My Experience as a Development Intern at Sanctuary for Families

Attila Sepkin is a Sophomore at Emory University Business School and plays on the Emory Men’s Soccer team. 

Attila Sepkin completed an internship with Sanctuary’s Development team during the summer of 2023. He is a Sophomore at Emory University Business School and plays on the Emory Men’s Soccer team. 

Behind the Scenes

Sanctuary for Families holistically creates a “sanctuary” for survivors of gender-based violence by providing a range of services and shelters. At Sanctuary, I worked as an intern in the Volunteer Program. In addition to volunteering, I completed projects at Sanctuary’s headquarters and gained insight into the complexities and inner workings of an immense non-profit—quite a contrast to the “mom and pop shop” I had initially imagined!

Does organizing and managing hundreds of volunteers and guests seem easy? Try doing so in one night – sprinkle in unprecedented air quality issues and concerned attendees—and you have Sanctuary’s 2023 Zero Tolerance Benefit, a tremendous success and the organization’s highest fundraising event thus far! The daily challenges of supervising countless other volunteers/interns and logistics make running such a complicated event appear simple!

Getting to share my passion

I truly learned all about life with a soccer ball at my feet. Growing up, it was: eat, sleep, soccer, repeat. And sleep was an afterthought. Soccer has fostered my closest relationships and fondest memories. It’s posed my largest challenges and sweetest victories, and it built an environment where my external concerns temporarily halted. Soccer has always been a constant in my life. My ball is my reliable companion, my sanctuary.

As part of my internship this summer, I had the privilege of volunteering at Sarah Burke House (SBH), the first and largest transitional shelter for survivors of gender violence in New York City and one of Sanctuary’s five shelters designed to meet clients’ short term needs and prepare them for long term success. As a soccer coach at their summer camp for the children living in shelter, I was granted the opportunity to introduce the game I am ever grateful for – and for that, I am especially grateful!

While soccer may not be for everyone, I believe and hope it can act as a stepping stone for the children to discover a passion of their own. In that way, whatever they pursue can serve as a similar medium for their growth, as soccer has for me. And if nothing else, I believe they enjoyed the workshops – hopefully as much as I did! Seeing the kids laughing while kicking a ball was as sweet as the candy they shared with me at snack time!

Observations at Sarah Burke House

All services at SBH help to form a tightly knit community; interdependent and resilient. The hope is that such powerful support propels the families forward in a positive way.

I witnessed the children specifically build on their excitement and display endless enthusiasm. Rather than me consciously integrating myself within their group, upon arrival I was deemed a friend and role model. They invited me to sit amongst them. They listened intently to what I said. Hearing my name with a “Mr.” attached to it was new to me, but it has been some time since I was five years old. After all, one of the children remembers living in his mother’s “tummy” very well and I have no such recollection.

While I was at Sarah Burke House, “thank you” seemed a way of life: staff welcomed all volunteers with adoration, and parents grinned from ear to ear as they recognized a new face. And to the children, an untied shoe was an insurmountable crisis for which I was their hero. As a volunteer, I aim to benefit others, but at Sarah Burke House, amongst the countless tasks to be completed and difficult subjects to be addressed, it is I who benefited greatly and the experience was a complete pleasure.

To intern within such a large yet cohesive organization focused on social change has been precisely the enriching experience I hoped for. Those that I have met at Sanctuary – those that I have worked with and for – have been among the most kindhearted people I have met. That was exactly why I wanted to intern here, and why I am wholeheartedly glad I did.

Laura & Marvin Reiskin: 2023 Pillars of Change Honorees

For going above and beyond to support survivors in their quest towards living wage jobs within Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.

After retiring in 2015, Laura Reiskin began volunteering at a few organizations before being introduced to Sanctuary for Families by a former colleague. Laura was immediately drawn to the mission of Sanctuary and felt a personal connection as a survivor of domestic violence. She was especially excited about Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) and supporting survivors in their quest towards living wage jobs.

Laura began volunteering with EEP’s Interview Prep, assisting program participants with practicing job interviewing. It wasn’t long before Laura got her husband, Marvin, involved, attending events and joining the Career Advancement Network (CAN), Sanctuary’s affinity group of volunteers who focus their time, resources, and connections on the Economic Empowerment Program.

Sarah Hayes, Director of Economic Mobility, shared, “Laura and Marvin are committed to leveraging their established networks to create upskilling opportunities for Economic Empowerment Program participants. Their work with EEP represents the chance for many participants to recognize their dreams of living wage employment”.

The connections and support that Laura and Marvin have shared with EEP have positively and unmeasurably impacted the lives of survivors. They have directly connected multiple participants to internships and job placements.

I think my service helps clients feel more confident in their ability to succeed – so many clients have very low self-esteem, and having volunteers with professional credentials in a variety of industries and positions, actually helping them prepare for their entry/re-entry into the workplace, is an added ingredient to the already successful formal training they are receiving.” ~Laura Reiskin

A recent meeting of the Career Advancement Network was focused on engaging city government as partners in EEP’s important work. Thanks to Marvin’s guidance in this area, the meeting was a huge success and has further informed the EEP team on how best to secure internships and job placements for participants in city government.

“It is rare to come across individuals who so readily offer up their networks and connections for the benefit of our clients. Laura and Marvin’s tireless efforts to support and advocate the program’s benefits are perfect examples of the integral volunteer efforts that make Sanctuary successful in its work with survivors”.

-Sarah Hayes, Director of Economic Mobility

On behalf of all of us at Sanctuary for Families, thank you for helping to end the cycle of violence with your unending support toward the economic empowerment of survivors and their families.

“The reward is mine – I receive far more reward back from this work than I give. I feel such gratitude and satisfaction watching the clients grow and prosper”.

-Laura Reiskin

To learn more about Laura and Marvin and their work, please join us on April 20th from 6:00 – 7:30 PM at Pillars of Change.

Register for the event

Simon Kwon: 2023 Pillars of Change Honoree

For his incredible commitment as a volunteer tutor for some of the most vulnerable student-aged clients at Sarah Burke House at the height of the pandemic.

For the last two years, Simon Kwon has devoted his time and skills as a volunteer tutor in various roles at Sanctuary for Families. Simon joined Sanctuary’s weekly virtual homework help sessions through a partnership with NYU’s Dean’s Service Honors Corp in the height of the pandemic. When educational support was greatly needed for some of the most vulnerable student-aged clients at Sarah Burke House, Sanctuary’s large transitional shelter, Simon provided a constant presence during an otherwise uncertain time.

Simon stated, “The tutoring program gives students the opportunity to supplement the learning they do in school in a more personal, slower-paced context.” Sanctuary’s tutoring programs help with academic support and create a safe, empowering space for growth. Simon recalled the memorable moment when his first student read a complete sentence independently, “Focusing on one student this semester has allowed me to watch his steady progress, which is the most rewarding aspect of any teaching role. Sating the curiosity and the natural appetite for learning of a young student has always been a gift.”

Simon’s first grade student said, “I learn about shapes, measuring, writing, and reading”. When asked about his tutoring sessions with Simon, he replied, “I love him so much. Have a great day Mr. Simon”.

Hope Faison, Manager of Volunteer Relations, has seen firsthand how Simon’s commitment to Sanctuary extends beyond his passion and dedication to tutoring:

“Simon has shown tremendous commitment to our clients through the last several years of tutoring support while being a full-time student at NYU. He continues to show up for our clients by providing educational support and desires to extend his support by making an impact with our legal team in the near future.”

All of us at Sanctuary for Families are grateful for Simon’s expertise and continued support.

To learn more about Simon and his work, please join us on April 20th from 6:00 – 7:30 PM at Pillars of Change.

Register for the event

Ariella Rosenthal: 2023 Pillars of Change Honoree

Acknowledging her phenomenal work providing individual trauma-informed counseling, advocacy, and case management to clients between the ages of five and twenty-one years old.

Ariella joined the Manhattan Family Justice Center in the Children and Family Services Program (CFSP) in the fall of 2022 as a first year Master of Social Work student at Colombia University. Her work with Sanctuary for Families has provided individual trauma informed counseling, advocacy, and case management to clients between the ages of five and twenty one years old. She also conducts intake assessments for children and teens referred for counseling services.

Ariella’s work goes far beyond providing clinical support. She co-facilitated a Bingo Blowout event with our Children’s Activity Leader, and has assisted with children’s room activities as well as decorating and planning themes for the room. She is also co-facilitating a group for young girls with a focus on healthy relationships and self-empowerment.

Katherine Roman, Clinical Supervisor, and Erick DuShane, Counselor, said “Ariella has been an asset to our clinical team. She does a fantastic job completing thorough intakes while establishing and maintaining rapport with clients. Ariella has demonstrated trauma-informed care through her patience and effort to meeting clients where they are at. Children and families who have worked with Ariella have developed a positive relationship with Ariella, and the children enjoy coming to counseling.”

In addition to making a huge difference in the lives of the clients she works with, Ariella has also positively impacted her team of staff.

“She brings humor, dedication, empathy, and compassion to each setting, and she works hard to advocate for those around her. She is truly one of a kind. We are going to truly miss her [when her placement ends], but we are also proud of what is to come in her future.”

-Katherine Roman, Clinical Supervisor

Ariella has grown through her internship with Sanctuary in many ways. She said, “I have learned so much from my supervisor, Katherine Roman and the rest of the clinical team. I feel lucky to have so much support from them. They have taught me valuable lessons about trusting my instinct, following my clients lead in the direction they are ready to go, enjoying the process, and the value of self-care”.

Erick recalls a memorable moment with Ariella when she shared her genuine and warm demeanor with her “This was evident during the very first session when each of the clients shared that they were initially nervous joining the group but were completely comfortable by the end of the session.” Katherine fondly cherishes her one on one supervisions with Ariella, seeing her grow in her clinical skills and confidence, as well as watching her engaged in various activities within the program.

A huge thank you to Ariella for all her hard work and dedication to survivors of gender violence!

To learn more about Ariella and her work, please join us on April 20th from 6:00 – 7:30 PM at Pillars of Change.

Register for the event