Sanctuary Spotlight: George Lazarus

We had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Dr. George Lazarus, who along with his wife Shelly, recently made an extremely generous six-figure gift to Sanctuary’s emergency food program. A pediatrician by profession, George was a member of Sanctuary’s Board of Directors for 10 years and now is a member of its President’s Council.

How and when did you first learn about Sanctuary?

I first learned about Sanctuary through Alice Peterson, who is a college friend of my son, and also a member of Sanctuary’s Board. Alice invited me and Shelly to attend Sanctuary’s Zero Tolerance Benefit which got us hooked! We have hosted a table at the event every year since 2011.

What initially attracted you to our mission?

What got us excited about Sanctuary’s mission is the fact Sanctuary helps people who are not supported by existing systems as well as they should be. This has not been done because of bad intentions, but historically victims of domestic violence (and sex trafficking, which we have taken on more recently) have not been defended or supported in the way they needed to be in order to prevent violence. And we thought, here is an organization that was paying attention to a huge problem that is not allocated enough resources.

Did your profession as a pediatrician influence your interest in Sanctuary’s work? 

When you look at domestic violence, you see that it is a family problem. It’s not just the parents involved, but innocent children, who suffer tremendously. This impacts their entire lives. They grow up in a chaotic home without the guarantee of a safe place to live, to sleep, to eat, to feel supported. Immediately, they experience loss of the resources they need to navigate childhood successfully. Long term, you see post-traumatic stress disorder in children who witness domestic violence. The emotional toll stays with them and will often repeat itself in their relationships. Children are particularly vulnerable and unable to help themselves. This is why the work our social workers do is so important.

“So many of the ills affecting society are caused by domestic violence. The scope of the problem is underestimated and underappreciated.” – George

In your experience as a pediatrician, have you seen first-hand how domestic violence impacts children?

Even though I saw families who were often very well-off, I nevertheless saw families suffering from domestic violence and its impact. I remember one family in particular, which I referred to Sanctuary. It was a quite wealthy family and I was worried about the father using his money to kidnap the children and take them out of the country on a private jet. I had a few other cases of elementary-age children who were victims of domestic violence. It didn’t matter that the family had money. The core issues are exactly the same across the board – it’s about power and control.

You and your wife just made a six-figure gift to fund our emergency food program which is so amazing! Why this program and why now?

Shelly and I wanted to do something that would help in a direct and immediate way. So many problems our clients face are complex and can’t be fixed easily, but food insecurity in a family is something that can be fixed quickly. You can literally solve that family’s problem by directing money to it. From a child’s point of view, if you are hungry, you can’t focus on anything you should be focusing on as a child, including going to school. There are few other things that can cause such immediate and persistent distress throughout life as the effects of malnutrition, which are very damaging to the brain. And for parents to watch their children go hungry is incredibly demoralizing.

What do you wish people knew about gender-based violence and Sanctuary’s mission?

I have two messages. First, I don’t think most people realize how ubiquitous and common domestic violence is. So many of the ills affecting society are caused by domestic violence. The scope of the problem is underestimated and underappreciated. Second, I would say that if you have any extra money, there is nothing you can do that will give you more satisfaction than giving it away. Adding another “this or that” or getting something that is bigger or better doesn’t really give you long-term satisfaction. Helping someone else – that’s what makes people happier. And you don’t have to be a billionaire. Just give something away. That is what’s important.

Join George and Shelly in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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