This week, The Women’s Center family is celebrating the life of Sandy Sommers, who suddenly passed away on July 14. We grieve the loss of such a remarkable individual and want to pay tribute to her dedicated career serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Sandy joined our team on December 1, 1982, after first volunteering in our emergency crisis shelter. When she was hired on as a Counselor Advocate, the shelter had been open just one year. She shared a recollection of her first days with us: “My first crisis call was from a woman whose husband was sexually abusing her six and seven-year-old children…I cried all the way home that night. I wasn’t sure I could do this, but I came back. I realized that if I stayed, I would have to become a stronger woman.” And she did come back…every day after that…for almost 38 years!
And she excelled at it, as evidenced by comments made on her very first performance evaluation: “Sandy’s excellent interactions with people should be noted. She is polite and kind and always empathetic and understanding of others’ needs. She adds great insight into problems and client situations. Sandy has a very good rapport with residents. They are often most comfortable with her warm, laid-back manner. She is willing to take as much time as necessary with residents and truly is empathetic to their issues, which is evident in their trust in her and respect of her. Sandy is truly a voice for empowerment. She is a good reminder to all staff about our reasons for the work we do. She reminds us of the human side of our work.”
Sandy noted that in those years, rape and domestic violence were not taken very seriously. She recalled comments she heard from police officers, like “He didn’t mean it and is very remorseful,” or “She’s just going back anyway,” or “If she’s so afraid, why does she stay?” Working in the very early days of the domestic violence movement certainly wasn’t easy, as very few laws supported victims of violence, and key partnerships, such as law enforcement for example, had not yet been solidified.
In 2002, after 20 years of working in the shelter, Sandy took her extensive knowledge of advocating and supporting survivors to the next level. She moved into another area of programming as a Legal Advocate, a position which most often provides support for the restraining order process and in the courtroom for survivors facing their abusers.
She forged relationships with prosecutors, victim witness, and judges, helping them understand what TWC does and ways that we can be a strong partner to them. She became known and respected by many local attorneys and was recognized for her work as a Legal Advocate in 2014 when she received the Community Service award from the Waukesha County Bar Association.
Beyond the summary of her career, it’s notes and letters like these, received from Sandy’s clients throughout the years, that provide true insight to Sandy’s impact:
“I didn’t get to say goodbye to you at my temporary restraining order hearing but I really wanted you to know how much help you have been to me. It meant so much to me that you were there. Never doubt the purpose of what you do.”
“Your presence on the day of our daughter’s restraining order hearing did much more than you know. She was scared and intimidated. You walked with her, gave her council, support and the courage to continue through it. As parents, we are eternally grateful.”
“Just a note to let you know how much it meant to me to have you help me through some very difficult times when I had no one else. I hope I can be that strength and comfort for someone in need as you were to me.”
Sandy has proven beyond a doubt her commitment to victims of domestic and sexual violence, dedicating her entire career to social justice. Continually promoting our shared vision of ending interpersonal violence, she has been a party to the monumental growth of this agency while witnessing the development of the domestic and sexual violence advocacy movement.
Maybe most telling of her legacy is how she supported her peers at The Women’s Center, and in turn, how much they appreciated her. Sandy was always willing to fill in whenever and wherever needed, and she played an important role in the training of new staff.
In 2002, she received our Employee Excellence award, which is decided by staff/peer nominations to acknowledge someone who goes above and beyond to ensure that clients and their fellow staff are supported and in 2017, The Women’s Center gave Sandy a Lifetime Achievement award.
We feel so very fortunate to have had 38 years with Sandy and will be forever grateful for her incredible advocacy, outspokenness, compassion, humor and smile. We love you Sandy.