Sanctuary: Blog

In the Midst of the Storm, We Continue to Create Hope

Submitted by: Alexandria Connally, Assistant Principal, Orchard School at ANDRUS


I am writing this three days after the east coast was hit by Superstorm Sandy. As I sit in the cafeteria on my iPad,  I am surrounded by teachers on their laptops, extension cords, wireless cards and the sound of tapping on computer keys. The Orchard School and many of the staff members are still without power. Trees block roads, the NYC subway is still not working and entire neighborhoods have been washed away. In the last four days I’ve received numerous phone calls, emails and texts from parents, colleagues and leadership. There is an unspoken expectation that we will all take care of one another because it is built into our culture.

In the midst of the storm we continue to create a therapeutic community. Today 95%,  of the staff were able to come to work, some from as far away as Long Island and Middletown. Today , while most schools were closed we taught 100% of our children.  In the midst of the storm we nurtured 100% of our children.

This morning, while visiting an English Language Arts class, I heard a student explaining how to rebuild after the storm. He said, “Although our community was devastated by Sandy, we have to persevere. Even when things are really terrible we have to understand that things will get better. We just need to help one another through this difficult time.” As I walked away beaming with pride I understood that it is just as important to teach students to be socially responsible as it to teach them the 3Rs. We have taught this generation of students to carry the beacon of hope in the midst of the storm.

Stable Truths

Submitted by David McCorkle, Sanctuary Institute Faculty


I have been doing Five Day Trainings since the beginning of the Sanctuary Institute. One of the riches of the trainings in the beginning was working with a team of trainers. We had different training styles and learned from each other. Over the years, we have paired down the number of trainers in the interest of efficiency. In October, at The Crossnore School in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I again co facilitated a Training with a team of trainers but only two were human, the other four trainers were Dakotah, Goldie, Rock Star and Willow. They are horses and a part of the Equine Therapy Stable at Crossnore. The other two people were the Sanctuary Co-ordinator, Kelly Smith and the Equine Therapist, Melissa Parlier. The three of us had decided to utilize the learning power that we had observed with the Crossnore children in Equine Therapy. We decided to use the horses in the Organizational Culture and Barriers and Obstacles segments of our training. We would not use bridles or a lead rope. It was a first and not only was I nervous about working with the horses, I wasn't sure that they would agree to follow the training agenda.

The horses did agree to train us but in their way. We gathered in a standing circle for the beginning of our afternoon training. When we went back to our chairs, the horses were standing in or around our chairs. They clearly were ready to start teaching us. What they taught was that you have to speak clearly and gently and your posture must show love, respect and trust. The second we were dishonest or tensed up, they wouldn't budge. When we relaxed into respecting each other, they led us through the Sanctuary Seven Commitments and SELF as we participated in the exercises. When we felt Safe, they were safe. When we worked on managing our Emotions, they were helpful. When we worked through our Losses of being in control , they trusted us. They practiced Future by showing us how feelings influence others and how our fears can be barriers to creating a new climate of mutual trust. They also showed us that our ways of overcoming obstacles can be very limited and unimaginative. Some stepped over the barriers while others simply decided to walk around the barriers. Others just decided to dismantle the barriers in a very strategic way. One gentle push of a hoof and the barriers came tumbling down. And all of this was done safely and side by side with us. The Evaluations of our training day were filled with comments that the trainees learned so much about Sanctuary by getting help from our horse trainers. Almost everyone, requested that every future training include the equine trainer team. The horse trainers deeply and completely taught us that we learn most fully not just by talking but by experiencing.


The Gift of a Complaint

Submitted by: Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute

Today was not my day. I had three different conversations with three different people who felt compelled to let me know they were dissatisfied, disappointed or disillusioned with some part of how the Sanctuary Institute had managed things. As its leader, I take these conversations both very seriously and very personally. Each of the three referenced completely different situations, so I did not even find the luxury of resolving one big problem with several different people. Oh, no. Each conversation brought a new wave of knowledge about the tenderness of feelings and the ease with which they can be injured...and a new wave of nausea along with that knowledge.

Part way through my third difficult conversation today, I had a bit of a revelation. At first I thought that I had simply lost my marbles, but dismissed that in favor of the belief that I had gained some insight. Here was said insight: I realized that the initiators of each of these conversations had actually given me a gift by calling to tell me their complaints.

Yes, that's it. You may now also be questioning the location of my marbles, but here is why I think it was an insight: Rather than holding on to feelings that could fester into toxicity, these three people reached out for repair. Rather than stifling emotions that could become quick fodder for reenactment, they offered me the chance to create a new foundation of understanding by giving me the chance to share another viewpoint, missing information or an apology in one case. I know that the stories they brought to me about their experiences were radically different from the stories that I had constructed about the exact same events. By sharing their stories and giving me the opportunity to share mine, we were able to create an appreciation for the complexity we may have missed and a shared vision for the future.

I have found that many times, going a few rounds with another person over something we both feel strongly about can result in deeper respect, enhanced communication and a sturdier platform for the next time we don't see eye to eye. That is certainly how I feel about the three people I spoke with today. I hope they feel the same.

Are you Batman or Superman?

Submitted by: Landa Harrison, Senior Project Manager, Sanctuary Institute


I’ve been struck lately by my need to reconnect with people from my past and the desire to broaden my community of professional and personal relationships.  Call it age, call it wisdom or call it the ability to identify a need that is not being met.  Whatever the case, I am continually reminded just how powerful the lenses are in my Sanctuary Glasses.  Daily I am reminded how thinking “I wonder what has happened?” vs “Dang, what is wrong with him/her” has impacted my view of myself and that of the world.  I feel like I have gained both intelligence and optimism as a result of my own personal journey.  So I began to wonder, “Have others changed their view of their work, their world as I have?”  How could I ever explain what it is that I mean so that people would get it?  And then it came to me…Bizzarro World Redux!

Consider the worldviews of Justice League Superheros  Batman and  Superman:

It seems to me that Batman approaches the world hurt. His own past,  his story so to speak, fills him with anger and a need to seek reprisal for all those past injuries , and as a result, his mission in life is to right that which is wrong.  Some people suggest that Batman-types in our culture, see the world as a us vs. them, and battles are either won or lost.

Conversely, Superman presents to the world as an Intelligent Optimist and sees his life as both an opportunity and with a high sense of social responsibility.  He holds true to these values in everything that we see him do.  Superman is unwilling to resolve conflicts by overtly using his power. Though he could surely use his brute force to wipe out the bad guy, he simply cannot. In my opinion, and a few others, Superman is the trauma informed hero.  He views each barrier and obstacle as an opportunity to create an environment of healing and recovery.  And, it appears from all observation, that there is a simple joy for him in helping others.  Much like many of our Sanctuary Network members

I have shared just two that quickly come to mind given our young son’s current interest  with the Justice League in American Comics.  And, I am sure there are many others that come to mind for some of you.  So, with whom do you identify?  Have you changed your worldview since become a member of the Sanctuary Network?  I have.  Now it’s your turn to share.

To rescue...or not to rescue?

Submitted by: Nelson Urena, Faculty, Sanctuary Institute

About a week ago toddler momentarily distracts me from my busy translation work as I sit diligently typing away at a bustling coffee shop.  Puzzled as I am to see a toddler crying and in agony at the door of a busy New York City coffee shop, my eyes leave the computer screen and park themselves directly in front of the distressed child.

I guess it is part of my own vicarious trauma to automatically turn my attention to children in distress…

I look around for a parent… Look at every single face (buried in their laptops, tablets, cell phones, etc.) in the coffee shop in search of familial resemblance to the child.  As I sit unable to locate a parent I find myself beginning to feel distressed.  The child’s distress somehow permeates my person.  Emotional contagion.  Distress that I am the only person in this shop paying any attention to this child, not my child… but our child! Social responsibility! I look through the store front windows and count the 15 or so steps the child could take in the safety of a sidewalk before reaching the rapids of a New York City street.  I look again and see child’s fragile, cute, and dexterous little fingers as he cups one hand in the other and leans his body in the very direction of where the door meets the wall creating a crevice just small enough for him to squeeze those precious little fingers through…  

Distress turns into mild panic as I whip my head around one more time in search of a guardian… Impulsively my legs shoot back, knocking over the chair from under me, and begin to take a first step toward the child when suddenly I hear a calm soothing voice, “Ok… its ok… its ok… its ok…”  I notice a gray haired middle-aged man sporting a t-shirt that reads “Proud parent of a rescue cat,” and the familial resemblance to that child for which I so desperately searched.  At that moment both the child’s and my own distress are simultaneously calmed.  My anxiety level plummets and calm begins to ease its way back into my body as I watched the child embracing the man’s leg with a certain familiarity that can only exist between guardian and child… 

So much of our voluntary behavior is dictated by our histories…  histories in which we may or may not have had voluntary choice, thus bringing to mind the question of free will…  We are free to act, yet our freedom to respond is in some ways bound, and for some people, held captive by our histories, traumatic experiences, learned responses, other people’s actions, or simply put, things outside of our control…   It has been about a month since I left my role as a full time Milieu Therapist to work in other capacities at ANDRUS and this episode was my first chance to reflect upon my experience at Griffith Hall.  This episode highlighted for me the cumulative effect that my work as a direct care staff has had on me.  The continuous and repetitive need for me, as a Milieu Therapist, to be hyperaware of the safety (physical, emotional, social, and moral) of the children around me (headcounts, safety checks, baseline recognition, emotional first aide, engaging in activity, etc.) has become a learned behavior which I now find difficult to turn off.  And so as I continue on my quest to help make the world a better place, I am challenged to understand my responsibility to the community around me.  Crises and people in distress will surround me everywhere I turn and this incident in the coffee shop calls me to think about how and when it would be socially appropriate for me to intervene.  Ultimately I am faced with the challenge of not allowing my learned intervention techniques to become maladaptive and dictate how I interact with my community.  So I return to my work, wrap up for the day and as I walk away from my self proclaimed office I spot another toddler reaching the end of the sidewalk as the parent meanders distractedly about 15 feet behind with her head buried in her iPhone and I think to myself, “to rescue, or not to rescue?”