Sanctuary: Blog

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?”

Transition to Sanctuary

Submitted by: Michael McLeod, Administrative Assistant, Sanctuary Institute

I first came to Andrus as a direct-care worker in October of 2010. Andrus had already fully implemented the model, and I was introduced to it very quickly at my new employee orientation. I was thrust right into the toolkit, with constant community meetings, team meetings, and safety plan updates. I had worked with children before, for several years all around the globe. But this was a different job, a fresh environment, so everything was new to me. Looking back, I see just how quickly things were moving. I took a lot of time to get to know each child, and I was able to learn about them at an incredibly rapid pace because of the distinct communication lines created during team meetings and daily evening talks with my team. I also took a lot of time to meet my co-workers, and ask the older veterans constant questions to become a better hand and to learn different techniques to use with the children. I spent so much time focusing on the moment that I don’t think ever fully realized just how different this organization was from the places I had previously been.

A year later, I began working at the Sanctuary Institute where our team spreads information about the model to other agencies. I quickly noticed just how many people were interested in bringing this model to their agency. I witnessed people coming over to our campus for our 5-day trainings. They were all so excited and clamoring for information. They would leave on the final day with an incredibly high outlook on the future; thanking the trainers for all that they had shown them. I would receive regular phone calls from all across the country from people that wanted to learn all that they could. Groups were coming over to the Andrus campus to conduct a Sanctuary Field Visit to see just how Andrus uses the model on a daily basis. I never saw a single group leave unsatisfied. I remember wondering to myself what the big deal was. Sanctuary is so simple, and conducting its practices is very fluid. I remember adapting to the model very easily when I first started working in direct care. It was not until I had the opportunity to visit another site during their “Sanctuary Introduction Party” that it all started to make sense.

I came to Andrus when it was already a fully developed trauma-informed culture. The core themes of teamwork and open communication were put into place well before I had ever arrived. I realized that I had taken all of this for granted. Not every childcare agency has these nearly faultless outlets. Sanctuary may be simple at its core, but being fully trauma-informed is not. Everybody experiences trauma in their life at different degrees of intensity, and it certainly happens to entire organizations as well. The Sanctuary Model and its seven commitments give an organization and its workers the straightforward guidelines and methods to ensure that all problems are dealt with in the best way possible, and there is always a daily goal for improvement. Dr. Sandy Bloom and the founders put so much educated thought and research into human nature, the brain, and organizational culture that every possible passage is covered. Sometimes organizations experience vicarious trauma, and its workers deal with extreme stress. The Sanctuary Model gives them both the tools to positively cope and grow, bringing about a renewed outlook towards success. Not every agency comes fully equipped with these tools like Andrus did when I first arrived here. I am very thankful that I was able to make this trip to this agency so that I was able to see first-hand just how the model affects other people. All of the phone calls and field visit requests started to make much more sense. Now when I see people leaving our trainings with massive smiles on their faces, things will be very clear to me. I will have nothing but confidence in the renewed energy that they will bring back home.

Relegated to Dots

Submitted by: Nina Esaki, Director, Research of the Sanctuary Institute

I've been with ANDRUS for close to 2 years and attended a workshop recently in which we discussed organizational culture. The discussion reminded me of some experiences in the corporate world - a world in which I spent close to 20 years in my first career, specifically, in Human Resources. In many of the corporations in which I was employed, it was all about efficiency and getting the most out of employees. I remember one meeting in which employees were represented as dots on a quadrant chart,  with one axis representing current performance and the other representing potential. This corporation relentlessly pushed people to perform, focusing on the "dots" in the quadrant of low performance and poor potential. These employees were deemed no longer worthy of further investment.

I was appalled by this approach and questioned how my colleagues could, in good conscience, relegate/diminish people to "dots" on a quadrant chart? I was new to the corporation and was shocked by the meeting. I quickly found a way to exit  the company and, eventually, the corporate world altogether.    

Fast forward 15 years. I'm back in the recent workshop with 20 or so ANDRUS colleagues struggling with how to address issues of race and power within our organization. There were folks from all different backgrounds and positions within ANDRUS speaking openly and freely about challenges they felt needed to be tackled. Although the issues are formidable, the process  felt somewhat healing to me. Perhaps we're not a lean, mean, well-oiled corporate machine, but we're an organization in which we can be human and demonstrate the positive, embracing side of humanity, rather than its destructive side. As we, individually, can shape culture, so too does culture shape each of us. Although we have our work cut out for us, I left the meeting feeling grateful that I have finally found an organizational culture in line with my values, and one in which I feel proud to be a member.  

I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY BLOG and other thoughts on writing

Submitted by: Ibet Hernandez, Faculty, Sanctuary Institute


For as long as I can remember, I have had an enormous fear of writing. The thought of putting words on paper frightened me to the equivalent of someone experiencing stage fright.  Requests for term papers, proposals, essays, etc. sent me into panic related symptoms, hyperventilating, sweaty palms, and sleepless nights. I consider myself relatively intelligent and quite competent in my field. Having had a very rewarding career in Mental Health I often was faced with the need to write. Every time I had to do so, I experienced the same anxiety.
Much to my dismay I was recently asked to write a blog for the Sanctuary Website. I felt the panic crawling up my feet engulfing me reaching up to my neck and strangling me. On my drive home that evening, I had to pull over and throw up. And there it was again, the familiar feeling of vulnerability, shame and fear.
I know where it comes from. Being a Latina and speaking two languages was always a bit confusing at school. I had to think in one language and quickly transfer/translate that thought into another. I often lost something in the translation. It was a tough task which was more difficult to accomplish effectively in writing than in speaking. When required to do so, I freeze. The thoughts are plenty and the ideas abundant but the words never reached the paper.

Yes, I know, there are a lot of famous Latina authors with bestsellers. Esmeralda Santiago, author of “When I was Puerto Rican” quickly comes to mind. How does she do it, what tools does she use, maybe she has Help. Hay Dios Mio, I need Help!
 Who can I ask for Help? Asking for help is something I am learning to do in my new position at Sanctuary. "Who are you going to ask for help?" is a question posed to me everyday in community meeting.   I need help to overcome my fear of writing because I finally realized that I am Traumatized. Yes Traumatized. I had my "aha!" moment during one of Dr. Sandy Blooms lectures. She said that BIG RED LETTERS written in an e-mail or across a written communication is violent and can be traumatizing to the recipient of such communication.  And right there it hit me. I’m traumatized from all those years of seeing BIG RED LETTERS written across my numerous term papers by violent professors who were not  emotionally intelligent; professors who did not take the time to engage in social learning about bilingual students. What happens to bilingual students? They never asked the question. It wasn’t important to them. In their eyes the solution to my problem was to write BIG RED LETTERS across my papers insisting on more DEPTH and BREADTH.  Hay Dios Mio, what is that? Can someone please “splain” that to me?

Now every time I’m asked to write, I get flashbacks of those BIG RED LETTERS jumping out at me and screaming “needs more DEPTH and BREADTH”.  But, lucky for me, I am in a safe place…Sanctuary. A place where I can feel SAFE to express my fears, confront my EMOTIONS of shame for not being a deeper, broader writer, process my LOSS (all those lousy B’s), and begin to write a blog in the FUTURE.

I’m on my way towards GROWTH and CHANGE, the FUTURE looks promising.
I finally found Help from my supervisor; she says “I can Help You, you’ll be writing in no time”.
SO yeah, this can probably use a little more depth and breadth, but please, this is only the surface, I have not yet explored the DEPTH of MY potential.

Look out world, AQUI VOY YO!!