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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Yijie, a Sanctuary for Families client, shares how the Economic Empowerment Program helped her reclaim her humanity.
The following speech was delivered by Yijie, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.
This is Yijie’s story.
I am honored to have the chance to speak with you on this special occasion. I would like to start by saying thank you to Sanctuary for Families and the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) Department for this life changing opportunity. I would also like to give a special thanks to Angelo, Sarah, Maggie, Jessica, Saloni and Eve for their dedication to this program.
Above all, I want to say congratulations to my classmates in the Office Operations Workshop (O.O.W.) program. We have worked so hard and learned so much over these past five months. It has been difficult at times, but all of us here are no strangers to difficulty. All here have been victims of domestic violence.
My participation in this program was not only an opportunity for me to improve myself professionally as an immigrant in a new country, but also a necessary step I needed to take in the process of reclaiming my humanity.
After two years of being a victim of domestic violence, I finally found the courage to leave my abuser. This is difficult for anyone in this situation. It is even more difficult when you are a stranger in a strange land. I felt like I was at the mercy of a system and a city I did not understand. As a single woman with no children, managing the domestic violence system was a constant challenge.
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. I am not a victim of domestic violence. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I have taken my life back.
Again, I thank everyone at Sanctuary for Families for giving us this opportunity. Your work is so important to so many. I wish my classmates the best of luck in their personal and professional lives. Congratulations again to all of you!
Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.
Shelter isn’t easy for kids, but it can lead to a world of change.
Tyler was 15, Matt was 13 and Alicia was just 9 when they arrived at the doors of the Rosa Parks Crisis Shelter with their mother Nancy.
“I remember the first day that every family comes in,” says Keyra Carpio, Children’s Activities Specialist at Rosa Parks. “When I came down to meet with Nancy’s family, the three kids were tucked into their hoodies, silently checking their phones – doing everything to block themselves out from the situation.”
Nancy and her kids left an abusive father and a lifetime of instability, and were ready to start over free from violence. But the challenges they faced were extreme – one day after arriving at the shelter, Nancy was diagnosed with cancer.
Finding safety in shelter
Rosa Parks is one of Sanctuary’s five crisis shelters, the first place families go when escaping domestic violence. Home to five families at any given time, the shelter is a tidy, bright building with a backyard, a dedicated children’s room, and separate full apartments for each family.
Residents and staff treat the shelter like a true home and care for each other like family. Rosa Parks definitely challenges stereotypical expectations of shelter in New York City.
But entering shelter, no matter how welcoming or warm, is never easy, and holds extra challenges for children and teens.
“The first few weeks are always the most difficult for children and teens in shelter, but especially for Nancy’s family,” says Keyra. “Tyler, Matt and Alicia felt insecure and uncertain from being in such an unfamiliar place, and on top of that, now their mother had to navigate advanced-stage cancer.”
Transforming children, and moms
Keyra and the Rosa Parks staff help kids and families transform every day by providing extensive children’s and youth services on-site, for all young residents. Along with a dedicated Children’s Room for play, art and homework, Keyra plans an extensive art curriculum for every kid by age group.
Art, says Keyra, helps kids open up. “Just painting a self-portrait helps kids speak and share about themselves. Engaging with pictures and art let kids explore who they are, which is critical.”
Staff advocate for the kids to get them enrolled in school, and sort out any school issues that might conflict with shelter circumstances. Tutors come to Rosa Parks to help kids out with their studies.
Fields trips to museums and theater workshops take place at least once a month, and the staff takes advantage of every opportunity to throw a celebration, from birthdays to graduations to holidays.
Trips and parties aren’t just for kids – moms take part too. After moms and kids have experienced trauma from abuse, these group activities can help them come back together and rebuild their relationships.
A community pulls together
For Nancy and her kids, the Rosa Parks community played a crucial role in their journey from fear and abuse to safety and security.
“When Nancy was diagnosed, it was a drastic change for the family, even after all they’d been through,” says Keyra. “Suddenly, the kids had to take real responsibility, because their mom could not handle it all on her own.”
Nancy had to travel from Brooklyn to the Bronx daily for chemotherapy and radiation, and there were days, in the throes of her illness, where she did not think she could get out of bed.
The Rose Parks staff helped the family develop a plan for getting chores done, getting the kids to school and Nancy to her appointments. The family’s counselors and shelter staff held regular check-ins, planning for how to keep everyone going through the most challenging of times.
Slowly, the family pulled through.
Rebuilding a family through art
As Nancy progressed in her treatment and grew stronger, she began to spend time in the Children’s Room.
Inspired by the art projects hanging on the walls, Nancy wanted to do something for herself.
“Nancy wanted to feel productive and creative again,” says Keyra. “She came up with an idea to create an ‘art journal,’ documenting the challenges and joys of her time battling cancer.”
Soon, the entire family was taking part in this temporary relief from their day to day struggles. Over six weeks, they created six paintings, each one meaningful in a different way. Together, they represent the family’s long journey to safety and happiness.
A happy beginning
Six months after arriving in shelter, Nancy and the kids moved on to a transitional shelter. Recently they found permanent housing through New York City’s new LINC program.
Nancy is cancer-free, and her children have found their confidence again.
They plan to decorate their new home with their art.
This post is one of a series about children that we are sharing during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Visit our blog for more, and find out how you can speak out during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.