Ashley Gail Harris: 2022 Pillars of Change Honoree

For going above and beyond to provide Sanctuary with curated children’s libraries and weekly, healthy snacks — extending far beyond her arts education-based organization, Wide Rainbow.

Ashley Gail Harris (Ash) is the Founder and Executive Director of Wide Rainbow, a contemporary art after-school program. Wide Rainbow is a pillar for young children as a non-profit connecting artists of all disciplines, from all over the world, with low-income neighborhoods with limited or no access to the arts or arts education.

For almost a decade Ash and her amazing team have successfully created meaningful after-school programing within schools, community centers, and non-profits throughout the boroughs of NYC as well as serving communities in Long Island, Los Angeles, and Detroit. When COVID-19 forced the shutdown of all of the schools and additional sites where Wide Rainbow was providing programming, Ash knew she needed to continue to provide in some way for those in the communities whose lives she had meaningfully touched. Like so many, she creatively innovated new ways to support children and families that went far outside Wide Rainbow’s mission focused on arts education.

“Since the onset of the pandemic we have been focused on essential donations including meal distribution, art supplies, books, libraries, mask-making art projects, etc. Developing sustained programs for meal distribution & nutrition that could feed hearts, souls, and imaginations during these uncertain times.” ~Ashley Gail Harris

Ash reached out to Sanctuary for Families in the spring of 2020 and has been a steadfast supporter ever since. Over the past two years, she has donated countless hours and items. All of Sanctuary’s five shelters receive a weekly delivery of snack packs which include yogurt, a piece of fresh fruit, and a homemade granola bar. This is all made possible through Wide Rainbow’s partnership with Green Top Farms founded by a fifth-generation farmer turned NYC school teacher looking to connect local farms with urban communities. Under Ash’s leadership and with the support of an incredible group of artists, Wide Rainbow has also found a way to share dynamic art lessons remotely with all of her community partners, including Sanctuary.

Sanctuary’s Director of Corporate and Volunteer Relations, Emily Lo Bue, shared, “With all of the challenges that the pandemic brought to small non-profits, it would have been incredible if Ash was only able to find a way to get Wide Rainbow’s arts education lessons online – an amazing feat on its own. Instead, she did this and so much more. It has been awe-inspiring and filled all of us at Sanctuary with so much hope, to get to know Ash and see everything that she’s been able to achieve and donate to so many communities. Wide Rainbow has been a bright light during some of the darkest times for survivors of gender violence. We are beyond grateful for all that she has given Sanctuary.”

Another example of Ash’s ingenuity was her partnership with architects Melissa and Amanda Shin. This collaborative team designed, built, and donated multiple moveable libraries filled with books curated by librarian and arts educator, Asmaa Walton, of the Black Art Library.

Sanctuary was lucky to receive two of these libraries – one for our Children’s Program at our Manhattan office and another for our large transitional shelter, Sarah Burke House. Delivering the mobile library to Sarah Burke House, was a memorable highlight for Wide Rainbow. Ash shared, “Because of this group effort, we were able to safely share a memorable afternoon of reading with the families uptown”.

Thank you to Ashley and everyone at Wide Rainbow. Due to your commitment to nourishing hearts, souls, and imaginations, those at Sanctuary have been abundantly impacted by your donations and generosity over the last two years.

To learn more about Ashley Gail Harris and her work, please join us on April 27th from 12:30 – 1 PM at our virtual Pillars of Change.

Register on Zoom

Recognizing Respond Crisis Translation: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For their phenomenal partnership with Sanctuary providing hundreds of hours of translation services.

Respond Crisis Translation has been an integral part of Sanctuary for Families over the past two years. A member of the Respond Crisis Translation team contacted Sanctuary’s Volunteer Program team proposing a partnership to ensure language access for linguistically-diverse clients. From the beginning, it was clear that our organizations had common goals and deep alignment. Respond Crisis Translation chose Sanctuary for Families as their first partner to pilot their hope of survivors having pro bono access to interpreters and translators. They have worked with Sanctuary in myriad ways such as translating legal evidence for asylum-seeking domestic violence survivors and oral interpreting in psychological and emotional support sessions.

Respond Crisis Translation is a collective of around 2,000 language activists providing support in over 100 languages. There are many translators in their network who are deeply committed to gender justice and are particularly passionate about supporting victims and survivors of gender-based violence who seek safety, freedom, and asylum. The Respond Crisis Translation team notes, “We wanted to work with SFF because they are leading on the frontlines of supporting survivors across New York. For survivors who are also linguistic minorities, we know that Anglocentrism, language violence, and language exclusionism create yet another layer of complexity and often make access to resources and justice close to impossible.” Respond Crisis Translation’s understanding of this complexity has been integral for many of our clients gaining justice and freedom from the violence and barriers they experience.

During the pandemic, Respond Crisis Translation has been essential in helping Sanctuary share our Safety Planning Guide far and wide. Volunteers translated the plan into seven languages so that it could be distributed widely across New York City and beyond. This guide was imperative for victims of domestic violence currently living with their abusers during the stay-at-home order and provided steps to take in case of an emergency. It was critical to have this translated into numerous languages in order to reach a wide breadth of victims and survivors.

When thinking about the longstanding partnership, Jessica Francois, Manager of Volunteer Relations says, “The last thing we want a client to worry about is telling their story in a language that isn’t the most comfortable for them. Respond has been able to deliver quality translations frequently used in court, providing an essential gateway to getting our clients the safety they need. Offering translation allows for survivors to feel supported, heard, and cared for. Respond Crisis Translation are our team members in this effort.”

More importantly, Respond Crisis Translation now provides its services to many organizations throughout the United States. They understand and provide a service of language access to those who are the most in need. “There is a huge language access crisis in this country: all too often, refugees and those dealing with trauma who don’t speak English lack access to critical information because it has simply not been made available in the languages they speak. At the same time, these folks are often forced to navigate immigration, legal, medical, and other governmental systems that are not accommodating to non-English speakers. All too often, when these systems DO provide interpretation, the quality is subpar and the interpreters are not trauma-informed or versed in the language of gender and LGBTQ+ justice. This creates additional layers of trauma and re-victimization. At Respond Crisis Translation, our interpreters are passionate about justice for survivors and committed to providing trauma-informed, high-quality interpreting that not only creates basic access but also creates safety and healing. We are proud to be able to fill in this critical need for Sanctuary clients”, says the Respond team.

“Language access, freedom of mobility, and physical and emotional safety are all basic human rights. Language justice is a feminist issue, is a queer issue, and is a basic human rights issue. We are grateful for the opportunity to work at these intersections in collaboration with Sanctuary for Families.”

We, too, are grateful to our team members at Respond Crisis Translations. We thank them for their amazing commitment to Sanctuary’s staff and clients, and their impact reaches well beyond what can be captured in words.

To learn more about Respond Crisis Translation and their work, please join us on June 17th from 6:30pm -7:00pm at our virtual Pillars of Change

Additionally, for those who are in need of support, please feel free to get in touch with them via their website

Recognizing Cynthia Polk-Allen: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For her incredible commitment teaching and tutoring within Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.

Cynthia Polk-Allen has been an avid supporter of Sanctuary for Families since 2019. After retiring from the Department of Education, she began her commitment to Sanctuary through gift wrapping and Holiday Program volunteering, but her interest to do more quickly grew. Reflecting on the start of her work here, Cynthia states “I walked through the doors of the building to tutor my first group of Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) students at 11:00 in the morning. I fell in love and have been a part of the SFF EEP family since then.”

Having gone through her own journey as a survivor, she reflects that “this was destined to be a passion when I read the website. When I went to my January 23rd meeting, it was clearly explained the cycles of abuse, what our clients were experiencing. It was also clearly and succinctly explained what SFF was doing to help people across all backgrounds work through this trauma and come out on the other side.”

Cynthia has continued to be a fierce supporter of Sanctuary – donating her time and resources in support of staff and clients. Cynthia has been with the Economic Empowerment Program, as both a group and individual tutor helping students master the skills necessary to take The Adult Basic Education (TABE) test. She also became a substitute literacy teacher in 2020 when Tana OsaYande, the Manager of Literacy Initiatives, was on a leave of absence. Additionally, for this cohort of EEP, Cynthia is the Book Club leader, where she is delving into the amazing story, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with her students.

“The rich conversations we are having about community, race, and country of origin vs adopted land, hair acceptability in the workplace and in life are astounding. I realize how far my students have come and the confidence they have built over a year.”

With her experience and expertise, Cynthia has become an invaluable part of the Economic Empowerment Program. “The EEP staff know how much joy I get from my interaction with all my students be it in person, in Google Classroom, or over Zoom. We are a conscious community. We can safely offer our opinions about anything, we can laugh, cry, share painful and joyful memories knowing that in our place together there is love and understanding — no fear, no retribution. We are each other’s cheering squad. Together we discover all that we are and all that we can be.”

“The road of life-changing discovery is what every teacher hopes for, but rarely experiences. I have this opportunity more than most of my peers. Every session, I learn much more than I teach/share. This is what makes volunteering with Sanctuary so remarkable: Your time spent is more than a warm fuzzy feeling. It changes lives profoundly. Most of all your life.”

The Economic Empowerment Program has been incredibly successful over the years, and it would not be possible without the help of volunteers like Cynthia. All who have had the opportunity to know and work with Cynthia are forever grateful she chose Sanctuary over two years ago, and for her commitment to our clients since.

To learn more about Cynthia Polk-Allen and her work, please join us on June 17th from 6:30pm -7:00pm at our virtual Pillars of Change.

Recognizing Isabelle Demenge: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For her exceptional leadership and support of Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivor Initiative.

For the past year, Isabelle Demenge has been an incredible addition to Sanctuary for Families’ Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative as a volunteer attorney.  Isabelle, a native of Paris, moved to New York City to attend law school and start a legal career and a family. She is the mother of three boys, has worked as a banking & finance lawyer in a major international firm, where she managed its pro bono program, and is also a children’s book author. Isabelle graduated from the University Of Chicago Law School and the University of Paris II. After her studies, she spent a decade in Hong Kong focusing on family trips, photography, and travel writing.  For over a year, Isabelle has been making significant contributions to Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative, working on cases and assisting with the development of the newest initiative of Sanctuary’s Legal Center.  We are so grateful to Isabelle and her amazing commitment to Sanctuary for Families! Her support to both staff and clients has been exceptional.

To learn more about Isabelle Demenge and her work, please join us on June 17th from 6:30pm -7:00pm at our virtual Pillars of Change.