The Retreat Adapts to Provide Service During Social Distancing - 27 East

The Retreat Adapts to Provide Service During Social Distancing

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The Retreat's Prevention Education Team works remotely.

The Retreat's Prevention Education Team works remotely.

The East Hampton teen leadership team working with The Retreat prior to the Covid-19 virus outbreak.

The East Hampton teen leadership team working with The Retreat prior to the Covid-19 virus outbreak.

The East Hampton teen leadership team working with The Retreat prior to the Covid-19 virus outbreak.

The East Hampton teen leadership team working with The Retreat prior to the Covid-19 virus outbreak.

Kathryn G. Menu on Apr 2, 2020

One of the myriad challenges facing communities nationwide during the Covid-19 pandemic is how organizations continue to provide social services.

For The Retreat, the East End’s sole nonprofit dedicated to providing support and shelter for victims of domestic violence, as well preventative education, the obstacles are enormous during a time where everyone is being told to remain in their homes and schools are shuttered.

This week, The Retreat’s executive director, Loretta K. Davis, its attorney, Susan Bereche, Education Director Helen Atkinson-Barnes and Counseling Director Regina Mysliborski talked with The Express News Group about how the organization will continue to provide its critical resource during uncertain times.

Question: With social distancing and in many cases quarantine a necessity with the explosion of Covid-19 virus cases in New York State, including Suffolk and Nassau counties, the mission of The Retreat — to provide counseling and shelter for victims of domestic violence and preventative education in local schools and community centers — has undoubtedly become more challenging. How has the initial impact been on the nonprofit?

Loretta K. Davis: The Retreat continues to provide free services to our existing clients and to new clients who reach us through our 24/7 hotline, 631-329-2200. We are responding to the needs of our clients in new and different ways with phone sessions for counseling, legal, advocacy and case management. The courts are accessible through teleconferencing and orders of protection are being processed and enforced.

Our shelter staff is working on a staggered work schedule and we have children and adults at our shelter. We are all in this together, and I am in awe of The Retreat staff for the dedication and hard work.

Our prevention education program that works with the schools and the community is exploring and piloting online engagement opportunities and workshops. Our Fatherhood Program that work with fathers as young as 16 is also providing educational and case management information remotely on parenting and partnership skills.

It is not easy, as we are all under stressful circumstances, but our important message remains the same: The Retreat is here for you. We are here to help.

These times are particularly stressful to survivors because their safety is at risk as they may be isolated with increased control of the abuser of survivors’ movement, communication to others, access to news and information about help.

Q: There are statistics about jumps in domestic violence cases during times of economic turbulence. With unemployment at record high numbers, what is The Retreat anticipating it will see in terms of cases over the next several months and how does the nonprofit still aid those in need of help during a time where everyone is being told to stay home and shelter in place?

Loretta K. Davis: Domestic violence affects everyone, whether directly or with someone they love. The CDC reported before COVID-19, 24 people per minute are victims of abuse by an intimate partner. As isolation and stress rise, compounded with financial stressors, we expect a large increase in people reaching out to The Retreat.

Right now, we are providing services remotely. Our hotline is available 24/7 at 631-329-2200. Our counselors and advocates are working with survivors by phone. Even our attorney is managing to work remotely with the courts. We’ve quickly adjusted our work to make ourselves available to those in need, just not face to face.

But you have to remember that because survivors may be trapped at home with the abuser, it may be difficult for the survivor to call The Retreat or keep that counseling phone session. The survivors access to the outside world and to contacts online may be further restricted by the abuser.

We have to get the word out that we are providing services and The Retreat and other domestic violence agencies are open and communicating with each other and making referrals. Our hotline responds to calls for services and shelter.

But we need support from your readers, too. Are they close with someone who may be hurting and feeling more stress while in close quarters? Can they reach out to be a resource for comfort and listening? Consider sending a message like this: “I know things feel scary and stressful right now. Could we talk on the phone sometime later today so we can support each other and check in?” If your readers need support in learning how to speak with someone experiencing abuse, call The Retreat’s hotline at 631-329-2200. If they suspect that things have escalated to violence, call 911.

Q. What do you think the impact will be of many families being forced to stay in close confines over weeks, and perhaps months? Are there suggestions for how families can find resources if they feel the stress or pressure if becoming too much?

Loretta K. Davis: Survivors of domestic violence may be experiencing increased isolation and danger caused by confinement during the pandemic. Survivors often have specific needs around safety, health and confidentiality. We also realize that people who are already more vulnerable to economic and health insecurity are facing additional challenges during this unprecedented time. That’s why we will remain open and accessible to anyone in need.

Regina Mysliborski, counseling director: To relieve stress and pressure during these current circumstances, it is important to maintain a routine, for yourself and children. It is important to maintain connection with others via whatever means possible, even if this connection is monitored by an abuser, keep it basic and simple, but keep the connection. Fresh air and exercise is also important. When possible, get out of the house, even if it is just to sit outside, encourage children to get outside as well, fresh air and exercise relieves stress and promotes healthier sleep as well.

Helen Atkinson-Barnes, education director: Recognize that routines for work, study, play, chores can help everyone, especially kids. Finding ways to get outside if possible, even if just for a walk or play in the backyard. Art, journaling, scrap booking, reading, playing family games, exercising, cooking, gardening, anything that can help keep you focused and “in the moment” can help families stay grounded. In addition, reaching out to friends, family and one of the many support services like The Retreat who are still open and working and available remotely to talk.

Q. Can the Retreat still offer shelter? What about people who need service coming from New York City, where it is recommended a 14 day quarantine take place?

Loretta K. Davis: Shelter is an essential service that The Retreat provides. The necessary precautionary measures are being taken and we will quarantine new clients in a quarantine room at the shelter.

Q. What resources, legally, are still available to those in a domestic violence situation? What is the first step they should be taking?

Susan Bereche, retreat attorney: With regard to the legal resources available to victims of domestic violence, Family Court has successfully implemented a remote application process for Orders of Protection with the assistance of Suffolk and Nassau counties’ domestic violence agencies. Any victim need only contact the hotline numbers of The Retreat and the other agencies in order to obtain assistance in getting orders of protection remotely.

Additionally, pursuant to the latest update issued by District Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, Family Court is working to implement remote protocols in order to address other Family Court proceedings as well. While neglect, juvenile delinquency and exigent custody matters are being addressed on an emergency basis, the Family Court’s goal is to enable judges, attorneys and advocates to appear remotely with parties in other proceedings, also, so as to offer continuity with regard to all cases while protecting the health and safety of everyone involved. Further notifications from the courts are forthcoming.

Q. Many doctors are shifting to teleconferencing to adhere to social distancing. Are counselors at The Retreat doing the same?

Loretta K. Davis, executive director: Yes. We are counseling via phone sessions and clients are receptive to this service are getting the help they need when they can access phones and have privacy to speak.

Regina Mysliborski, counseling director: The counselors at the Retreat are offering phone sessions when it is safe and confidential to do so for clients. If a client does not have the ability to receive weekly phone counseling, they are encouraged to call the Retreat’s hotline if/when they need support and are safe to do so. During work hours, a counselor is contacted immediately following a request for support and will reach out to the client if deemed safe.

Q. Is there increased aid to support your mission during a time where it appears services will need to increase on the East End in coming months?

Loretta K. Davis, executive director: That is going to be our greatest challenge. We know the need is there, but will we have the resources to provide the help needed?

Half our budget comes from donations and between an uncertain economy and a hiatus on fundraising events, of course we’re concerned. But this community and our supporters are incredibly generous, we believe we will get through this crisis and be stronger for it.

So many people and businesses have reached out to offer support and encouragement. It means so much to me and the entire staff at The Retreat. It means so much to our clients. Here’s an email I received right after Round Swamp Farm donated much needed groceries for our shelter:

Thank you just doesn’t seem like a big enough word to explain to you the gratitude I feel for helping me and my three little guys as well as the other families that are staying in this shelter. As if our lives weren’t upside down enough, here comes this coronavirus which leaves us and most with so much more uncertainty and anxiousness wondering if we will get sick, if there will be enough food, how long we will be in this situation. Then people like you and the employees of this shelter remind us of the greatness of God working through your generosity and kindness and selflessness. I can’t help but feel blessed and a warmness in my heart. Thank you for thinking of us. My children and I are forever grateful. May God bless you and give you back tenfold what you so generously share. May God always be with you and yours. — Shelter Resident

If your readers would like to support Retreat families during this challenging time, we need their donations to help cover the cost of:

  • The expanded need for services as isolation and tensions rise.
  •  Food for our shelter and survivors who are struggling to cover essentials.
  •  Basic hygiene items and deep cleanings which will help us protect our staff and clients.
  • Remote communication platforms for survivors.

Readers may donate online at allagainstabuse.org or text RETREAT to 91999.

Q. How about the nonprofits prevention work? Is there a way to reach people online? How are the other ways The Retreat will alter its services during this time?

Helen Atkinson-Barnes: The Retreat’s Prevention Education program has been continuing to meet with our Teen Leaders via Zoom to discuss the challenges teens are facing. Coincidentally, The Retreat’s Teen Leaders had just recently formed an “Intentional Tech Task Force” focused on helping middle school students and their parents connect digitally in healthy ways, particularly by setting and respecting healthy boundaries with regard to social media, gaming, and other tech use. This is more relevant than ever as we come to depend more and more on technology to connect, while at the same time need to do so mindfully and in ways that is respectful and supportive of others. In February, some of our Pierson High School students presented to a group of Sag Harbor Elementary School parents, sharing their experiences and challenges. We hope to use online platforms to continue that work.

We are working with East Hampton Middle School Health teacher Lea Bryant to adapt our in-school “Respect in Relationships” programming, integrating our many activities, videos, and games onto a virtual platform. Our first school classes will be piloting next week.

The Retreat Education Program is also collaborating with East Hampton Library to host a virtual workshop called “Relationships in a Time of Social Distancing.” We are also adapting our in-person workshops to distance learning format, using Zoom and other platforms. Relationships are more challenging than ever but our messages of how to build healthy relationships, respect boundaries, resolve conflict and listen are more relevant than ever.

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