By Christine Sampson
The Retreat, the domestic violence shelter and educational outreach organization based in East Hampton, is marking its 30th anniversary of helping people in need this year. Loretta K. Davis, the executive director of The Retreat, spoke with The Sag Harbor Express about the ever-growing needs of the organization and some recent developments with regard to domestic violence.
With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, what is the most important message people need to know about domestic violence?
The most important thing to spread the word about is that it happens in every single community. It doesn’t discriminate — it’s here in the Hamptons, north of the highway, south of the highway. We get an average of 300 calls a month. I think the more you talk about it you can prevent it, and we’ve been doing it for 30 years. It’s one in three women and one in four men who will experience domestic violence. It’s pretty high.
Are there more resources now for people in these situations than five or ten years ago, or are the resources shrinking?
That’s a good question. I can say we’ve grown and strengthened our core programs and developed one or two other programs. In general, it’s tough because there’s not as much funding. Federally we don’t know what’s going to happen with some of these grants. About half of our funding is grant funding. It’s so uncertain because social services are being cut on a federal level. I would say there aren’t as many services as there used to be.
Are you seeing any shifts in domestic violence due to the particular political climate we are in these days?
We serve some undocumented clients who didn’t want to go to the court system, even the local court. They were afraid, even if there were no grounds for it. The court system wasn’t something they felt they could trust, and we saw a lot of it in January, February and March.
What is the latest grant you have received?
The Legal Assistance for Victims Grant is a federal grant. We are really excited to get it because it is a very competitive grant. Not many of them are awarded. It allows us to have two attorneys, including one who is bilingual, who can work with our clients for about 35 hours a week. Our advocates who accompany our clients to court aren’t attorneys. They do a lot of valuable work but they’re not always acknowledged in court. These attorneys will be a resource that will really, really help our clients. It’s a $600,000 grant over three years. That will also help us hire a part-time advocate as well to bring in more clients. It’s a big shift. We also train the attorneys in cultural sensitivity and how to handle these relationships, so it goes both ways.
What has kept your organization going for the last 30 years?
First of all, there’s the demand. The need. We have a lot of community support. The towns, the businesses help us. We have a lot of volunteers. We have the donors. I think we’ve stayed true to our mission while also evolving with the times. But financially, it’s still a struggle.
What do you need to be able to continue to sustain it?
We can always use donations, fundraisers and volunteers. People can always donate to our thrift store. Whatever we raise there goes to our services to help clients. There are all different levels. If you have an expertise, there’s a place for you or a job to be done. Also, advocate for us. Let the legislators, representatives, senators know we need services out here.
A Commemoration Day to honor the victims and survivors of domestic violence will be held October 19 at the Dennison Building at 100 Veterans Highway in Hauppauge from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The building will be illuminated in purple lights. Attendees are asked to wear purple and bring donations of baby wipes or diapers. For more information, call (631) 666-7181.