Merriam Mikhail: Why I run for Sanctuary

Merriam Mikhail is a litigation associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP and a longtime Sanctuary volunteer. On Sunday, November 1, she will join nine other Sanctuary supporters to complete the TCS NYC Marathon while raising funds in support of our work. 

Tell me about yourself. It is the first question participants master as part of the interview skills workshop I volunteer with through Sanctuary for Families’ ground-breaking Economic Empowerment Program. Cohort after cohort, the women’s answers to this commonplace interview question always amaze me.

Some grew up just down my block, and others have immigrated to the United States from all over the world – just like my Iraqi parents. Some of the women have PhDs, while others weren’t permitted by their families to attend high school. Many have already had impressive careers as engineers, pharmacy technicians, bank tellers, financial analysts, human rights workers, and advertising account executives. Others embrace the opportunity to explore a new career, or even their new-found freedom to choose one. All of the women are strong, confident, hard-working, and intellectually curious.

You wouldn’t know it from a job interview, but the women in the Economic Empowerment Program also have one other thing in common: they are survivors of gender violence. They have complex needs, ranging from safety to housing to legal advocacy and clinical counseling. Sanctuary is New York’s leading service provider of these much-needed resources, serving over 18,000 women and children last year alone.

It is also critical for survivors to achieve long-term stability. Thanks to my law firm’s partnership with Sanctuary, I have volunteered for the last two years with the Economic Empowerment Program—a pioneering career readiness and technology training curriculum that helps participants break the cycle of poverty, homelessness, and abuse by securing a living wage job.

Through an intensive four month training program, the women focus on professional development, literacy upgrading, and advanced office technology skills that position them for living wage jobs. The program achieves consistently high placement rate – placing 70% of graduates in positions with salaries averaging over $14 per hour in 2014.

I decided to run the 2015 New York City Marathon with the Sanctuary for Families Marathon Team to help these women secure the resources they need on their courageous journey to a bright future. Four months ago, I wasn’t even a runner, let alone a marathon runner, but in comparison to the challenges Sanctuary’s clients have already overcome, running 26.2 miles almost seems like a walk in the park.

At the conclusion of a recent graduation ceremony celebrating the completion of the program’s rigorous 14-week professional development curriculum, one of Sanctuary’s clients cheered, “Time to go start my new life!

Above the chorus of cheers along the marathon route on November 1, the unshakable determination in her voice will energize me on to the finish line.

You can make a donation to support Merriam and the rest of this remarkable team on their journey to the finish line. Thank you!