Celebrating our Spanish Career Readiness Workshop Graduates

Program graduates were celebrated for their extraordinary work in the midst of the pandemic and were congratulated by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance who kindly joined us for the zoom graduation.

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:

Capital One Foundation
Clark Foundation
First Republic Bank
Gerstner Family Foundation
Harry & Jeannette Weinberg Foundation
Helen Wolk Foundation
Herbert M. Citrin Charitable Foundation
Investors Foundation
JRM Construction Management
Macy’s Foundation
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
Tides Foundation
Tiger Foundation


We look forward to sharing more stories as our graduates continue with ESOL classes and our four-month intensive Office Operations Workshop.

Stories of Courage and Empowerment

Economic Empowerment Program graduates share stories of struggle and perseverance.

This past June, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empower Program held its semi-annual graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of forty-three strong and inspiring women, all survivors of domestic violence. With friends, family and Sanctuary staff in attendance, the women accepted their diplomas thereby marking the start of a new stage in both their personal and professional lives.

To honor the occasion the class elected fellow graduates to speak on their behalf. The speeches delivered by Coleen, Rebecah, and Yijie reflect many of the challenges that an estimated 25% of women in the U.S. have/will face in their lifetime. Follow the links below to read their speeches and hear their remarkable stories.

Coleen’s Story

Finding opportunity in every difficulty

“Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.”

Read on here.

Rebecah’s Story

Another chance at life

“Thinking [back on] a time when I sat in my unit at the shelter thinking to myself I am a single mother, jobless, and who the hell cares  I never thought I would be standing here basking in my own achievements. I didn’t want to constantly be a burden to people who had their own worries, so I shared a little and kept everything else to myself.”

Read on here.

Yijie’s Story

I am not a victim

“Even though I was free from abuse, my freedom was a harsh experience of shelter and struggle – I lost hope and wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going. This program has allowed me to improve myself as well as my professional skills. I was a professional in my native country of China. Now I feel confident and ready to be a professional again in America. Most importantly, I feel human again.”

Read on here.


New report reveals formula for success behind Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program

494 women have graduated from the program.

View the full report.

For five years, our ground-breaking Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) has offered career readiness and office technology training to help survivors of gender violence disrupt the cycle of poverty, homelessness, and abuse by securing a living wage, career-track job.

Through an intensive four month training program, EEP participants focus on professional development, literacy upgrading, and advanced office technology skills that position them for living wage jobs across growing industries seeking skilled employees, including health care, financial services, technology, human services, and construction administration.

“The Economic Empowerment Program: Five Years of Transforming Lives, 2011-2016” reveals big numbers and impactful results:

  • 564 survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking enrolled – growing from 68 participants in 2011 to 146 participants in 2015
  • 494 graduates – an 88% graduation rate
  • 270 placed in career-track, living wage jobs – a higher rate than average for workforce development programs
  • $13.71 – the average current hourly wage of our graduates, more than $5 higher than New York State’s private sector minimum wage
  • 148,000 – the number of hours of advanced office technology training and literacy instruction our graduates received over the past five years – and this doesn’t even include additional time spent at internships, with individual mentoring and tutoring, and enrollment in outside courses and trainings

What makes our approach unique? Seven “Career Keys” unlock each client’s potential to move from low to living wage work: professional development, literacy, English proficiency, secondary education, IT skills, occupational skill and work experience.

After determining the Career Keys that a client needs, EEP also offers a full set of supportive services to address other barriers, such as childcare and transportation needs.

Meena, a survivor of extreme domestic violence, graduated from EEP in 2012. She says “My EEP counselor Saloni gave me the skills I needed to feel confident and move forward, while the other women enrolled in EEP were a constant source of positive energy when I was feeling uncertain about the future.

With EEP’s help, Meena obtained a full time job as a campus recruiter. She advanced quickly at her company, and today earns $75,000 a year. She is remarried, and her daughter Shari is thriving.

Read the full report and view more success stories.

Read Executive Director Judy Kluger’s op-ed about the critical need to connect survivors of gender violence with economic empowerment resources.

Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program.