decades. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with her and learn more about her commitment to our mission.

How did you first learn about Sanctuary for Families?

I first became involved with Sanctuary over 20 years ago. I was asked by the firm I was working for at the time to be the liaison to provide various consulting services for Robin Hood grantees. Sanctuary was a Robin Hood grantee at that time, and I was instantly impressed with how well Sanctuary was run, and its holistic approach to helping families.

How are you involved now?

When my daughters were young, we participated in the Mother’s Day gifts for Sanctuary clients, and my girls enjoyed choosing gifts for the moms and the children. We’ve also participated in the drive to provide back-to-school backpacks for kids, as well as fulfill some holiday wish lists.

This summer, one of my daughters, who is now a senior in high school and an artist, was able to spend time at Sarah Burke House – Sanctuary’s transitional shelter — doing art projects with the younger children. She loved it! It was meaningful to both of us since it allowed my daughter to see the environment these children are thriving in and interact with them on a personal level. And for me, it was a way to solidify for my daughter the importance of giving back without me having ever to say a word–the kids’ delight and enthusiasm said it all.

“It’s energizing for my team and me to be able to collaborate with such talented attorneys to help provide Sanctuary clients with assistance and hopefully a better prospect for their future.”

I have more recently become a member of Sanctuary’s Legal Advisory Council (LAC), which I find meaningful since it provides a window into another realm of Sanctuary that allows me to use some of my work-related skills to help. Even though I am not a lawyer, I work very closely with lawyers, and being on the LAC enables me to hear about the fascinating cases that Sanctuary’s lawyers work on.

Your firm provides investigative pro bono services to help Sanctuary’s clients. Is there one particular case that you worked on that you found most rewarding?

I have been fortunate in recent years to help Sanctuary and its clients from a professional perspective. I have spent my entire career in the field of white-collar investigations and have leveraged my skills and that of my team in the Risk, Investigations & Analytics practice at Charles River to provide pro bono investigative services to several of the many law firms working on behalf of Sanctuary clients.

One of our most recent matters has been assisting the law firm of Cravath Swaine & Moore with a Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act (“DVSJA”) matter that has involved identifying and locating witnesses so they could be contacted and interviewed by counsel in the preparation of the application to the District Attorney’s office. The DVSJA gives judges the flexibility to reduce the sentence of domestic violence survivors convicted of offenses related to their abuse.

Another interesting case was a Hague convention matter for Orrick, another law firm. Our team’s investigation into the background of the father and his dubious finances resulted in a favorable outcome for the mother and, most importantly, their young daughter.

It’s energizing for my team and me to be able to collaborate with such talented attorneys to help provide Sanctuary clients with assistance and hopefully a better prospect for their future.

What would you like people to know about the work that Sanctuary does?

To me, one of the most impressive aspects of Sanctuary is how it tackles equally all the related issues that can arise for a Sanctuary client and their family—from safe housing to clothing, baby supplies, school supplies, legal representation, job assistance, and making holidays and special occasions memorable. If Sanctuary were ever to consider changing its logo, I think it should be a safety net! The integrated way Sanctuary helps its families is unique and well thought out. Once you become aware of all the services Sanctuary provides, you realize how obvious and necessary each one is.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Not to sound cliché, but in the chaos of balancing a career and a family, Sanctuary has become my own personal “sanctuary”—where I can occasionally focus my attention and energy on providing even the smallest bit of help to others, even though I will likely never know them. I find it calming, and a solid reminder of how kindness –whether given or received—is a buoy for all of us.

To those of you at Sanctuary and the other organizations that provide assistance–I think you all hang the stars. I am honored to be in your company, and deeply grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such a meaningful mission.

Join Lisa in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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Hogan Lovells: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Hogan Lovells and their team’s fantastic work in securing asylum for a Honduran survivor escaping extreme domestic abuse and gang violence.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*

Assisting an Asylum Seeker Fleeing Domestic and Gang Violence

Representing survivors of severe abuse or trafficking seeking to secure asylum can be a legally and emotionally challenging process. It is also an exhilarating process that provides a unique opportunity for pro bono teams to engage in creative lawyering, build meaningful client relationships, and secure an outcome that is life-changing for a survivor. Asylum is often the only way survivors of severe violence and exploitation can find safety and stability for themselves and their children. Sanctuary for Families is incredibly grateful to the pro bono attorneys who volunteer to help the courageous survivors seeking refuge in the United States.

Sanctuary recently had the pleasure of working with a team of talented pro bono attorneys from Hogan Lovells LLP: Jonathan Wieder, Juan Moreno, Ian Lewis-Slammon, and supervising partner Dennis Tracey. This stellar team worked hand in hand with a Honduran survivor of extreme domestic abuse and gang violence, “Serena,” who ultimately successfully secured asylum in the United States.

Serena was born and raised in Honduras, where she began dating “B,” a prominent gang member in the area. As the relationship progressed, B started to subject Serena to violent physical and sexual abuse and repeatedly threatened her life. Due to B’s gang affiliations, he enlisted several other men to stalk and harass Serena, even during a stint of imprisonment. Serena, who had grown up in an area controlled by gang violence and had witnessed multiple murders in broad daylight, and whose brother had also been murdered by a gang member, was terrified of her abuser and the very credible threats he made upon her life. Her attempts to flee to neighboring countries resulted in periods of homelessness and multiple deportations back to Honduras, where her situation grew increasingly life-threatening. Ultimately, Serena was able to enter the United States and apply for asylum with the help of Sanctuary for Families.

The Hogan Lovells team took on Serena’s case in 2020 during the Trump administration and was immediately faced with a staggering challenge: then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recently stated that domestic violence survivors and gang violence survivors would not, as a general matter, be eligible for asylum protection. Serena’s case had been potentially stalled right out of the gate.

Undeterred, the attorneys got to work and began strategizing. Instead of building Serena’s asylum claim based on her experiences of domestic violence, they framed her claim upon the discrimination and antipathy she had experienced due to her gender in Honduras, the country with the highest femicide rates in Latin America. Building this claim involved careful planning around how to acquire police records and witness testimonies from Honduras without endangering any of Serena’s family members. With the administration’s change in 2021 and the onset of Covid in 2020, the team pivoted again. By the time Serena’s final claim was presented, after countless hours of research, pulling together supporting evidence and affidavits, and direct- and cross-examination practice with Serena, the ICE attorney from the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor stipulated asylum, agreeing that Serena’s claim was so strong that it did not need to be taken to a hearing.

When reflecting on their experience, Jonathan and Ian both expressed that it was a privilege to work with Serena on her case, highlighting her enormous role in its success. In a phone call, both attorneys also emphasized how critical Juan’s Spanish-speaking skills were in communicating with and building trust with the client, a monolingual Spanish speaker. Jonathan, a first-year associate when he was first staffed on the case, also credits Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project Pooja Asnani with her extensive expertise and for allowing the team to build a solid foundational understanding of asylum cases with which to move forward.

“At every stage in preparation for this case, I was impressed by the team’s trauma-informed approach to working with ‘Serena,’ their close attention to the fact evidence and legal arguments, and their dedication to this case and the client. I loved working with this team and would welcome any opportunity to work with them again.” -Pooja Asnani.

Hogan Lovells Partner Pieter Van Toll, who helps coordinate Hogan’s pro bono program, was thrilled with the outcome. “Peter [Bautz, who also helps coordinate Hogan’s pro bono work] and I congratulate the entire Hogan Lovells team for their excellent work winning asylum for a deserving immigrant. We are proud of the work Hogan Lovells has been doing with Sanctuary for Families on these types of asylum cases and other important issues and look forward to helping them on future matters.”

Sanctuary for Families is immeasurably grateful to our pro bono partners for their work supporting survivors. It has been a pleasure to work with this team, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with these attorneys and with Hogan Lovells in the future.

Join the team from Hogan Lovells in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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Sanctuary Spotlight: Mary Ann Mailman

Mary Ann’s leadership and vision have been instrumental in Sanctuary’s growth and ability to serve the thousands and thousands of families who turn to us for assistance each year.

We were thrilled to be able to chat with Mary Ann Mailman, one of the early members of Sanctuary’s Board of Directors, who served four 3-year terms, culminating in the position of Board President. Mary Ann’s leadership and vision have been instrumental in Sanctuary’s growth, and in the agency’s ability to serve the thousands and thousands of families who turn to us for assistance each year.

You have been involved with Sanctuary for Families since the beginning. Can you tell us how it all started?

Founding members of Sanctuary, Sarah Burke and Alisa Del Tufo, were in social work school together and came to realize that survivors of gender violence had no options to get help. There were no city or state services, and the only option for a survivor of domestic violence was to go into one of the city’s homeless shelters. They said, “this cannot be; we have to change this,” and they decided to form an organization.

Their first idea was that other families would take in survivors, and Sarah and her husband Gil took in the first family: a mom with three children. That family lived with them for three weeks, and during that time, they came to realize that this was not going to be a long-term solution.

Alisa and Sarah began to look for a more permanent option. Alisa, who became Sanctuary’s first Executive Director, had been in theological school, so the first shelters were in convents and churches. Sanctuary’s first office was in the attic of one of the churches.

Sanctuary was three or four years old when I came on the Board to help with fundraising. I didn’t know much about domestic violence, but I knew how to raise money from initiatives at my sons’ school. There was very little structure, and the budget was only about $100,000 per year, but even that amount, was difficult for us to raise.

One of the things you were very involved in was the purchase of our transitional shelter, now named Sarah Burke House in honor of Sarah Burke, in 1988. Can you tell us how that happened?

It was during a time when landlords all over the city had abandoned buildings and were not paying their taxes. The city took those buildings back, and they had to figure out what to do with them. They had the brilliant idea of making them available to not-for-profits. Alisa came to a Board meeting; I’ll never forget it — she walked in and said, “We can have a building for a shelter, and it will only cost us a dollar.”

So, we became the owners of Sarah Burke House for one dollar. It was a totally bombed-out building at the time. We had to climb ladders up from the first floor to the fifth floor because there were no staircases. There was nothing – it was an empty shell.

Now that we owned the building, we had to figure out how to turn it into a shelter. Our initial idea was that it would be an emergency shelter, but the state was concerned that an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims would present too many security issues. So Sarah Burke House instead became the first transitional shelter in New York State, where families could stay for six months.

It took every Board member and every volunteer we could find to get it open. When the construction finally finished, it was the Board and volunteers who were there painting apartments, assembling furniture, and trying to make the building habitable. We wanted it to be a wonderful refuge for families who were coming out of emergency shelter.

At Sarah Burke House, each family has its own apartment. Those first residents were over the moon that they had their own residences. We also tried to make it a shared space – with common areas on each floor and a beautiful playground in the back.

What have been the most gratifying changes to you in the agency since the early days?

“We now have at Sanctuary all the tools that can really help people rebuild and move on to new lives — to be safe and to have hope for a future.”

The most satisfying thing in terms of Sanctuary’s growth for me was the evolution to a holistic model in serving our clients. Just providing a bed was not going to be enough. So first, we developed a clinical program so that we could provide counseling to help families move beyond their trauma. We also began to recognize that we had an obligation to the entire family – not just to the person who was being abused.

When Dorchen Leidholdt came on as the Director of the Legal Center, we began to provide legal representation to every client who needed it. There were so many different types of legal needs — orders of protection, child custody, immigration — but we didn’t have the budget or the staff to care for them all. That was when we began to get the attention of the legal community, and developed what is now an incredible team of pro bono lawyers.

We also knew we had to help with housing, and that became another piece of the Sanctuary wheel. And finally, the Economic Empowerment Program — our workforce training program — to me, completes the picture. We now have at Sanctuary all the tools that can really help people rebuild and move on to new lives — to be safe and to have hope for a future.

I’m so proud to have been part of the creation of the Career Advancement Network or “CAN” which allows volunteers to serve as a network for EEP graduates. CAN members provide and facilitate job and internship opportunities as our clients enter or reenter the workforce. It’s a wonderful collaboration between staff and volunteers that enriches the client experience.

Over the years, you were instrumental in growing our end-of-year fundraising campaign, the Annual Appeal. How did that initiative start?

Today we have a wonderful base of donors, and we have support from thousands of people. But in the beginning, there wasn’t any of that. I remember the day the Annual Appeal started — Sarah Burke came over to my apartment with a pack of index cards, and that was going to be our first database of fundraising solicitations!

We asked every Board member to give us a list of any name that would give us a dollar. Of course, we didn’t have a computer at the time, and used a typewriter to create and then mail each letter out. When someone made a contribution, I would write it down in a notebook, and a volunteer would send a personal note to thank them.

One of the many ways you’ve supported our work is by including Sanctuary in your will. Why do you think it’s important to do this?

If you believe in what Sanctuary is doing, and you want to do your part to make sure the organization lasts, why wouldn’t you include them in your will? Why wouldn’t you invest in its future, even after you’re no longer there?

Nobody knows what the future will hold after we’re gone, but sometimes new programs need to be started. Even if I can’t underwrite a program, I can do something that will help ensure Sanctuary’s good future.

Why does Sanctuary’s mission still motivate you to stay so involved?

“We are giving adults and children who have been victims of abuse hope for the future.”

It’s because of the client service. To me, that is the essential thing that Sanctuary must continue to do. It’s something that we should be really proud of. When I think of the number of lives that have been changed over the years, and I think about other things in life that we can’t control, I know that we have been able to do something really important at Sanctuary. We are giving adults and children who have been victims of abuse hope for the future.

In the beginning, we used to say that we were going to get rid of domestic violence. All these many years later, we haven’t been able to get rid of partner abuse. But we have been able to help people escape from abusive relationships, and I think that the children in those families realize there is another way to deal with interpersonal relationships, not violence.

For now, it’s enough that we can help a family to rebuild their life.

Is there anything you wish people knew about domestic violence?

Domestic violence affects everyone in our society. When I first joined the Board, I said, “I used to think, ‘it’s not part of my world,’ but the truth is that it’s a part of everybody’s world.”

I had not been exposed to abuse in my personal life growing up, but I came to know many people who had been. I think we have a responsibility to recognize that it’s happening because, in a lot of cases, people have no support system to turn to.

Anything else you want to add?

“I am so proud of what has been done, and how many lives have been changed.”

I just love the organization that Sanctuary is today. One of the reasons that Sanctuary is so vibrant has to do with its beginnings. I know that organizations change as they grow, but I think that Sanctuary has continued to be a community that is effective because of its partnership with staff, volunteers, and supporters.

People laugh at me, but I always think of being involved with Sanctuary as a calling. I am so proud of what has been done, and how many lives have been changed. I think that’s a gift that Sanctuary gives to me. I am just lucky to be involved.

Join Mary Ann in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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Morton Bast: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Morton Bast and her amazing work on Sanctuary’s Family Law Project.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

As the pandemic worsened in 2020, it quickly became clear that the most vulnerable New Yorkers would disproportionately suffer the consequences of both the health crisis and the corresponding shutdown of the City. Non-profit legal and social services agencies immediately pivoted to triage mode as they worked double-time to meet the growing needs of the communities they served.

Recognizing the urgent need to provide additional support to these communities —and well-positioned to jump into the fray given its long-standing commitment to pro bono work—Cleary Gottlieb created the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program in 2020. This groundbreaking new initiative places Cleary associates at legal services organizations for one year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities while enabling Cleary Fellows to continue expanding their skill sets and pursue their specific interests. The first cohort of Fellows dispersed across New York City, landing in organizations such as Brooklyn Defender Services, Everytown for Gun Safety, the International Refugee Assistance Project, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Vera Institute of Justice, and so many more.

Sanctuary for Families was the lucky recipient of a Cleary Fellow and Columbia Law graduate Morton Bast. As a Cleary associate, Morton had worked pro bono on an asylum case with Sanctuary and participated several times in Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Project, providing comprehensive immigration screenings and consultations to defendants in the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court. “Every time it was Cleary’s turn to participate, really, I signed up because I found the clinic so impactful,” Morton explains. “So when the Fellowship opportunity was created, Sanctuary was the first organization that came to mind. Although I’d really enjoyed these immigration cases, I ended up signing up for Sanctuary’s Family Law Project because it would allow me to hone my litigation skills as well.”

Morton Bast

Morton’s arrival could not have come at a better time. Sanctuary’s Director of the Bronx and Manhattan Legal Project & Policy, Jennifer Friedman, recalls, “Morton came to us early in the pandemic, at a time where our entire office had to pivot to being online and the physical courts had just closed, so the only way for litigants to file petitions was online. We were really in an ‘all hands on deck’ situation, and Morton was hugely valuable and integral to our work during this time.” Morton was quickly tasked with conducting initial legal screenings and drafting petitions for the many survivors who had no other place to seek help once the courts physically closed and stopped providing pro se assistance to unrepresented litigants. Faced with unprecedented and urgent client situations, Morton also offered critical support in conducting research, drafting motions, and assisting pro se clients with safety planning and navigating the ever-changing landscape of the new virtual court system.

From Morton’s perspective, the experience was a crash course in direct client contact and the stark differences it poses to other types of legal work. “Most of the billable work I had been doing as a junior associate was not direct client contact – I spent most of my time working with people who are also doing their day jobs,” Morton says. “Whereas at Sanctuary, these are problems in people’s own lives that they can’t step away from at the end of the day, so it’s easier to become even more invested very quickly.” 

When asked about the most gratifying aspect of this type of work, Morton pointed to the satisfaction of using her legal skills and background to help people solve real problems in their lives.

“Gender-based violence issues have always been of great interest to me, but I never really considered that they could be something I could use my legal skills for.” – Morton Bast

Morton approached each survivor interaction with compassion, patience, and a mindset of trauma-informed, client-centered advocacy. Jennifer recalls one client with whom Morton worked for close to an entire year, who was deeply traumatized by her experiences of domestic violence and, as a result, extremely anxious about testifying in court. Morton worked extensively with the client for hours at a time to prepare her for trial at her own pace. Jennifer explains, “One of the major challenges of this case was that the client was not able to share her experiences in the typical structure of a direct examination, i.e. broken up into pieces in response to the attorney’s questions; she really needed to get into the zone and just deliver her story all at once. So rather than trying to force that, Morton and our team reconstructed the direct examination to allow the client to be the most comfortable telling her story on her own terms.” 

Through these experiences and more, Morton gradually became an attorney with highly specialized knowledge of Family Law, even taking two of her clients from Sanctuary back to Cleary to continue working on their cases pro bono after her Fellowship ended. Jennifer notes, ”We’re so grateful to Cleary for enabling this Fellowship. Now when we work with Morton as a pro bono, she is fully trained and can operate on a high level on really sophisticated cases and be familiar with our approach and philosophy.” From her perspective as a Fellow and now a pro bono attorney, Morton adds, “Working full-time at Sanctuary allowed me to see the symbiotic relationship between law firm pro bono work and the organization. I think when you’re working in a firm on pro bono matters, you worry, ‘Am I just doing this for myself, to make myself feel good?’ But I realized when I was at Sanctuary that the organization can’t work at the volume it works at without pro bonos, so it really is an important and mutually beneficial relationship.” 

Cleary’s Director of Pro Bono Katherine Hughes provided her perspective on Morton’s work with Sanctuary. “Watching Morton grow as an attorney during her Cleary Fellowship rotation at Sanctuary for Families has been a tremendous highlight for me during these past two challenging years. She naturally has a sense of confidence and lightness that brings her clients comfort in what are arguably some of their darkest hours. However, the Fellowship experience at Sanctuary and her clients and mentors have clearly shaped her into a smarter, more resilient litigator. She speaks so highly of the experience and continues to represent several of her clients with equal measures of grace, intelligence, and patience. Cleary is so grateful for the ways the Fellowship has strengthened our relationship with Sanctuary and for all that Morton has brought back to the firm from it.”

We are so grateful to Cleary for enabling this opportunity to work with such a talented, kind, and skilled associate and to Morton for all of her efforts throughout the Fellowship. We look forward to continuing our relationships with Morton and Cleary well into the future!