Secret Garden

The award winning program for people with disabilities who have experienced domestic violence.

“What is Secret Garden? The name says it all: a safe space, hidden and discreet, where survivors of domestic violence with disabilities can bloom and grow strong working with our caring team.”

Erika Calderon, LMSW, Program Director, Secret Garden

Secret Garden Counseling

For over 20 years Barrier Free Living’s award winning Secret Garden program has provided one-on-one counseling, weekly support groups plus housing, legal and financial guidance to survivors of domestic violence with disabilities in the New York City area.

Our Social Workers & Counseling Team

Our caring team (bios below) are here to support you in healing from your traumatic experience. Our goal is to guide you to become emotionally stronger and to form healthy relationships.

We are experts when it comes to the intersection of disability and domestic violence.  We are sensitive to the unique issues that a person with a disability faces when in an unhealthy relationship, and have years of experience related to safety planning, and overcoming barriers to seeking services.

Our Deaf Services team members have expertise in addressing  the dynamics of power and control and the cycles of abuse that occur, as well as the anxiety, depression, and PTSD that can result from experiencing domestic violence.

Our Legal Services Team

Our in-house family lawyer Nick Pedersen and his compassionate team will assist you with orders of protection, custody, child support and more.  “You get a family based community that will have all hands on deck to provide you support and services.” Our team is particularly sensitive to the needs of domestic violence survivors with disabilities. (Of note: parents with disabilities have a higher rate of child welfare cases, in part because abusers use the survivor’s disability against them.) “Often people with disabilities are not believed when they disclose they have been abused. We believe you.”

Our Case Managers & Housing Specialists

Our team can help with the nuts and bolts of how to apply for housing, what you are eligible for and more. Our housing specialist can assist you with the applications and link you to realtors. The team can also help with the steps to apply for food stamps and rental and cash assistance.





Our Sexual Assault Services 

BFL provides trauma-informed sexual assault services in an accessible, disability- and Deaf-friendly environment. Direct services include intake and assessment, individual sexual assault trauma counseling and advocacy, such as ensuring access to law enforcement, court, City agencies and other service environments, and making appropriate external referrals. While weekly counseling will be recommended, BFL recognizes the obstacles survivors with disabilities and survivors who are Deaf experience, and will engage with them at the pace and frequency that is best for them.

Our Occupational Therapy Team

Our Occupational Therapy team offer weekly workshops using “mindfulness exercises” to help survivors manage daily needs, address money budgeting, problem-solving, coping skills and leisure activities. There are also group workshops for yoga and meditation “to help your Mind, Body and Soul be one in feeling calm and serenity.”

Meet the Secret Garden Team

Erika Calderon, LMSW  (English/Spanish Speaking) is the Program Director at Barrier Free Living’s Secret Garden program, where she provides trauma counseling to domestic violence survivors with disabilities. She is a a bilingual Spanish Speaking Social Worker with 12 years of experience working with individuals, children and families as an agent of support and guidance. She can provide a safe place to have a “real talk” and open discussions of all factors that impact “who we are and what we do; as a person of color with cultural awareness and sensitivity.” Erika states:  “Everyone’s journey looks different and how you become empowered, is within you; let’s discover it together”.  Erika enjoys dancing, kickboxing, movies and cooking. Instagram: @erikabrooklynpsych


Sara Eldridge, LMSW (Pronouns: She/Her/Hers),  Assistant Director, Secret Garden, is a long time team member of Barrier Free Living. Sara believes that the trauma of abuse lives in the body, so she takes a mind-body approach to therapy, incorporating meditation and breathing exercises and connecting physical sensations to emotional reactions. Sara often gives presentations to local and national groups on the intersection of domestic violence, disability and trauma. She is the host of our Sit Down With Sara video series offering timely tips around DV topics. In keeping with her commitment to healthy mind and body, Sara enjoys preparing vegetarian meals, practicing yoga, and hiking.

Simone Allen, OTR/L is the Occupational Therapy Program Manager at Barrier Free Living, overseeing the Occupational Therapy department at Barrier Free Living Apartments (BFLA), Freedom House, and Secret Garden. Born in Jamaica, Simone’s career as an Occupational Therapist has involved working with a myriad of individuals in various settings—children, and young/old(er) adults in schools, hospitals, and their own homes. Simone recently joined Barrier Free Living after many years working in inpatient Psychiatry. She currently supervises occupational therapy interns from colleges and universities across the country. Simone truly believes in the fundamental values of occupational therapy, working with clients/residents/tenants on an individual basis to learn what their personal needs are, and assisting them in finding ways to achieve their personal goals. Simone is very family-oriented, a lover of music, travel, culture, history, and novice genealogist.

Lucrecia (Lucy) Ayala joined Barrier Free Living (BFL) this summer as the Sexual Assault Services Coordinator at our Secret Garden program, a brand new position at the agency. We touched base with Lucy to find out what drew her to the work, and what she hopes to achieve. Read our interview with Lucy. 

Marcus Clemons is a bilingual (Arabic/English) case manager at Barrier Free Living’s Secret Garden. His role is to assist survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse access resources as a “partner on their journey towards well-being and security.” He assists with accessing housing programs, shelter placement, financial empowerment, legal referrals, and connection with therapists and social workers. He often says it is a source of pride to be in the service of someone when they are at their most vulnerable, and fully believes that “it is when we feel we are at our most vulnerable – that is the prime opportunity with proper support to discover deeper senses of strength within ourselves.”  Marcus is a proud Muslim, and loves superhero movies, anime, and poetry/spoken word. He is from the Philadelphia area, and will be sure to let you know how much better Philadelphia is than New York City if you indulge him.

Denette J. Ligon, MPA (American Sign Language) is a  Deaf Services Team Case Manager at Barrier Free Living’s Secret Garden/Freedom House. Denette assists survivors who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing. She works with those who have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, psychological abuse and physical abuse,  etc.  She assists with accessing housing programs, HRA Access, Legal referral and shelter placement, financial issues. She works in coordination with the team’s Social Workers and Occupational Therapists. Born and raised in New York City, Denette is President of the Cultural Sign Language Network which promotes leadership development, economic and educational opportunities, social equality, and the general health and welfare of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. She is a member of NYC Black Deaf Advocates and also enjoys movies, exercise, travel, and seafood and spending time with friends and family.

Alison Loughran (American Sign Language) is a native of Brooklyn, New York. A social worker, she has many years of experience working with individuals, children, and families. As a member of Barrier Free Living’s Deaf Services team, she works with Deaf and Hard of Hearing survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She “strives to offer clients a safe place for healing using the trauma-informed approach” and says she is a “warm, caring, and genuine being that believes everyone has the right to live, to be free, and to feel safe.” Alison enjoys long hikes in  nature, writing, and yoga.

Nana Osei (Twi and Fante language from Ghana, West Africa) is a Social Worker at Barrier Free Living’s Secret Garden. Nana is originally from Ghana, West Africa and has been a practicing Social Worker for 12 years.  She feels that Secret Garden’s uniqueness in providing counseling to Domestic Violence survivors with disabilities “creates a safe environment.”  Nana’s diverse background allows her to reach people of all walks.  She is open to learning about her client’s journey and “tap into all the abundance that they have within themselves and in their environment.”  Nana believes that all human beings are worthy and deserve a fighting chance in life. With that said, her goal is to not only teach people to survive but to thrive in doing so.   Nana enjoys cooking and spending time with her family and friends.

Tashi Haskin is the Administrative Assistant for Secret Garden, and has provided support to the program’s staff and clients for close to a decade. She enjoys “helping to create a safe and welcoming environment for all.” Outside of work, her favorite activities are traveling, learning languages, listening to music and watching foreign TV series/films.

Nick Pedersen is the Family Law Attorney in the Legal Services Department of Barrier Free Living. He has been a practicing attorney for five (5) years in family law, divorce law and criminal law. A native New Yorker, he was born and raised on Long Island to Alfred and Cathy Pedersen. After high school, Nick attended SUNY Albany and Albany Law School in Albany, New York. After law school, Nick worked for multiple law firms focusing on family law and divorce before joining Barrier Free Living as the head of the legal services department and family law attorney. He enjoys playing softball and having BBQs with friends and family. He is a die-hard Yankees and Giants fan and would “love to one day visit every Major League Baseball field one day.” Nick lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his fiance Anna and their dog Tessa.

Meghan Sutherland is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), CASAC-t in the state of New York.  She specializes in substance abuse, domestic/interpersonal violence and the intersection of disabilities.  Meghan graduated from New York University with her graduate degree in Social Work. She received her undergraduate degree at West Virginia University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.   She began her social worker career at Barrier Free Living- The Secret Garden Program in October of 2018. Meghan provides trauma-informed psychotherapy to clients.  She has attended various trainings – learning the different modalities of trauma working in the domestic violence field – at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy (ICP), and Columbia University.  Meghan has also presented domestic violence and trauma 101 trainings for service providers in the field of social services in New York City, “to spread awareness of how domestic violence affects people with disabilities. “

Other Secret Garden Team Members

  • Tanzila Uddin, Case Manager-Financial Specialist (Bengali, Sylheti dialect)
  • Belinda Mercado, Paralegal
  • Nicolyn Plummer, Social Worker and Deaf Services Team Outreach (Pidgin Signed English (PSE)