For centuries, immigrants and refugees have been making their way to New York City, settling across the five boroughs, working countless hours, and making sacrifices to provide their families with a chance at a better life. Their belief in the American dream, cultural traditions, and labor have made our country richer and stronger. Though this has always been the American story, it’s one our country has repeatedly disavowed – especially in recent years.
This dichotomy was underscored during our recent Economic Empower Program’s (EEP) Spanish Career Readiness Workshop graduation. For four weeks over the summer, 24 gender violence survivors logged into Zoom in order to complete an abbreviated and remote version of EEP’s signature program in Spanish. At a time when our federal government is actively working to prevent immigration from Central and South America and cut supportive services for immigrants and undocumented folks – all amidst a pandemic and economic recession – programs like our Spanish CRW have never been more critical.
Sanctuary began offering the Spanish CRW in 2018. Working with many monolingual Spanish-speaking immigrants over the years, EEP staff had long recognized the need for clients to have at least a minimum level of English proficiency in order to enter New York City’s complex labor market. While it’s possible to survive in the City without basic English skills, the living wage labor market and potential for career advancement still demand solid English speaking, writing, and reading skills.
The Spanish CRW was and continues to be EEP’s solution to this problem, combining ESOL classes with professional development instruction and computer skills training in Spanish—an innovative approach to meeting the workforce development needs of Spanish-speaking domestic violence and trafficking survivors. Emphasizing the importance of English fluency as a stepping stone to succeeding in the living-wage job market, the Spanish CRW offers Spanish-speaking survivors the much-needed opportunity to secure their rightful place in New York City’s 21st Century economy.
Graduates of the Spanish CRW shared what the last four weeks meant to them:
“Thank you for providing me with the fundamental steps needed to fulfill my professional goals… After taking the program, I now believe that I have a bright future and that nothing is too late. [EEP team], you all impacted my life for good and subsequently my kids’ lives as well. I now hear my kids saying things like ‘Mommy, I want to learn too what you’re learning,’ ‘Mommy, learn as much as you can so that you can have a very good job like all of the moms,’ … ‘You look beautiful when you smile every day,’ ‘You can do it Mommy,’ ‘Si se puede, Mommy.’” – Anonymous
“Gracias por brindarme los pasos fundamentales necesarios para cumplir con mis objetivos profesionales… después de tomar el programa, ahora creo que tengo un futuro brillante y que nada es demasiado tarde. [Equipo de EEP], todos ustedes impactaron mi vida para siempre y, posteriormente, también la vida de mis hijos. Ahora escucho a mis hijos decir cosas como: ‘Mami, yo también quiero aprender lo que estás aprendiendo,’ ‘Mami aprende todo lo que puedas para que tú también puedas tener un muy buen trabajo como otras mamás,’ ‘Te ves hermosa cuando sonríes todos los días,’ ‘Puedes hacerlo mami’ ‘¡Si se puede, mami!’ – Anonymous
“[EEP has] given me the tools and the opportunity to transform my life, and my daughters’ lives, and give me hope for a better life that I thought was loss at the hands of my experience with domestic violence…” – Yoana M.
“[EEP me ha] dado las herramientas y la oportunidad para transformar mi vida y la vida de mis hijas, y me ha dado esperanza de una mejor vida que pensé se había perdido en manos de mi experiencia de violencia doméstica . . .” – Yoana M.
Reflecting on the immense challenges New York City is facing, Program Director Angelo J. Rivera shared:
“So many people have come to New York for hundreds of years, started their life over again, have gone on to do great things, and made the world a better place… and now it is our turn. In this very difficult time for this City it is our turn and that means it’s also your turn too.”
“Tantas personas han venido a Nueva York durante cientos de años, han comenzado sus vidas de nuevo, han hecho grandes cosas y han hecho del mundo un lugar mejor … y ahora es nuestro turno. En estos tiempos tan difíciles para esta ciudad llega nuestro turno y eso quiere decir que es tu turno también.”
Graduates were also congratulated by District Attorney Cyrus Vance whose office funded Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.
“Regardless of the challenges that laid ahead of you as you entered this program, you did it, all 24 of you. You seized the opportunity to empower yourselves and profoundly change your lives…The courage, the hard work, the dedication, the emotional strength that you have shown in your lives and through your work in this program indicates that your future is going to be bright.”
“Sin importar los retos que se avecinaban cuando ustedes entraban en este programa, ustedes lo hicieron, cada una de las veinticuatro. Aprovecharon la oportunidad para empoderarse y cambiar profundamente sus vidas … El coraje, el trabajo duro, la dedicación, la fortaleza emocional que han demostrado en sus vidas y a través de su trabajo en este programa demuestran que su futuro será brillante.”
These are difficult times for so many across New York City and around the country, but particularly for immigrant survivors of gender violence. We extend our gratitude to the District Attorney for joining our celebration and supporting this critical work, as well as the many others who make our Economic Empowerment Program possible:
First Republic Bank
Gerstner Family Foundation
Harry & Jeannette Weinberg Foundation
Helen Wolk Foundation
Herbert M. Citrin Charitable Foundation
JRM Construction Management
Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Criminal Justice Investment Initiative
New York City Council
New York City Human Resources Administration
New York State Department of Labor
Nurmi Family Foundation
Peter & Mary Levin Family Foundation
We look forward to sharing more stories as our graduates continue with ESOL classes and our four-month intensive Office Operations Workshop.