Stories of Survival

Hear from our incredible clients

Ava found healing through advocacy and dance.


After leaving a marriage that had become increasingly abusive, Ava never thought she would again find herself in a relationship that threatened to control her life. However, six months into a new relationship, her partner became violent during an argument, putting his hands around her throat. In that moment, Ava feared for her life.

A short time later, her partner was arrested and Ava knew she needed help; she knew she needed someone to believe her and help her stand up for her rights. Ava found Sanctuary for Families, who connected her with a team of pro bono attorneys from New York City law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. It was clear from the beginning that the Paul Weiss team felt deeply passionate about helping her get justice against her abuser.

“This wasn’t about him. This was about me. And putting a stop to what I had gone through for too many years.”

Ava’s abuser entrapped her in a complicated legal battle, bringing numerous cases against her and even filing a restraining order. She struggled to see past the exhausted, scared and traumatized state she was living in as she focused on fighting for her safety. Little did her abuser know, his attempts to manipulate and control Ava could not keep her down. Instead, they fueled her to never give up. In the midst of these everyday battles, Ava never lost hope that she could find freedom and healing from her experiences with abuse.

“The pain didn’t define me. I didn’t crumble. I rose up.”

Through a long and torturous legal battle, Ava’s pro bono team saw her through each case. Her experiences in court were often grueling and re-traumatizing, and she was soon referred to Sanctuary’s counseling services to begin healing. Ava received individual counseling for three months, where she had the space to process her trauma, gain perspective on her abuser’s tactics of power and control, and rebuild her life free from violence.

It was after receiving transformative counseling services that Ava learned about Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program (EEP), a career readiness and technology training program that helps participants break the cycle of poverty, homelessness, and abuse. Ava was immediately enthralled with the program and thrived as she gained invaluable skills that prepared her for the living wage workforce. Her passion and enthusiasm for the program was undeniable, and her instructors and fellow participants even nominated her to speak at EEP’s graduation ceremony. It was in this moment, speaking in front of her fellow EEP graduates and reflecting on how far she had come, that Ava truly found her voice.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail… Be brave and fearless. Don’t let fear dictate your decisions, but have the grace repeatedly in the face of adversity to attain every day your true purpose. Don’t feel inferior, be superior – thrive for limitless possibilities.” 

Today, Ava’s life is defined by freedom, not ruled by violence. After graduating from EEP, she was accepted into a prestigious internship program at King’s County Hospital, where she continues to utilize the skills she learned at Sanctuary to advance her career. She is a member of Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership Institute, where she uses her experiences to educate individuals, community members and legislators about gender violence by sharing her personal experiences. She is a proud performer at Gibney Dance, where Ava and other Survivor Leaders use movement and dance to facilitate their incredible journeys from pain to healing.

“I am walking my truest purpose right now in my life. If I didn’t understand it then, I surely understand it now. I am soaring in ways I never thought I could have.”