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INTERVIEW: Loretta Davis And Ellie Kurrus On The Retreat And The Domestic Violence Agency's Upcoming Virtual "All Against Abuse" Gala

Nicole Barylski

While The Retreat supporters cannot gather in person to celebrate the 25th anniversary of All Against Abuse, the community will come together on Saturday, June 13 at 6 p.m. for a Virtual Gala that will include several special guests. The All Against Abuse Online Auction will debut on Friday, June 12 at 12 p.m. and remain open for bidding through Monday, June 22.

Hamptons.com caught up with Loretta Davis, The Retreat's Executive Director, as well as Ellie Kurrus, All Against Abuse Chair, to learn more about this year's unique digital gathering and the East End's sole domestic violence agency.

How has the pandemic impacted The Retreat's services?

LD: The pandemic raised its ugly head, and The Retreat quickly adapted so clients could still receive all our critical services but in new and different ways. We pivoted and decided on March 13 to offer counseling by phone and Zoom. We moved our hotline responders to cell phones and increased the number of responders so we could answer every call. Advocates and legal met with clients on Zoom and accessed the courts through video conferences. That meant that survivors could obtain the protective orders they needed.

So the pandemic affected how we offer services but it did not stop us from providing services - a real lifeline to survivors.

At the shelter, we transitioned into a staggered work schedule and hired a second team of emergency shift staff in the event a client or a staff member contracted the virus. We need 24/7 coverage of the shelter (and the multilanguage hotline). We needed the PPP for staff and for clients, especially at the shelter. Our goal is to provide services but to do it safely. We created safety measures for both clients and staff.

Survivors, similar to many families, discovered they were also lacking the basic needs of food, transportation and medicine and we were able to help with those needs through the generosity of our donors and local partners, foundations, organizations. It is moving and emotional when I think of all the collaboration we have had.

We had to temporarily close our thrift store but we continue to provide great items to the community online and we look forward to reopening when possible.

Of course the pandemic affects how we work since so much is work done from home where we need privacy, a working space and at the same time we have to be teachers for our children and maintain a household. We are working while we share the same space with our families...all day long. We have taken the opportunity to learn new skills and use technology to help us.

While this is stressful to staff, imagine being home, isolated, with an abuser who limits who you see, what you read, what technologies you have access to and may give the survivor misinformation about agencies, like The Retreat, saying they are closed or do not help undocumented individuals.

We are open and we help all individuals, whether documented or not, all gender identities and preferences.

Has The Retreat seen a rise in clients seeking services?

LD: Yes, we have seen a rise in calls for our services, which began in early May and we expect this to continue. With the nice weather and some people going back to work, survivors finally have the chance to make that call or text us on our live chat.

What will funding from All Against Abuse be utilized for?

LD: There is an expectation that 15% of nonprofits will close by the end of summer. The Retreat is an Essential Service Employer and receiving our services is really a matter of life or death in some unimaginable circumstances. We eliminate barriers by offering free services. All the funds raised will go to providing services to survivors. Support survivors by supporting The Retreat. We need your help now more than ever.

Join us and some amazing celebrities at our Virtual Gala on June 13th at 6 p.m. We have some fabulous auction items and sponsorship opportunities. It is easy. Just register at retreatgala.org. You are able to text to give by texting AAA2020 to 91999.

Help us create a safe future for survivors!

Is this your first time chairing the Gala?

EK: This is my third time, I believe, chairing it - but obviously the first time chairing it as a Virtual Gala.

What made you want to get involved with The Retreat?

EK: I started as a volunteer for The Retreat, answering the hotline and doing administrative things in their office. Then I joined a committee to help organize the Gala and then I was asked to join the board of The Retreat. So I've been a board member for the past three or four years.

This year's All Against Abuse Gala will be held virtually. What will it entail?

EK: It will entail a very concise, probably close to an hour, Zoom cocktail party. There will be speeches and videos from survivors and celebrities who have been affected by domestic violence or feel that it's a cause they would like to support. It will be an educational platform for us to tell people about The Retreat and what we do. And there will be an online auction, which is no different than the way that it's been at a regular Gala. The challenge of this year's Gala is directing people to sit down in their homes and go online, support a cause that they believe in. So I think the challenge is really pulling on people's heartstrings while they're sitting home in their living room versus being in a big room where you feel the energy and the emotions of the crowd when they're hearing these poignant speeches from survivors, and then asking them to donate money. It seems simpler to do in person, but we're going to find out...

The benefit of the Virtual Gala is there is no limit to the number of people who can participate, because it's free. So if you have the constraints before of paying for a ticket, getting a babysitter, showing up for your entire Saturday night. This is free - from your computer or phone or iPad, from your home for one hour and we can reach a much broader audience. While we may not get the bigger donors - the big $5,000, $10,000 and up donors - at the auction, we might get a lot more donors with smaller amounts and we're hoping that can make up the difference between the amount of money we need to raise.

There will be quite a few special guests this year. Could you please speak about who will be attending?

EK: We have Mariska Hargitay, who is on Law & Order: SVU and is an outspoken advocate for domestic violence survivors, for years. She and Ali Wentworth are doing an introduction and talking briefly about The Retreat and what it does. And then Kelly Ripa has made a video for us, and she's talking about her experience with The Retreat and what we do, Joy Behar has been a longtime supporter and visited the shelter and it's a cause close to her heart. Don Lemon, who is a CNN news anchor. Leslie Morgan Steiner, who has been a speaker at our Gala in years past, and is a victim herself and has written a couple of books about domestic violence. Jaret Martino, he's a film producer, and he and his mother experienced domestic violence in the hands of his father. He's come out with a movie about his mom and how she struggled through it and got them away from it. So there's a trailer for his movie that's also embedded into our evening, which talks about how people deal with it. And we have several more attending.

There is no fee to "attend" All Against Abuse.

Established in 1987, The Retreat provides a safe haven for families in crisis. The non-profit has assisted over 6,000 individuals since its founding. Services offered include a 24-hour bilingual hotline, counseling, legal advocacy, prevention education, and emergency shelter.

For more information, visit retreatgala.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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