By Georgia Suter
Conquering financial concerns and finding ways to share resources were among the subjects discussed at the first East End Social Service Summit, which brought numerous local non-profits into the same room for the first time.
The lulling economy has resulted in substantial drops in governmental assistance and private donations for the non-profit organizations, many of which are seeing significant increases in demand for their services as stress levels rise and incidents of domestic violence and substance abuse grow. The Richard Demato Gallery and The Retreat for women of domestic violence co-sponsored a gathering for the organizations last week, as a means of addressing financial challenges and exploring possible areas for collaboration. The President of The Retreat, Richard Demato, along with the organization’s executive director, Jeff Friedman, have been thinking creatively about ways to involve the community and other like-minded organizations in their efforts, now that East Hampton Town has cut them out of its budget.
“The reality is none of us can stand alone today. You simply cannot depend on outside financial resources– you have to find creative ways to involve the community in the work that you do…on Friday, if we can pick up a couple ideas from one another, it will be a success,” Demato stated in an interview last week.
Improving the level of interaction between local non-profits and connecting over common goals was at the heart of the Social Service Summit on Friday.
Attending the conference were representatives from numerous non-profit organizations including the East End Arts Council, the Wellness Foundation, The East Hampton Department of Human Service’s Communities that Care program, the Southampton Animal Shelter and the YMCA, among others. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman was also in attendance.
Demato, also a gallery owner, opened up his exhibition space in Sag Harbor for the event and began by sharing some of his own insights on creative marketing and fundraising. Among their new strategies to raise awareness, The Retreat will be doing seven, free television shows through LTV, which is something Demato has suggested to other groups. Demato also spoke openly about his past efforts to draw support—radio ads, art gallery contests and wine tastings all widened the Retreat’s listening base.
The summit, which quickly evolved into a discussion-based question and answer session, helped to wash away any feelings of competition amongst the various agencies and bring light to their overlapping needs. Sharing experiences with financial struggle led to a number of proposed solutions for saving money, including the idea of pooling resources like public transportation and sharing therapy personnel to cut down on staffing insurance costs. The Bridgehampton Head Start Program, for example, doesn’t currently have enough buses to transport all of their kids to and from school. Likewise, a representative from a local church shared that they have 25 bed-bound seniors who want to go to Mass, but the church doesn’t have a van to get them there. One representative suggested writing a collective grant so that two or more organizations might be able to share one vehicle. Demato emphasized the advantages that come with this kind of collaboration, noting that with a collective proposal, the agencies can hit more targets with one strike and imply more urgency, as a larger need for the service is presented.
In addition to financial strategies, new ideas for positive interaction between the agencies were proposed. One representative suggested bringing animals from the Southampton Shelter to visit children at the Retreat. A member of the Wellness Foundation proposed organizing collective events such as a health fair, which could cover overlapping health issues and result in a positive cross over of people.
“We will all tap into a larger community, and we’ll be much more difficult to ignore,” Demato remarked.
At the core of the conference was an emphasis on raising awareness around the community. Demato spoke early on about the misperceptions that many people have about East Hampton, noting that in the past The Retreat has even been mistaken as being a spa or resort site.
“People mistake East Hampton for a rich society that doesn’t have abuse, so it’s critical that we talk and share and realize that there are common problems…” Demato explained.
Keeping in touch and staying connected was a critical subject of discussion as the meeting came to a close. Several representatives expressed the desire to meet on a monthly basis—The Bay Street Theater has already offered up their space to host the next gathering. Communicating through an interactive web forum and creating a regular email newsletter were also proposed methods of maintaining contact, as was an umbrella non-profit Facebook group which has, in fact, already been launched online, as the ‘East End Providers Alliance.’ Demato expressed the importance of making such connections to help spread the word about one’s cause and expand the overall reach of support groups.
“Sharing what you’re committed to doing is infectious,” he said. “Each new person, each volunteer, brings a new group of people.”