Hotline calls to The Retreat, an East End domestic violence agency, have increased by an unprecedented 96 percent in the past three years, said executive director Jeffrey Friedman. He's also seen an escalation in the degree of violence, mostly against women. "I think one of the reasons is the downturn in our economy," said Friedman, 43.
Believing confidence-building is key to ending abuse, he scored a federal grant to help boost the skills and education of fathers at risk of becoming violent. The Retreat also offers abuse victims classes in financial literacy and resumé building. "For years, they've heard that they're worthless, but when we start to show them, 'You're very talented, you're very skilled, you have a lot to offer this world,' that goes a long way," Friedman said.
The agency gives grants to help women afford housing after they leave the shelter, which serves about 150 women and children a year.
At the end of October, Friedman will end his five-year tenure to become CEO of Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services Inc., a mental health and substance abuse treatment facility.
Is fundraising difficult for an agency with a secret shelter location?
It's not like you can raise funds by showing people around your facilities .?.?. people can't really get a feel of what you do. [But] the nice part about The Retreat is that it was started over 26 years ago by generous, concerned citizens who got together and said, "You know what, domestic violence is a real problem in our community and we're going to do something about it." And because it started that way, it is really part of the fabric of the community.
What's the biggest challenge?
There's such a stigma attached to domestic violence that nobody really wants to talk about it. Animal charities on the East End have an easier time raising funds than we do. We have some well-known people who say, "I can't be associated with you because I don't want anyone to think I've been abused."
Kathleen Turner, Kelsey Grammer, Mariska Hargitay and George Stephanopoulos have fundraised for you. How do you attract such star power?
It's where we're located. We had a connection to somebody in the community who knew George Stephanopoulos. So we had them make "the ask" for us.
How early do you see red flags when it comes to abuse?
We go into classes and we ask tenth-, eleventh- or twelfth-graders, "How often does your boyfriend text you" in a day? People are still raising their hands at 150 or 200 times. When someone has to know exactly where you are all the time, that's a red flag that there's probably more trouble to come.
How do you keep staff from revealing the shelter location?
We screen our staff very thoroughly. They sign confidentiality forms and they go through confidentiality training. The staff is what makes The Retreat; I have never encountered dedication and commitment like this.
Why did you choose to change jobs?
I live on the North Fork; the commute to East Hampton got to be too much.
NAME: Jeffrey Friedman, executive director, The Retreat, East Hampton
WHAT IT DOES: Provides safety, shelter and support for victims of domestic abuse and works to break the cycle of family violence
EMPLOYEES: 35 full time, 20 part time, 152 volunteers
REVENUE: $4.4 million