“Breaking the cycle”: Sofia Sahai (7) works to end domestic 7 violence with Sanctuary for Families

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Cecilia Coughlin , Contributing Writer

Since the age of six, Sofia Sahai (7) has fought against domestic violence and abuse by working with the organization Sanctuary for Families. “My mom started as a volunteer and now she sits on the board, so I grew up learning a lot about them and I continue to learn more everyday,” Sahai said.

According to the Sanctuary for Families website, the organization “strives to create a world in which freedom from gender violence is a basic human right.” The organization helps domestic violence survivors and their families rebuild their lives by supplying services from education to advocacy, Sahai said.

Sahai’s personal values closely align with this mission statement. “I’m not changing the world right now, but I hope in the future to just raise more awareness for domestic violence and continue making change even within my small community,” she said.

Sahai’s main goal for her work entails spreading the message that everyone should use their own voice for good.

At Sanctuary, there are clients that live in the shelter, while others seek job support, clinical services, and legal services for divorce and immigration cases, Sahai said.

“We find out, throughout our work with our clients, the issues that are impacting them, and then we work with legislators and other organizations to convince the people that make the laws to change them,” Hon. Judy Kruger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, said. “We also do advocacy on the state, federal, city- state and national level to advocate for changes in the laws and procedure for our clients.”

To promote change, Sahai’s motto is #breakthecycle. “That’s what I really want to do: break the cycle of domestic violence anywhere I can,” Sahai said. “I want to emphasize to try to learn more about Sanctuary, try to get involved, and engage yourself and learn about how you can help.”

Sahai first began working with Sanctuary for Families when she turned six years old and she has always wanted to help the organization in every way possible. For example, instead of receiving gifts from her friends on her birthday, Sahai requested that they make donations to Sanctuary for Families, she said.

There have been many other ways Sahai has been an avid volunteer for the organization. Every Thanksgiving, Sahai and some of her friends provide lunches, games, and artistic supplies to the kids at Sanctuary, she said.

“My family and my friends and I would set up a booth with games and then we would go eat lunch with the families,” she said. “The Thanksgiving event allowed me to sit down with my new friends, not in a way where I was ‘volunteering’ but in a way where we were just playing.”

Although she does not actually interact with the families on a regular basis, Sahai can provide help through other means. Every year on Mother’s Day, Sahai and her mother shop for the moms at the Sanctuary and purchase Sahai’s favorite books for the kids, she said.

Beyond her work with Sanctuary for Families, Sahai has recently donated eight inches of her hair to Children With Hair Loss, an organization that donates hair to children who need it for free, Sahai said.

At first, Sahai was scared to make such a drastic change to her appearance, she said. However, when she learned her hair was long enough to cut off eight inches, she decided she had to do it.

“The moment I had my first chunk of hair cut off, I felt both relieved and overwhelmed with excitement,” Sahai said. “I was so happy to be giving away my hair and I really wanted to meet the people who got it, but unfortunately you can’t because of COVID and other factors.”

Sahai has also found ways to expand her own impact within the school and the broader community. A few years ago, she and her friend Emanuella Odell (7) began working on an organization called “Equality, Resist, Right, Repeat,” Odell said.

The profits would go to Sanctuary for Families and another organization against domestic violence, called The Retreat, Odell said. Odell’s mother is on the board of The Retreat, and she has been donating clothes, games, and more to make a difference in the wake of COVID-19, Odell said. By cleaning out her house, Odell has been able to donate items like American girl dolls or clothing to The Retreat, she said.

Sahai and Odell have also hosted lemonade stands and bake sales, among other projects, to raise money for Sanctuary for Families and The Retreat.

Sanctuary for Families has been a leader in creating change and spreading the word for action with volunteers like Sahai. “It’s important to understand and help people that are less fortunate in many different ways,” Kruger said.