Sandra Ramos, Founder and Executive Director of Strengthen Our Sisters

Every day, twice a day, Sandra Ramos hikes up a mountain trail near her home (a purple quonset hut nestled in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey) to meditate and pray by a waterfall where she receives spiritual strength and guidance for her mission of over 40 years.

In 1970, when domestic violence still remained a private family affair and was hushed into non-existence, a forlorn woman came to Sandra’s door fleeing her abuser. Sandra took her in and within a short period of time the number of battered women and children living in the home she shared with her own 3 children, grew to 22.

The building inspector also came after neighbors complained that they didn’t want abused women and their kids living on the block. “You’ve already got them, the question is do you want them living with peace, respect and dignity, or pain, suffering and humiliation, Ramos answered. ” Sandra was threatened with jail, but refused to throw the families out and for the next 6 years she marched, staged sit-ins, threatened legal action, and defied court orders in her efforts to protect women and children from their abusers.

A child of the sixties, Sandra often used theatrics to drive home the need. When the county freeholders denied financial assistance to battered women but voted to award $500,000 to build an animal shelter, she brought a battered woman with her dog to the next meeting. She asked if the new animal shelter would take the dog and also provide shelter for the woman and her children as there was no place for them to stay. She made her point and funds were awarded to open the first official battered women’s shelter in North America.

Over the years, Ramos opened several safe houses in New Jersey, established The Family Transitional Institute, and tenaciously fought for legislation to protect victims and families from abuse.

While building her shelter programs, she completed her Master’s Degree in Applied Urban Anthropology and taught classes on Social Issues, Dynamics of Domestic Violence and Women’s Changing Roles at several colleges and universities. To raise awareness and educate people on domestic violence and the battered women’s syndrome, she has spoken to many groups and organizations all over the country, and she has organized and conducted trainings for judges and police.

By 1985, however, she was also doing battle with her own board of directors. Uncommonly gentle with those in need, she was equally determined when she believed she was right. Some board members accused her of being stubborn, overprotective, and uncompromising. The way Sandra viewed it, the shelter was becoming bureaucratized and “boardified” under their direction. She claimed that the the program had lost its heart, had become rigid and cold, and wasn’t meeting the needs of the women. It was grass-roots feminist against regimented professionals — earth mother against the establishment.

In 1986, the board prevailed and Sandra was fired from the shelter she had started.

After her children went off to college in 1986, Sandra moved to the country where she planned to retire, hike, swim, and write her book. But her pioneer reputation followed her and she continued to receive calls from battered women seeking help. Again, she took them in or found someone who would.

In response to a need in 1987, Strengthen Our Sisters was organized and incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit to provide supportive shelter and assistance to women and children fleeing abuse in the rural part of the county. Initially a small apartment was rented, then a house. In 1990 she found a farmhouse in need of repair with a cottage and 10 motel units on 4.5 acres. She sought funding to buy and renovate it.

Two years later, responding to the need for child care so that women could participate in job training programs, she sought and received funding to purchase a licensed pre-school and day care center with attached residence a short distance from the main shelter. The residence is used to house young pregnant women participating in the Start Ahead program — created to foster healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

In 1999, funds were acquired to purchase a former church building which houses the economic development program — thrift store, computer tech shop, car donation program, computer donation program and computer training classroom, job training program, and health store. Also in 1999, Strengthen Our Sisters purchased a large apartment building to provide shelter and programs for single women in transition. In this building and in a storefront next door are the hair salon business and used book store, all managed and operated by the residents of the transitional program.

Under the guidance and direction of Sandra Ramos, Strengthen Our Sisters now provides safe supportive shelter to 155 women and children. It is one of the largest shelters in the state of New Jersey and has received recognition for its model programs toward breaking the cycle of domestic violence and fostering self-sufficiency.

In 1998, Sandra was asked to develop a special course, “The Dynamics of Domestic Violence”, which she has taught at Ramapo College since.

In March 1998 Sandra’s profile was featured on NBC’s “4 Stories” and she is the recipient of the following awards and recognition for her work:

1981- Nominee “Woman of the Year”, National Organization of Women

1985- Presidential Recognition for Outstanding Work in Domestic Violence.

1985-Bergen County Urban League Humanitarian Award

1992- Two of the cities where Sandra had developed shelter programs declared October 4th to be Domestic Violence Awareness Day in honor of her 50th birthday

1996- “Woman of Distinction” award, Leni Lenape Council

1999- “Woman of the Year”, Passaic County Freeholders

2001-Recipient of the highest Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference. Sandra donated her $50,000 prize to the shelter.

2002 – Passaic Country Board of Chosen Freeholders Recognition and Appreciation for “Outstanding          

Contribution to the Citizens of Passaic County”.

2005 – Beverly Crawford Award received $10,000 which she donated to the shelter2007 – Harlequin Books More than Words Award received $10,000 – donated to the shelter

2007 – Harlequin Books More than Words Award received $10,000 – donated to the shelter

2008 – Keynote Speaker – 1st World’s  Conference of Women’s Shelters

2010 – The New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO) Rose & Scroll Award

2013 – William Paterson University Women of Vision Award

2013 – Soroptomists Award

2013 – Mercedes Benz presentation of Strengthen Our Sisters

2013 – Wayne Unitarian Fellowship acknowledgement in the Dedication to Community Award

2013 – Temple Beth Tikvah honoring Sandra’s dedication to serving victims of domestic violence.

2015 – Pathways Counseling Center

2016 – Women of Achievement Award

2016 – NJ Federation of Women’s Club Award given with Lt. Governor Kim Guadango


Representative Affiliations:

Real Beauty Real Women 2002-present – Pick it up Pictures- featured in (“Not In My Backyard”, documentary about battered/homeless women and children) Member Passaic County Domestic Violence Working Group (1990-2005)

Member County CEAS Committee (1989-present)

Governor’s Advisory Committee on Domestic Violence, N.J.: Appointed, May 1980

New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women (Co-founder) – Chairperson, Membership and Monitoring Committee: 1985-86; Personnel Committee Member: 1984-85; Board Member: 1979-89

Bergen County Coalition for Homeless, General Member: 1979-1986

Volunteer Fair Housing Council (1965-70)


Representative Outreach and Community Service:

Founded and sings in Goddess Gospel Choir at community events.

Organizes empty baby carriages Demonstrations for protective mothers loosing custody of children to batterers.

Main Speaker at community, ministry, and military groups and conferences.

Cowriting book with daughter entitled Clean Socks for the Revolution.

Featured guest on Sally Jesse Raphael Show, Montel Williams, NBC’s 4 Stories.

Produced play entitled Preventing Teen Violence performed at schools and community groups.

 


Sandra is available for public speaking and lectures.

Speaking topics include, but are not limited to: The story of Strengthen Our Sisters, The Battered Woman’s Syndrome, The Dynamics of Domestic Violence, The Debilitating Effects of Incest and Abuse on Women and Children, Power and Oppression in a Patriarchal Society.

Sandra is available as an expert witness in domestic violence cases.

Email Sandra at info@strengthenoursisters.org
To read our collection of Newspaper archives depicting Sandra Ramos,a true pioneer in the domestic violence movement from 1977-current click here.