My Experience as a Development Intern at Sanctuary for Families

Attila Sepkin is a Sophomore at Emory University Business School and plays on the Emory Men’s Soccer team. 

Attila Sepkin completed an internship with Sanctuary’s Development team during the summer of 2023. He is a Sophomore at Emory University Business School and plays on the Emory Men’s Soccer team. 

Behind the Scenes

Sanctuary for Families holistically creates a “sanctuary” for survivors of gender-based violence by providing a range of services and shelters. At Sanctuary, I worked as an intern in the Volunteer Program. In addition to volunteering, I completed projects at Sanctuary’s headquarters and gained insight into the complexities and inner workings of an immense non-profit—quite a contrast to the “mom and pop shop” I had initially imagined!

Does organizing and managing hundreds of volunteers and guests seem easy? Try doing so in one night – sprinkle in unprecedented air quality issues and concerned attendees—and you have Sanctuary’s 2023 Zero Tolerance Benefit, a tremendous success and the organization’s highest fundraising event thus far! The daily challenges of supervising countless other volunteers/interns and logistics make running such a complicated event appear simple!

Getting to share my passion

I truly learned all about life with a soccer ball at my feet. Growing up, it was: eat, sleep, soccer, repeat. And sleep was an afterthought. Soccer has fostered my closest relationships and fondest memories. It’s posed my largest challenges and sweetest victories, and it built an environment where my external concerns temporarily halted. Soccer has always been a constant in my life. My ball is my reliable companion, my sanctuary.

As part of my internship this summer, I had the privilege of volunteering at Sarah Burke House (SBH), the first and largest transitional shelter for survivors of gender violence in New York City and one of Sanctuary’s five shelters designed to meet clients’ short term needs and prepare them for long term success. As a soccer coach at their summer camp for the children living in shelter, I was granted the opportunity to introduce the game I am ever grateful for – and for that, I am especially grateful!

While soccer may not be for everyone, I believe and hope it can act as a stepping stone for the children to discover a passion of their own. In that way, whatever they pursue can serve as a similar medium for their growth, as soccer has for me. And if nothing else, I believe they enjoyed the workshops – hopefully as much as I did! Seeing the kids laughing while kicking a ball was as sweet as the candy they shared with me at snack time!

Observations at Sarah Burke House

All services at SBH help to form a tightly knit community; interdependent and resilient. The hope is that such powerful support propels the families forward in a positive way.

I witnessed the children specifically build on their excitement and display endless enthusiasm. Rather than me consciously integrating myself within their group, upon arrival I was deemed a friend and role model. They invited me to sit amongst them. They listened intently to what I said. Hearing my name with a “Mr.” attached to it was new to me, but it has been some time since I was five years old. After all, one of the children remembers living in his mother’s “tummy” very well and I have no such recollection.

While I was at Sarah Burke House, “thank you” seemed a way of life: staff welcomed all volunteers with adoration, and parents grinned from ear to ear as they recognized a new face. And to the children, an untied shoe was an insurmountable crisis for which I was their hero. As a volunteer, I aim to benefit others, but at Sarah Burke House, amongst the countless tasks to be completed and difficult subjects to be addressed, it is I who benefited greatly and the experience was a complete pleasure.

To intern within such a large yet cohesive organization focused on social change has been precisely the enriching experience I hoped for. Those that I have met at Sanctuary – those that I have worked with and for – have been among the most kindhearted people I have met. That was exactly why I wanted to intern here, and why I am wholeheartedly glad I did.

Recognizing Manasi Khedlekar: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For her devoted, trauma-informed interpreting for a client seeking asylum with Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project.

Manasi was first introduced to Sanctuary for Families’ incredible Immigration Intervention Project (IIP) by our Immigration Specialist, Anne-Cecile Raphael. Manasi was quickly onboarded to work with Anne-Cecile as a Hindi interpreter and translator, supporting one client for over a year. The Immigration Intervention Project provides immigrant clients with legal services that allow them to obtain legal immigration status, permanent resident status, or citizenship. The project represents clients in immigration law proceedings, including battered spouse waiver applications, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status cases, U-Visas, T-visas, and asylum applications. IIP takes steps to meet the linguistic and cultural needs of the diverse body of clients we represent, and Manasi helped the team do just that – and more!

Manasi recalls her time working as an interpreter, stating “It was daunting to be someone’s voice. The process of gaining a client’s trust, knowing their darkest and most vulnerable moments isn’t easy, and I feel very grateful that I got a chance to participate in an experience that has a positive outcome for the client. Working closely with the Immigration Intervention Project helped me see how much work is done behind the scenes and how government policies that are shaped at a higher level translate to real consequences for people.”

Manasi was an incredible asset to the team and was essential to the success of this difficult case. The client was traumatized, had undergone years of horrendous violence and simply did not trust anyone. Manasi met with the client weekly for months, bringing with her trauma-informed and tactful support. Manasi’s professional experience as a psychologist proved invaluable in her support to this client, and thanks to her involvement, the IIP team was able to build trust with the client and help prepare for the case. Anne-Cecile recalls that having Manasi as a team member made an immense difference not only for the client’s case which ultimately prevailed in November of last year but for the client personally.

“Every time we volunteer, every act of kindness we participate in, we make a statement about the world we want to live in. As a parent, as a human being, I think that’s the most important thing I can teach my kids. I want to thank Sanctuary again for the incredible work they are doing, and Anne-Cecile, and Pooja (Director, Immigration Intervention Project) for being the absolutely formidable team that they are, and for scoring a point for the good guys.” ~ Manasi

We thank Manasi for her amazing commitment to Sanctuary’s staff and clients! Her impact reaches well beyond what can be captured in words.


Recognizing Lynne Hyman: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For her inspiring work within Sanctuary’s Legal Center, providing stellar advocacy and direct support to clients.

Lynne Hyman has been an integral volunteer to the staff in Sanctuary’s Legal Center. Bill Silverman, a partner at the renowned law firm Proskauer Rose LLP who leads the firm’s global pro bono efforts, introduced Lynne to Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Center. In March 2018, Lynne joined Sanctuary as an in-house Legal Center volunteer working at a desk within Dorchen’s office.

Lynne started out coordinating Sanctuary’s campaign to End Child Sex Trafficking Act and played a crucial role in its success. She organized meetings with New York State legislators, drafted advocacy materials, strategized with team members and other anti-trafficking leaders in the community, planned campaign events, coordinated transportation that took scores of advocates to Albany, coordinated the media events, and participated in the meetings she organized with legislators. Lynne’s cool head, top-notch organizational skills, and deep commitment to our mission made all the difference. When Governor Cuomo signed the End Child Sex Trafficking Act into law in August 2018, all of the leaders in our coalition recognized that Lynne’s contributions to our campaign were the key to its success.

Additionally, Lynne has been an incredible resource for Sanctuary’s legal clients. With one particular trafficking survivor, Lynne provided this highly traumatized young woman with encouragement, support and invaluable guidance on a wide array of issues, from education and career advancement to how to potty-train her two-year-old. Lynne’s skillful advocacy resolving the same young women’s educational and medical debt raised her credit score, making it possible for her to move with her children from shelter into her own beautiful two-bedroom apartment. The support that Lynne provides to both staff, events, and clients is exceptional.

“Lynne is a brilliant women and consummate professional. She gives a hundred percent of herself to her service to Sanctuary’s mission and clients on multiple levels, easily moving back and forth between client assistance and systems change advocacy.” — Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families.

Though Lynne’s professional career was as a financial analyst and not a lawyer, she easily became an indispensable part of the dynamic legal team. She enthusiastically took on a wide array of tasks but one of the most important roles she served was as a sounding board. Throughout her year and a half at Sanctuary, Dorchen says “I frequently turned to her for advice and input and she invariably provided me with wise counsel and thoughtful feedback that has contributed mightily to my decision making on a wide variety of issues at Sanctuary”.

We thank Lynne for her amazing commitment to Sanctuary’s staff and clients! Her impact reaches well beyond what can be captured in words.

Recognizing Ashley Tsai & Nelson Lin: Pillars of Change Honorees

For organizing the annual 500-mile “Sanctuary ride”, raising thousands for Sanctuary for Families, and for their in-office volunteerism and additional fundraising for over five years.

This year, we are honoring Ashley & Nelson for organizing the annual 500-mile Sanctuary Ride, raising thousands for Sanctuary for Families, and for their in-office volunteerism and additional fundraising for over five years.


A message from Lisa Mueller, Director of Development & Communications at Sanctuary for Families


Riding alongside Ashley & Nelson – A testimony by John Wyeth, Director of Institutional Giving at Sanctuary for Families.

Learn more about Sanctuary Ride:

See highlights from their latest trip: