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Sportime Couple Honored at Retreat Gala

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Printed in East Hampton Star June 8, 2023

The number-one spot on the 2022 Forbes annual top charities list went to Feeding America, a Chicago-based network that supplies more than 200 regional and local food banks in the United States.
Ten other food-related charities appeared on the list, reflecting the pandemic’s impact on food insecurity in the United States.

Not a single domestic violence charity was featured, despite the emergence of a “shadow pandemic,” as identified by the United Nations in a 2021 report, which showed that violence against women increased to unprecedented levels during lockdowns and financial stressors caused by Covid-19. So, in a country with over one million nonprofits, why does giving continue to be so low for an issue affecting an estimated one in three women and one in four men?

Hana Sromova and her husband, Claude Okin, of Sportime were honored at a Retreat gala in Sag Harbor Saturday for their longtime support of the agency, which aids victims of domestic violence.
Hana Sromova and her husband, Claude Okin, of Sportime were
honored at a Retreat gala in Sag Harbor Saturday for their longtime
support of the agency, which aids victims of domestic violence.

At the Retreat’s annual All Against Abuse benefit, held Saturday at The Church in Sag Harbor, Loretta Davis, the executive director of the domestic violence nonprofit, underscored the organization’s struggles. “It’s been a challenging year for nonprofits, including the Retreat, and even for some of our donors, which is why we cherish your support. And we so need it,” she said. “The Retreat is the only agency in Suffolk County that offers shelter, counseling, advocacy, legal representation, prevention programs in schools, children’s programs, and counseling for children as young as 3 years old. We cannot offer these essential, lifesaving services, which are free — totally free — without your help.”

The event was attended by about 160 community members, benefactors, and eight Retreat survivors.

In an email to The Star, Ms. Davis wrote, “There is more of a demand for our services, over 3,800 hotline calls last year, and at this time we just want to maintain our quality services — legal counseling, shelter, and prevention education. When we change the lives of one survivor it has a ripple effect on the whole community, so everyone benefits.”

At the event, Francesca Odell, co-president of the organization’s board of directors, offered further insight into why shelters such as the Retreat struggle to meet the demands. “There was a real focus on domestic violence and other important social causes during Covid. And, now that we’re coming out of that, I think there’s a tendency to think that those issues aren’t as crucial. But when you look at the root causes of domestic violence, they’re all still present. So, we’re struggling, in a sense, and now we want to make sure that people hear about our cause and remain vigilant around this issue that crosses gender and socioeconomic boundaries.”

Help from within the East End community was recognized on Saturday night, when the organization presented an honorary award to Claude Okin, the president and chief executive officer of Sportime Clubs, which includes Sportime Amagansett, a tennis club and sports camp, and his wife, Hana Sromova, a native of the Czech Republic and former professional tennis player, who is now the chief officer and general manager of the Amagansett club, as well as a touring pro.

“The first act of generosity was in 1992,” said Ms. Davis, explaining that Mr. Okin’s initial donation enabled the Retreat’s newly-built shelter to open its doors much earlier than anticipated. Today, Sportime remains resolute in its commitment, offering children at the shelter free participation in Sportime’s summer camps. “And we always have kids in the shelter. For example, right now, we are full to capacity with adults and six children,” the executive director said.

In addition, Sportime hosts an annual Pro Am tennis fund-raiser, run by Ms. Sromova, for which the club provides the tennis courts, pays their tennis pros to participate, holds an auction, and provides lunch. “The event raises tens of thousands of dollars for the Retreat each year, while exposing many people to the lifesaving work that we do,” said Ms. Davis, who also pointed out that Sportime’s husband-and-wife team continue to help the Retreat despite their work with the Johnny Mac Tennis Project, a nonprofit which they oversee.

“It’s embarrassing and undeserved,” said Mr. Okin, smiling as he waited to enter The Church along with his wife, who, after a day of teaching, had swapped her tennis wear for something altogether glamorous. “Hana and I feel like this is the least we can do and it’s our pleasure, although it’s the last thing we ever expected or wanted. But we can’t say no because this is just another way to help more people.”

Charities often rely on success stories of the impacted to help drive donations. In the case of the Retreat, survivor stories are a testament to how funding can sometimes be the difference between life and death, since women often return to their abusers simply out of fear of retaliation or lack of economic independence.

Last Saturday’s keynote speaker was Tijuana Fulford, the founder and executive director of the Butterfly Effect Project, a mentoring program for approximately 600 young girls across the East End. Ms. Fulford, a Retreat survivor, shared her harrowing story of first witnessing domestic abuse in her childhood home and later enduring intimate partner violence as an adult. Yet her story conveyed hope and inspiration, and attendees donated generously during the live auction that followed, signing up to become Retreat sponsors in categories that ranged from $30,000 to $500.

There was one survivor story missing on the night — that of Tina Turner, the rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse who died last month. In 1981, when domestic abuse was shrouded in shame and silence, Ms. Turner went public about the violence and financial oppression she endured during her two-decade relationship with the singer-songwriter Ike Turner. The survivor ripple effect, of which Ms. Davis spoke, was so powerful and wide-reaching, that Ms. Turner’s accounts led the way for women everywhere — perhaps even Retreat survivors — to find the courage to leave their abusive partners and never look back.

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