by Tami Ackerman
“What are you doing after graduation?” It’s a question that most college upperclassmen are pelted with—relentlessly—and I was no exception. Like many students, I spent my junior year of college trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
That summer, I found myself interning at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, where I worked in the domestic violence bureau. It was a crash course in domestic violence, a subject this sheltered girl from Long Island knew nothing about. That quickly changed as I spent every day speaking with victims, trying to convince them to come meet with an attorney to talk about their case.
Sometimes, I would sit in a section of the DA’s office that we called the “library.” That’s the room where kids waited while mom or dad met with an attorney. I’d read them stories, trying to make these children feel better—at least for a little while.
As members of Sigma Delta Tau, my sisters and I would raise money for our only philanthropy at the time, Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA). Ask me what it meant or where my money went to, and I could not tell you. It was just an organization with no meaning to me. It was just somewhere SDT told us we needed to donate money to.
Fast-forward my life about 12 years later. Graduation day was a distant memory by the time I was elected to the role of National Vice President of Philanthropy and Programming for SDT. SDT now had a new philanthropy partner, Jewish Women International (JWI). The only thing I knew that we raised money for at the time was the nonprofit’s annual “flower project,” which delivers flowers and beauty products to domestic violence shelters on Mother’s Day.
Between my experience at the DA’s office and an internship at a Domestic Violence hotline, this cause really resonated with me.
When I began my new role, I sat down with JWI CEO Lori Weinstein and Sasha Altschuler, the coordinator of JWI’s National Library Initiative. We started to figure out how SDT chapters could fundraise for JWI programs, especially the National Library Initiative, which builds children’s libraries in domestic violence shelters.
They sent me materials to read, including a list of where the current libraries were. When I was reviewing the materials, one location jumped off the page at me. There was a JWI library in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office—the same location that I sat in all those years before, trying to help children in abusive homes escape reality for a moment and maybe even crack a smile.
My connection to JWI started before I knew what it was and before SDT adopted the organization as one of its national philanthropies. I’ve seen firsthand how a bright room and a good book can bring peace to a child who’s witnessed or experienced violence at home. Domestic violence shelters are the only safe spaces that they know. A donation of any amount can help build a place where these kids can read a book, sit on a bean bag chair, or play on a computer and escape their pain.
Tami Ackerman is the vice president of programming for Sigma Delta Tau Sorority and serves on JWI's Board of Trustees.