In 1986, Sandy joined the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW). She coordinated the NW College Program, which allowed grassroots women to attend a college that reflected their values, used their neighborhood as the campus, and fostered and formalized their community leadership. At the height of welfare reform in the late 1980s, she protested at City Hall with single mothers in NW’s educational programs, successfully rallying political support to shift job training programs from Manhattan to
Brooklyn where eligible women lived and needed to find work. Subsequently, NW received a multimillion dollar contract to run job training programs in Williamsburg for neighborhood women. In 1989 Sandy became the first director of the independent non-profit affiliate Neighborhood Women of Williamsburg-Greenpoint (NWWG) and anchored the construction of Neighborhood Women’s Renaissance apartments as treasurer of the grassroots board. Loyal to the mission of partnering to empower and advance the leadership of women locally, her work moved into the national and international spheres. At the 1996 NGO Forum at the Fourth World Women’s Conference she helped program the grassroots women’s tent and in 1997 became the second Global Facilitator of GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood). At this time she is also the strategic Director of the Huairou Commission and a resident of Neighborhood Women house.
The public living room at the Neighborhood Women House, Living and Learning Center, is named after Sandy Schilen for activism bridging the divide between grassroots women’s realities and local and global policies for over two decades.