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INTERVIEW: Vanessa Petruccelli On The Retreat’s Adopt A Family Holiday Program, Cards Of Inspiration Initiative And More

Nicole Barylski

Adopt a Family provides a much needed source of joy for those that are "adopted." (Courtesy Photo)

It's never too early to start spreading holiday cheer, especially this year.

As each holiday season approaches, The Retreat's office is typically brimming with piles upon piles of presents to be distributed through the Adopt a Family program. The program will remain a beacon of light for Retreat clients, but the process will look a little different this year.

Instead of going out and purchasing items from a family's wish list, supporters can visit the Adopt a Family page where they can either make a donation, select a particular gift that their funds will be utilized towards, adopt a family - from one to seven individuals - with their donation allowing The Retreat, the East End's sole domestic violence agency, to purchase gift cards for the entire family, or mail The Retreat a gift card from their favorite store.

"I was a recipient of The Retreat's various services for a few years. They helped me in the darkest of times," a former Retreat client shared. "I happened upon their doorstep very scared, anxiety ridden, dazed and without a clue of how to go about getting protection from my spouse. The Retreat helped me and my children through our worst time and left us with the tools to start a new life." Now, she is able to help others going through a similar situation by giving back through the Adopt a Family program. "I am forever grateful to the staff at The Retreat for my time with them. They let me spread my wings when I was ready. I went from an alone, scared, stay at home mom with no money of my own to a strong, confident woman who got a job and worked hard to put myself and my children in a position where we can pay it forward," she said. "We understand what others are going through and feeling. We want that same feeling of joy and hope that was given to us now shared with others."

"One day at a time I am getting better, thanks to the Retreat for all the help," another client shared.

Adopt a Family provides a much needed source of joy for those that are "adopted." "We are homeless and staying with family and it's very tight year-round, but the holiday time is so much worse. I would so appreciate any help at all," an Adopt a Family participant said.

We spoke with Vanessa Petruccelli, The Retreat Community Outreach Coordinator, about this year's Adopt a Family, the program's impact, the non-profit's Cards of Inspiration initiative and more.

How will this year's Adopt a Family program differ from previous years?

VP: This year we're not doing actual gifts, we're not doing the collection. Normally someone, when they adopt a family, they get a list of the family's needs and wants, and they go out and shop for them and come in with a bag of toys and clothes and housewares. We can't do that this year, unfortunately. We've changed it so on the website you can still adopt a family, you can pick if there's something in particular you would like to support or just give a general donation, and then we are going to provide all of our clients with gift cards to stores that they have given a preference for, so that they can do their own shopping either online or in person, if they're comfortable doing that.

How many families need to be adopted this year?

VP: Our usual number is somewhere between 100 and 150. So far, we already have about 40 families and we'll probably hit somewhere between 100 and 120. This year an issue is just mobility for a lot of people, not being able to get to us. We're doing our best to either send them stuff in the mail or coordinating with them to come to one of our offices. But that's not always the case, that's not always an option for everyone. We're doing our best though, because some of our clients still live with their abusers, which can be challenging. So all of our staffers, we're working with the clients to come up with a solution that works for them.

When is the deadline to adopt a family?

VP: We adopt families right up until the holidays, we always have families that are coming in and so we do our best to accommodate. The last several years, we've had families coming in the 21st, 22nd, 23rd. We do our best to help all of them.

In addition to participating in the Adopt a Family program, The Retreat is also looking for Cards of Inspiration. Could you speak a bit about that?

VP: We recently started that program just to be able to give people the opportunity. Sometimes you want to be able to say something to the families and it's not always easy for us to communicate that to the families. This gives people the opportunity to write a nice note of encouragement or just inspiration, whatever they want to share with someone and our staff can then give that directly to clients, just as a little brightness to their day. And it's a good opportunity because we have a lot of people who want their kids to participate in Adopt a Family. A lot of people who adopt for the holidays often do it with their kids. That's a little harder because in the past they've gone with their kids and said, "This is a family in need, this family has kids that are similar in age to you. What do you think they would like for Christmas? Would they like this coat?" They can't do that this year, so this is an opportunity for kids to get involved. They can draw a picture, write a note, that kind of thing. Because we have organizations like the Girl Scouts who want to participate, and this is a way for them to do that.

For the families that participate, what does this program mean to them?

VP: A lot of our families are in really tough financial situations. A lot of them may be moving into new homes or staying with family. It gives them the opportunity to actually have gifts for their kids that they normally wouldn't be able to provide.

Besides the Adopt a Family program, what else is The Retreat focused on at the moment?

VP: This and our annual appeal will be coming up soon and we will be participating in Giving Tuesday, on December 1, and really just working to make sure we're able to keep providing our free services to everyone.

How has the pandemic impacted The Retreat?

VP: Everything went remote in mid-March. We've really done a great job of pivoting to remote services for our clients. Our advocates working in the courts, that all moved online, so they learned how to file things by phone, they've learned to use online services. They were able to continue filing orders of protection and we have a 90 percent success rate over the last six months of getting those, which is a really high rate. Our counseling staff moved to Zoom and telephone sessions completely. Our case management, everything just moved to phone, and it has worked really well. People, for the most part, have been able to be in contact with us and continue getting services without interruption.

For more information about Adopt a Family, visit mobilecause.com. For more information about The Retreat, visit www.theretreatinc.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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