Recognizing Cynthia Polk-Allen: A Pillars of Change Honoree

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.