Sanctuary Ride: Going the Extra (500) Miles to End Gender Violence

An interview with the organizer of Sanctuary Ride, a 5 day, 500 miles ride from Manhattan to Niagara Falls that raises fund to help survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking and related forms of gender violence.

Ashley Tsai and Nelson Lin are the organizers of Sanctuary Ride, a 500 mile bike ride from Central Park to Niagara Falls, the proceeds of which go to benefit our work to end domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender-based violence.

We sat down with Ashley to learn more about her passion for cycling and Sanctuary for Families.

How did you first become interested in long distance cycling for charity? 

Ashley & Nelson, organizers of Sanctuary Ride

Nelson has been a cycling enthusiast ever since he got bitten by the bug many years ago doing his first ever charity ride in Sydney, Australia. Nelson did not even have his own bike, and did the 51 mile course on a woman’s hybrid. He even had to borrow a friend’s helmet. He has been hooked ever since – to the self-discipline, the training leading up to the event, and the sense of achievement at enduring for a worthy cause. Nelson has participated in multi-day charity bike events in Australia, Europe, and US ever since.

I am not really a cyclist but I share Nelson’s passion for charity. So I started volunteering as a support crew for these events. It feels great to be part of these amazing rides together as husband-and-wife and we have made many life-long friends along the way.

How did you find Sanctuary?

We moved from Sydney to New York four years ago, and I started volunteering at Sanctuary for Families. It is a really special place. The work Sanctuary is doing for victims of gender violence really made an impression on me, and I was especially impressed by the Economic Empowerment Program. Through volunteering I met John Wyeth, Sanctuary’s Director of Institutional Giving, and found out that he is also a cyclist. I introduced Nelson to him and the two became riding buddies and often ride together on weekends.

How did you come up with the idea to organize Sanctuary Ride?  

The thought of doing something to help Sanctuary to raise awareness and break the cycle of gender violence had always been on our minds, and two years ago we thought it would be a good idea to combine our passions together and organize a charity bike ride for the cause. We spoke to a few like-minded friends, including John, and the Sanctuary Ride was born! We want the event to reflect the geographic base of Sanctuary – hence the route from New York City to Niagara Falls through the beautiful back roads of New York State.

What keeps you motivated during that long bike ride? 

It is a tough ride, 500 miles in 5 days, with an elevation gain of 23,000 feet.  However, in our mind, this is a small price to pay to support survivors of gender violence. I love that we are a group of like-minded people who believe in Sanctuary’s mission, and that we are not alone on this journey.

Last year we spoke to many people on the road about Sanctuary for Families, and were lucky enough to spread the words through NPR and Buffalo NBC news. It was an amazing five days even though we had to deal with a heat wave, leg cramps, bike issues, saddle sores, and scary descents going into Ithaca!


Sanctuary Ride 2018

Both Nelson and I are super excited about this year’s Sanctuary Ride.  We have eight wonderful riders and three support crew members from all backgrounds and different parts of the world, and we all share the same passion. I look forward to “rolling” nice and early on August 28th from Central Park, raising awareness of Sanctuary, and making unforgettable memories!

What is your favorite part of Sanctuary Ride?

It is the comradeship of a group of very different people coming together for one goal.  I love that most people who participate in the event (both last year and this year) have actually never ridden 500 miles back to back.  The riders have to train hard for not only the cause of raising awareness of gender violence, but also to achieve personal challenges.  You can’t help but feel great to be part of this journey.

It is always a very emotional moment to arrive at Niagara Falls at the end of the 5 days.  However scenery-wise my personal favorite is the 4th day where we ride along the beautiful Erie Canal.

Are you accepting new members?

Registration for the 2019 Sanctuary Ride has closed – the ride overlaps with the Labor Day long weekend therefore we have to book all our accommodation far in advance – but we are already thinking about next year. We’d love to welcome any interested riders to consider joining us in 2020!

Can cyclists participate in the event and not ride the full five days to Niagara Falls?

Friends asked this question a lot!  We are considering having options for 1 day ride from New York to Poughkeepsie, as well as 1 day from Pittsford to Niagara Falls for Sanctuary Ride 2020 onwards.  You are welcomed to come cheer us on and see us off at 5:30am on 8/28 though!

What advice would you have for someone who is interested in doing the ride?

Good spirit and positive energy is always a good place to start!  Train hard and stay safe on the saddle.  Nelson organizes group trainings on weekends leading up to the ride so the team get a sense of riding as a group and how to look out for each other.

How can interested cyclists contact you?

Please visit our Facebook page and leave us a message!  We would love to have you in next year’s event.  Let’s ride together to help end gender violence!

Recognizing Jennifer Escobar & Rita Pascarella-Ronk: Pillars of Change Honorees

Jennifer and Rita are 2019 Pillars of Change honorees.

In anticipation of Pillars of Change on June 11th, we are highlighting Sanctuary Volunteers who will be honored at the volunteer recognition event! Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

Rita Pascarella-Ronk was introduced to Sanctuary for Families over 15 years ago through former Board President and the current Chair of Sanctuary’s President’s Council, Stephanie Ferdman. After being involved for a while Rita recalls, “The most memorable incident was when one of my friends was having a difficult day and asked me to dinner to catch up and talk. I was already committed to attending the graduation for clients in Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program and told my friend that she could come with me. To see the women stand up and be proud of each other and their accomplishments, my friend looked at me and said: “Thank you, I needed this perspective”. From that day forward this friend has never stopped volunteering and being involved with Sanctuary.”

That friend was Rita’s colleague, Jennifer Escobar! Since Rita introduced Jen to the Sanctuary network, they have been an incredible team of support for the agency and the clients we support. The two friends have moved jobs (together!) and have created and grown a multi-faceted partnership with their current employer, City National Bank. Over the past two years, Rita and Jen have organized multiple trainings for their colleagues at the bank that cover an in-depth overview of Sanctuary for Families and the challenges faced by clients. The wonderful colleagues within the bank’s Women’s Network have volunteered their time and skills, creating a customized, once-a-month, Financial Development series for the clients living at Sanctuary’s large, transitional residence, Sarah Burke House.

Sarah Burke House is New York’s largest transitional housing shelter located in the south Bronx. The shelter houses 58 families at any given time and provides supportive services to the residents as well as those who have moved out of the shelter through their comprehensive Aftercare Program. Lorena Zavala, a Case Manager at Sarah Burke House shares: “Jen and Rita foster a warm, welcoming, learning environment. This much-needed service is vital for our clients in getting back on their feet after shelter, and Rita and Jen have perfected making our clients feel comfortable and safe around a topic as daunting as personal finances. Their programming has made a huge impact on the lives of our survivors by making financial planning accessible, giving them the tools to progress toward their financial goals, and for some of our residents, providing the first encouragement and guidance to help them become financially independent. They even ensured diversity within the group of volunteers which made a big impact on the residents and helped everyone feel that their financial goals are attainable.”

Although Jen and Rita most often volunteer as a dynamic duo, they each have volunteered as individuals in “personal volunteer side projects” including but not limited to: resume writing, mock interviews, providing support to individual clients, participating as members of our Career Advancement Network which supports the clients within the Economic Empowerment Program, organizing volunteers to provide hundreds of Mother’s Day shoeboxes (thanks to Shoebox NYC) and participating in our gift drives during the end-of-year holiday season.

On one particular occasion, I had one of the women I was helping prepare a budget look at me with tears in her eyes and ask why I was doing this for her and I could only respond, “Why wouldn’t I?” Everyone deserves to be helped. She was so grateful, we hugged at the end of our meeting.” -Jen

“I hope showing up for the events shows the women they have individuals who are cheering for their success and are willing to help them.” – Rita 

“The idea that a small investment of my knowledge and time I can help make a positive impact in someone’s life is very rewarding.” – Jennifer Escobar

We thank Rita and Jen for their combined years of service to Sanctuary for Families. They both have provided an immeasurable amount of educational tools, resources, and encouragement to the lives they have touched, and our clients and staff alike are eternally grateful!

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on June 11th, 2019 to recognize Rita, Jen, and all of our volunteers for their dedicated service. Please RSVP for Pillars of Change today!

Recognizing Gail Friedman: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Gail is a 2019 Pillars of Change honoree.

In anticipation of Pillars of Change on June 11th, we are highlighting Sanctuary Volunteers who will be honored at the volunteer recognition event! Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

“When I am at Sanctuary for Families, I am surrounded by family, and I am home.” – Gail

Approximately three years ago, Gail Friedman became an invaluable member to Sanctuary’s In-kind donations team.

Since her first day, Gail has been working in Sanctuary’s Butterfly Boutique and adjacent storage room. The onsite clothing boutique is space at Sanctuary’s Manhattan service providing an office where clients and their children can select from a range of new and like-new donations in a calming and empowering environment. Donations of clothing and other items are an important way that Sanctuary can meet the immediate needs of clients and help them on their paths to safety and independence.

Gail began volunteering at Sanctuary’s original lower Manhattan office and continued to volunteer the agency’s big move to a new location – a location where the Butterfly Boutique did not yet exist. Sanctuary’s Director of Corporate and Volunteer Relations explains, “We didn’t have a Boutique, and our only “In-kind” staff member had just left to return to school. I knew it was going to take a lot to get the in-kind donations program up and running again, but with Gail’s ‘can-do’ attitude and support, I knew it was possible.”

After raising her own family, Gail felt that it was the right time to give back to an organization that provided so much support to so many people. Gail has not only been essential in organizing and maintaining such an integral part of the in-kind program but goes above and beyond to provide a warm and welcoming experience for clients.

“I want clients to leave the Boutique not only with clothing but with a feeling of self-worth.” – Gail

Additionally, because the service is open to all clients throughout the agency, Gail has touched many lives of those who she has never met at Sanctuary’s other 10 locations. “Gail has been one of the best volunteers I have interacted with, ever! She is always very cheerful and ready to assist our clients. I have multiple clients who ask for her and thank her for all that she does for them just by being in the Boutique. Gail has given clothes and items to clients who are the most in need. Always very friendly, kind, respectful, tentative, caring, compassionate, and many more descriptive words,” says Melina Hernandez, Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project Assistant.

Marissa Rosenberg-Carlson, a Case Manager within the Anti-Trafficking Initiative, shares that many of her clients look forward to seeing Gail when they come to Sanctuary for appointments. She says, “Gail always remembers what clients like & details about their children, and she goes to great lengths to make them feel comfortable and supported. Seeing her is often a highlight for my clients, particularly after they discuss heavy topics in case management sessions.”

We thank Gail for her years of commitment to Sanctuary’s staff and clients! Her impact is felt far beyond what can be expressed in words.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on June 11th, 2019 to recognize Gail and all of our volunteers for their dedicated service. Please RSVP for Pillars of Change today!

Recognizing Joy Harris: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Joy is a 2019 Pillars of Change honoree.

In anticipation of Pillars of Change on June 11th, we are highlighting Sanctuary Volunteers who will be honored at the volunteer recognition event! Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

Three years ago, after being introduced by a mutual friend, Joy Harris had the opportunity to discuss Sanctuary for Families with Lori Cohen, the Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative.

The Anti-Trafficking Initiative (ATI) provides targeted outreach and services to survivors of sex trafficking. ATI staff support this especially vulnerable population through high quality and holistic civil legal services, while also helping to sensitize and strengthen the response to sex trafficking through their work with criminal justice officials and judges. Since the majority of Sanctuary’s clients within the Anti-Trafficking Initiative are immigrants, staff also leverages their extensive experience in immigration law to help survivors obtain immigration status through T visas and other means.

As a small business owner, Joy searched for an opportunity to give back that easily fit in her busy life, and Lori suggested the perfect opportunity. Lori introduced Joy to one of her clients, Margarita, and her two daughters – the youngest just a newborn when they met. Joy has met with Margarita and her girls weekly for over three years. Joy tutors Margarita in English while also helping the eldest daughter with her homework. As a group, they also enjoy talking and playing games! Joy has been integral to providing familiarity, comfort, consistency, and love to this family, and everyone at Sanctuary who has worked with Margarita and her girls is incredibly grateful for her support.

Joy’s name aptly conveys the impact of her contribution as a volunteer. She brings so much joy into the lives of our client and her two children while imparting the invaluable skill of speaking English with a non-Spanish speaker.  – Lori Cohen

Joy shares that the most memorable part of her tutoring sessions has been to watch the girls grow, and to be a consistent part of their educational growth.

Lori Cohen says, “Joy’s sustained dedication to this client – meeting weekly for over three years – would have been enough to merit this nomination. However, Joy has become so much more than an English language partner. Trafficking clients frequently experience intense isolation after they escape, and Joy has reminded our client that she is not alone in this world, that other people care about her and truly love her.”

Thank you, Joy, for your incredible dedication to this special family!

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on June 11th, 2019 to recognize Joy and all of our volunteers for their dedicated service. Please RSVP for Pillars of Change today!