SOS- Women And Children Looking For An Angel To Save Shelter
By Cheryl Conway
For those who agree “it’s better to give than receive,” there is an opportunity banging on the door of a shelter organization that could help hundreds of women and children who may be left on the street if the mortgage is not paid.
Secret Santas may be long gone, but there has to be an angel out there willing to hold the mortgage of Strengthen Our Sisters, a grassroots, community based non-profit, program serving homeless/battered women and children for more than four decades. Faced with mortgage conflicts, the shelter was in jeopardy of having to come up with $30,000 to avoid foreclosure.
Established in 1977 as Shelter Our Sisters – the first shelter for battered women in North America- the organization changed its name to Strengthen Our Sisters (SOS) and grew to eight houses, two day care centers, a food pantry and a thrift store. The properties’ value a total of $2.5 million, with just under $600,000 left to be paid. With restricted monies coming in, the organization is at risk of closing its doors to hundreds of women and children with no other safe place to go.
“I don’t know what would happen to these people,” says Sandra Ramos of Ringwood, founder and executive director of SOS. “If we don’t get help with the mortgage people will be on the street. If someone wants to be an angel and save our mortgage that would be great.”
Ramos explains “if we had the $30,000 it would be the drop down money if someone could give it.”
Rialto Capital Management Advisors in Florida, the company that is holding the mortgage bridge loan, did not return phone calls to New View Media Group as of press time. Valley National Bank had sold the mortgage to Rialto when SOS’s funding was reduced, says Ramos.
“During this year and one half, they have seen our reliability
and commitment to avoid foreclosure by paying $30,000 every three months, which is directly applied to the principal, along with a monthly payment of $7,000,” says Ramos. “SOS has done this faithfully, although it has been challenging.”
Ramos, a pioneer advocate for battered women, started her first shelter in 1970 in her three bedroom home in Hackensack. She had three small children at the time, was facing divorce after ten years of marriage and was in need of a roommate, she explains.
“I wanted a roommate,” says Ramos, so she put the word out that she wanted to share her house. “The ones who came to me were the ones who got battered,” says Ramos. “Women called to say ‘I can’t stay in my house.’”
One roommate turned into 23 women in her house at one point, she admits. Her children would sleep with her in her waterbed; there would be some guests on the floor, in the bathtub, in the basement.
“I would get a call and say ‘I’m sorry I have no room.’ But it was difficult to turn people away who would say ‘I finally got the courage to leave; if you don’t take me I will die.”’
Ramos says, “My neighbors said they didn’t want battered women on their block, and I told them, ‘they are already here, the question is do you want them living with pain, suffering and horror or do you want them living with peace, dignity and respect?’”
When the town found out that Ramos had too many people at her house they “threatened to put me in jail,” she says. The town cited her for “overcrowding” because she had three or more unrelated people living together.
“I told the town ‘If you want a place for them you have to drag them out kicking and screaming;’ so they put them in a motel,” Twin Lakes Motel in Paramus.
Ramos did not turn her back on them and instead continued to help them.
“We would have to pick them up and take them to look for housing, counseling,” says Ramos. “They [the town] didn’t give them food or services, counseling.”
The Catholic Church would bring food and battered women would work together to help other women.
Over the years, in 1977, her initiative became Shelter Our Sisters. She moved out of her house to Bergen County in a house located on a church’s property in Bogota. About 10 to 15 women in children lived there.
Her organization grew, and established a board of directors, but after a disagreement, the board fired Ramos in 1986.
Ramos separated and formed SOS a year later. With her children grown, she moved to her house in Ringwood “and people started calling me. I let some people stay in my house. We knew we had to get a shelter.”
They opened a thrift store in Haskell. “We raised more money,” and even the board from her first organization would send her people to help.
With a state regulated budget of up to four million dollars, Ramos was able to manage her organization but as state regulations got stricter, operations got tougher such as paying the mortgage.
“I’ve always been an advocate for women and children,” says Ramos, who teaches social issues and dynamics of domestic violence at Ramapo College in Mahwah as an adjunct professor. “Everybody has been touched by domestic violence in one way.
“One woman was going to be killed by a gangster guy,” explains Ramos. Other women and children she brought into her shelter were rich but their husbands were “molesters and child abusers. No one would take them. We reach out to people who need help. We help a lot of pregnant women and children.”
Through her shelter program, Ramos says “thousands have been saved” during the past 46 years. With two hotline numbers, Ramos has made herself available to help others.
The mission of SOS is to break the cycle of domestic violence, poverty and abuse by restoring balance and harmony through individual empowerment.
She currently helps 155 women and children in seven shelters located in New Foundland, Wanaque and West Milford; two daycare centers in Wanaque and West Milford; a thrift store in a church; and one food pantry in Wanaque.
To support her organization, Ramos receives some money from the Passaic County Dept. of Human Services, private donations, counties and social services, “but not enough to keep it going. We have a transportation grant but they took it away. We have five vans; we need help. We’ve been running for three and a half years with a non-paid staff,” down from a paid staff of 55 that were let go when SOS lost funding, she says.
Ramos says she currently has 17 non-paid volunteers who drive the shelter residents to look for jobs, to court, doctor appointments, social services, schools; they fix things, watch children.
“They are exhausted but they believe in the shelter,” says Ramos, just like she does.
“I have seen women that have come to me and their lives are a wreck, depressed, suicidal,” she says.
“People are still calling,” continues Ramos. “Every day I get four or five calls. We take almost everybody. We take people who no one else will take. We take people without welfare vouchers. We don’t want to see them killed, beaten or frozen to death.
“Yesterday, a 70-year old woman had no heat, we took her,” adds Ramos. She also took in another woman with five children, “who would be out in the street forced to live with child molesters.”
One of her houses is for all older women, some in wheelchairs, others with oxygen. “Nobody will take them.”
Many of the women and children her organization helps “don’t have families,” are on section eight, have families or friends “who don’t like them; who don’t want to help them. We have a lot of dysfunctional families.”
Ramos explains, “I see them heal, get strong and get their lives together. We live in a violent society; there’s a lot of violence. The work I’m doing I feel it’s a mission but right now I need an angel. I just need someone to pay off the mortgage or hold it. We just really need someone to help.”
To make a donation or to help, call Ramos at 973-831-0898.