After lifetime of advocacy, Sussman wins Volunteer Spirit Award

BY MARIA BROWNSELL

Diane Sussman (r) at last year's Fashion Sale fundraiser event for the Center of Safety and Change
Diane Sussman (r) at last year’s Fashion Sale fundraiser event for the Center of Safety and Change

Sometimes in our day to day lives of working and taking care of our families, we forget about those who are less fortunate. We forget about those people who don’t have food, shelter, and don’t feel safe.

Luckily, people like Diane Sussman exist in Rockland County. Sussman is being awarded the 2014 Volunteer Spirit Award for Social Advocacy for her volunteer work for the Center of Safety and Change in New City.

“This is the first time I’m being recognized for my work. I’m very excited,” said Sussman. “I didn’t expect to get it. It’s not just for Rockland County. I was surprised and excited. It’s a big honor to celebrate something that is so important and special to me.”

This may be the first time Sussman is being honored, but it is far from the beginning of her volunteer days. Her family bred strong values of social advocacy and community involvement since childhood.

“My parents didn’t have very much money but they always were open to sharing what they had with people who needed it in the community and they encouraged my siblings and myself to do the same thing,” she said.

Before the days of welfare checks or unemployment, Sussman’s family would bring people into their homes until they were back on their feet, graciously sharing what little they had. They sent care packages to Europe during World War II and sponsored families after the Holocaust. Sussman believes this foundation is reflected in the choices she has made throughout her life.

She worked as a high school counselor for many years helping families cope with their problems in life, at Volunteer Counseling Services in New City, and as a psycho-therapist. She also helped create the first group in the county that was for court-reprimanded batterers. She is the chair of the social action board at her temple, where they do midnight runs into New York City to hand-deliver food and clothing to the homeless.

“In the mid 1970s, I was president of NOW of Rockland County. There were a lot of women that were calling me that were being battered by spouses or partners and we found that we didn’t have a place to give them shelter and it was really a big problem. There were some safe houses but it wasn’t adequate to the needs of the county. So I worked with a group of concerned people here in Rockland County and we helped to get the first shelter for battered women here. It was called the Rockland Family Shelter. Now it has a new name, the Center for Safety and Change.”

Sussman was one of the founders of the center. She was the president for two years, and has been on the board for almost 35 years. The center now provides much than just a shelter. It is full of educational services and support groups. Many fundraisers are held throughout the year to help pay for these services as the funds for not-for-profits shrink.

The big event of the year for Sussman is her Fashion Sale that she co-chairs with a few other women. Last year they raised $65,000 and hope to do the same this year. The clothes are brought in from name brand manufacturers and sold at a fraction of their cost in stores.

The profits go to help women in need, while making other women happy. This year’s event will take place on June 11 and 12 at the Rehearsal Space from Helen Hayes Theater on Franklin Street in Nyack.

“Being involved in this work has been really important in my life. It has given my life a lot of meaning. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a wonderful experience.”