Yuharnis Abdullah: Finding Her Way to Safety
By Henry Street Settlement
In 2014, desperate for a way out of an abusive marriage, Yuharnis Abdullah reached out to Henry Street’s Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) for advice on the next steps toward a divorce from her spouse of 21 years.
She had come to the United States in 1993 following an arranged marriage. Though she had completed college and worked in a bank before immigrating, her new life was difficult from day one. “I looked up and saw that everything was so different,” she says. “I felt afraid and didn’t speak enough English to have a conversation.”
Yuharnis’s husband was not ready to father three children, she says, and over the years became increasingly abusive. The tipping point came when he returned from a trip to his home country, announced that he had married another woman there, and proceeded to threaten Yuharnis. He stopped paying rent and their son’s college tuition.
A Google search led Yuharnis to Henry Street, and NRC Program Director Ashley Young, LCSW, immediately stepped in, connecting her to services to meet her immediate needs. When the financial abuse and verbal threats escalated to physical violence, Yuharnis felt empowered to called 911 to have her husband arrested.
“Because I couldn’t speak English well, he thought I couldn’t advocate for myself,” she says. “He was so surprised when the police came.”
3,249 clients like Yuharnis received primary and mental health care, parenting assistance, legal and financial counseling, and help accessing benefits and insurance.
Though safe, Yuharnis faced a sea of bureaucratic hurdles. The NRC family law attorney advised her on divorce and child support, and a financial counselor negotiated with the IRS over taxes owed and helped her apply for cash assistance and food stamps. The NRC case management team worked with NYCHA to lower her rent, and the entire family was referred to therapy to help the teenage and adult children understand that their father’s abusive behavior had led her to seek his arrest.
Ashley also connected Yuharnis to an intensive vocational support program at Henry Street, where she earned her Microsoft Office certification and ultimately found a full-time job.
Today, Yuharnis thanks Allah for Ashley and social worker Piercelia Jackson and visits the NRC when she’s not at work. “When I come in crying, I end up laughing,” she says. In 2018, Ashley was there when Yuharnis took—and passed—the citizenship test; the three now-grown children cheered her on at the naturalization ceremony.
Twenty-one years after a rocky start in the United States, Yuharnis finally feels at home.