Laura Mannix Spring remembers exactly the day she decided to throw her energy behind Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit in New York City that provides shelter, legal services, and job training to survivors of domestic violence. “My friend Stephanie Ferdman invited me to join her for a breakfast with the Mothers Council, part of the organization that encourages mothers and their children to volunteer together on behalf of Sanctuary,” she says. At the meeting, a man stood up from the primarily female group to introduce himself. “I’m here today because my sister cannot be,” he said slowly. “She was murdered by her husband in front of her three children.”
“I don’t know how you could hear his story and not be compelled to do something,” Mannix Spring says. “I just felt, we have to stop this cycle of violence now.” A decade later, her commitment to the cause remains strong. Through her role as Director of Studio Services for Barneys, she has connections to some of the city’s biggest power players and famous faces and has leveraged those relationships to bring attention to the work of Sanctuary, which serves some 13,000 women and their children every year.
“These are women who fled their abusers in the middle of the night with their children and maybe a suitcase,” Mannix Spring says. “Many do not speak English as their first language, and most have never worked or haven’t worked for many years. They need a safe place to sleep, they need legal help, and they need to develop skills to find a job.”
Among the various domestic violence programs in the U.S., Sanctuary is unique in its wrap-around approach. “The organization provides job training, computer programming skills, and helps women prepare for interviews—it gives them the support they need to take the next step forward,” says artist and activist Carey Lowell, co-chair of this year’s gala honoring Mannix Spring. Friends for more than 20 years, it was Mannix Spring who introduced Lowell to the nonprofit five years ago.
In addition, the organization employs the pro bono services of some of Manhattan’s top lawyers to help women sort through an overwhelming amount of paperwork as they start their lives over, often tackling immigration issues that play a significant role in deterring women from leaving their abuser in the first place. Through partnerships with companies like Barneys, the women receive internships in a range of fields, gaining critical experience as they apply for jobs. “Barneys provides a three-month internship in areas ranging from human resources to sales,” Mannix Spring says. “These skills, along with making sure the clients are proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel, and so on, are essential for achieving economic independence.”
Since Mannix Spring brought Sanctuary into Barneys’ fold two years ago, she has been instrumental in orchestrating store fundraisers on their behalf. The success of the relationship is due to what she sees as shared core values of female empowerment. “Sanctuary is about lifting women up and women helping other women to break the cycle of violence,” she says. “It just felt like their message and Barneys’ position as a family-based company with a female CEO made sense.”
Her passion for helping others is infectious. “Laura has a generous spirit, and she’s joyful in the way she approaches everything in life,” Lowell says. “She’s always been that positive force, and her energy is felt by everyone around her.”
As she prepared to accept Sanctuary for Families’ 2019 Zero Tolerance Award last night, Mannix Spring reflected on her experience with the group, which affirms what she’s always believed: By lifting others up, everyone moves forward. “When you look outside your world at what’s going on, it suddenly makes your own problem seem very small,” she says. “Working with Sanctuary makes me grateful for all that I have and feeds my desire to do more to help others.”
To learn more about how you can support the work of Sanctuary, go to sanctuaryforfamilies.org.