Vera DeVincenzo and her son Anthony own California Closets of Suffolk County, a franchise on the east end of New York’s Long Island. Vera began her career with California Closets 36 years ago, so California Closets has been part of Anthony’s life, well, his entire life.
Vera has always understood the importance of working hard and giving back, and she has instilled these values in her son.
The duo is part of several community groups that serve to match service providers with non-profit groups in their community in need of support. When The Retreat, a refuge for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, contacted them to ask for help fixing up the center’s laundry area, Anthony and his colleague Michael Franzese toured the facility. While there, they saw many areas that could use some help from California Closets. Anthony and Michael took photos and measurements of the spaces and got to work. Shortly after, they presented CAD drawings of their designs along with an estimate for the work. The staff at The Retreat was moved to tears when they saw the estimate. The total cost was $0.00, and the team included a note saying, “We love you.” And so began a partnership that will ultimately entail Anthony and Vera outfitting 16 areas within the center, and helping countless individuals and families transition towards safer futures.
After creating a more functional laundry area, the team set their sights on “Stephanie’s Closet.” Intended to house a selection of donated clothes and toys, this area is one of the first places new residents see. Many who seek refuge at The Retreat are fleeing terrifying violence at home, and they come at all hours of the day and night, often with children, and often with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
The plan for Stephanie’s Closet is to transform it into a retail-like space – think of The Gap – where clothing is organized by style and size. This makes finding suitable clothing for residents much faster for volunteers, freeing them up to help residents get the support they need. It also helps volunteers easily identify what items they need to replenish. In addition to the closet design, material and installation the Suffolk County team is donating, California Closets’ corporate leadership is donating hangers and bins from its California Closet Collection to ensure the team at The Retreat has everything they need to maintain an organized supply area.
“We are located in an area of Long Island known for beautiful towns and homes. Until I visited The Retreat, I had no idea such ugliness could be happening in our own backyard,” said Anthony. “This was an eye opening experience for me, and after speaking with the team at The Retreat I wanted to do everything I could to help. It’s a good feeling to be able to use my skills to help improve someone’s life.”
100% of California Closets of Suffolk County’s design staff volunteered their time to assist with all aspects of this project, and all departments participated, with 20 team members showing up for the installation. The team worked seven days a week to build out the donated spaces and surprised Vera, Anthony and the volunteers and staff of The Retreat when they arrived with clothing and toy donations.
The Retreat Shelter provides full-service safe emergency shelter for adults and children who have experienced domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse or stalking. At The Retreat, clients can receive counseling, legal advocacy, educational programs and case management. All services are provided free of charge and the goal of The Retreat is to help every client receive a realistic plan for their long-term safety. When clients leave they are supported by a wide range of ongoing services to help break the cycle of violence and aid in their transition to better lives. The Retreat also provides prevention and education programs to K-12 schools on the East End.
“Anthony and Vera are incredibly passionate about what they do, and I don’t think they fully understand the impact their work will have on the shelter,” said Vicki Cooper, Shelter Director. “We have needed an organization system for seven years. I was hoping to get just one closet donated. They have offered to do so much more, including that organization system. Their donation will not only help our clients, but will also make the jobs of our volunteers easier and instill a sense of pride about where they work. On behalf of the Board and my team, I cannot thank them enough. They have become like family to us.”
The majority of clients served by The Retreat are women, who comprised 95 percent of clients assisted in 2019. Children made up two-thirds of all shelter occupants. The organization provides a 24/7 telephone hotline. When the pandemic hit in 2020, the hotline went unusually quiet, a troubling sign that those experiencing violence at home may have been locked down with their abusers. The statistics on domestic violence are sobering. In the U.S., more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence every year.*
To learn more about The Retreat and how you can help, please visit https://www.theretreatinc.org/. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help. Please call 1-800-799- SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
*According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention