Prospect Heights

Teens turn to Margaret’s Place to escape domestic violence

Program in schools started by baseball great Joe Torre and his wife Ali

June 4, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A baseball legend and his wife have put together and all-star team of social workers and educators in Brooklyn to try and stamp out the nightmare of domestic violence.

Joe Torre’s Safe at Home Foundation, an organization founded by former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and his wife Ali, operates a thriving program called Margaret’s Place in 10 schools in New York City, including the Brooklyn Academy for Science and the Environment (BASE), a high school in Prospect Heights.

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Margaret’s Place, named in honor of Torre’s mother Margaret, who was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, Joe Torre Sr., is a violence intervention program within BASE that provides students with a place to go to talk to a social worker about the violence they see at home. In addition to learning coping mechanisms, the kids are given information on how to recognize potential abuse and how to prevent violence in their own lives.

“It’s a safe room within a school,” Jessica Shultz, director of the Margaret’s Place program for the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We work with kids who have been exposed to violence. In many cases, the violence they see at home is all they know. Lots of kids who grow up in abusive homes don’t label it as abusive because they’re not aware that it is abuse.”

Margaret’s Place, which has been operating in schools for nine years, recently received a $25,000 grant from Verizon Wireless through that company’s Hopeline program to carry on its work. “Margaret’s Place fits right into our mission of working to prevent domestic violence,” David Samberg, northeast area executive director for public relations for Verizon Wireless, told the Eagle.

Since 2001, Verizon Wireless has given $18 million to domestic violence prevention programs across the country, according to representatives of the company. Among the programs it has funded is a project to provide domestic violence victims with cell phones that automatically dial 911.

Torre, who grew up in Marine Park, lived in a violent home with a father who was physically abusive to his mother. “Joe felt like he had no place to get help. He felt rage, fear. He and Ali started the foundation to help people in a similar situation,” Schultz said. Torre, who guided the Yankees to four World Series championships, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.

Margaret’s Place provides counseling in individual and group settings, peer leadership lessons, and other violence prevention programs designed to keep kids safe. In addition to the 10 sites in New York City, Margaret’s Place is also located in four schools in Westchester, one school in New Jersey, and in two schools in California.

Shultz pointed out that one in five girls in the US has been involved in a physically abusive relationship before the age of 18.

According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the number of reported domestic violence victims in Brooklyn rose from 9,486 in 2011 to 10,171 in 2012. There is a disproportionately high rate of domestic violence incidents in Brooklyn, according to the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, which found that one third of all domestic violence-related crimes in New York City in 2012 took place in Kings County.

There are different types of abuse in a relationship in addition to physical violence, Shultz said. “There’s financial abuse in which one partner forces the other to hand over their paycheck. There is emotional abuse. One partner will constantly be threatening the other so that the person lives in fear. We also talk to the kids a lot about the damage name calling does,” Shultz said.

Margaret’s Place is designed to provide a warm, welcoming atmosphere. The room contains comfortable sofas and students can play games there. “We do a lot of fun things in the room. Our goal is to remove the stigma,” Shultz said.

Students come to Margaret’s Place either by their own volition or are recommended by a teacher. The social workers in the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation also do outreach to the school community at large. “We go into classrooms. Every kid has gotten information from us by the time they graduate,” Shultz said.

Shultz is convinced that the program has saved lives. “We helped one student whose dad was extremely abusive. She came from an immigrant family and her mother never sought help because she was afraid she would be sent back to her home country. The student didn’t know where to go for help. Lives were in danger. She came to us and we worked with her. She and her mother are safe now,” the program director said.

Verizon also made a $25,000 HopeLine donation to another domestic violence prevention organization, the Center Against Domestic Violence to support its new project, Relationships Are Elementary (RAE), which works with fourth and fifth graders in Brooklyn to help them avoid becoming victims or perpetrators of teen relationship abuse.

The Center Against Domestic Violence operates shelters, abuse prevention programs, and counseling and workshops in high schools to teach students the warning signs of physical and sexual abuse.

Zoe Entin, a licensed clinical social worker with the center, said the workshops are important. “The students learn what unhealthy behavior looks like. They might have thought it was normal before,” she told the Eagle.

Entin said the students are given information on how to spot early signs that abuse is creeping into their relationships. “There is physical abuse. But there is also emotional abuse. A person gives the silent treatment, or the abuser insists on going through the victim’s phone to see who they’re calling. There is verbal abuse. You are constantly being made fun of,” she said.

Other types of abuse are financial abuse and sexual abuse. “It’s a control issue,” Entin said.

While the center has long worked with teenagers, Entin said the organization is eager to start prevention programs for younger students. “The Relationships Are Elementary program started because we are always looking for ways to get into elementary schools to start talking about these issues,” she said.



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