North Fork women’s center averts eviction

09/02/2010 12:00 AM |

North Fork Women’s Resource Center director Barbara Summers at her desk in Cutchogue. She successfully appealed to corporate officers at Capital One Bank, the center’s landlord, not to evict the organization this fall.

One woman’s determination and some bank executives’ community spirit have apparently saved the North Fork Women’s Resource Center from eviction and possible extinction.

When NFWRC director Barbara Summers learned last month that, after 16 years, the center would be evicted Oct. 29 from its space above the Capital One Bank branch in Cutchogue, she didn’t crumble. She penned a letter to Capital One executives, making the case for why the center should stay.

She pointed out that North Fork Bank, which was absorbed into Capital One, had not only welcomed the center, rent-free, but had used the center’s statistics to support community outreach efforts.

The center’s brochure describes it as “providing resources to help people help themselves.” Those resources have included assisting clients with domestic abuse complaints, crisis intervention, educational workshops, wellness issues and even a program that teaches sailing to kids who wouldn’t otherwise ever have the chance.

For years, when North Fork Bank was an independent entity, Ms. Summers said, the bank pointed to the center with pride for the number of people its programs helped, which she estimated at about 1,000 a year.

But in early August, Ms. Summers received a letter from Alice Peysson, Capital One’s senior manager for real estate administration in Melville, telling her that the organization’s continued occupancy of the space was “a risk to the bank.” For a while, Ms. Summers feared the worst — that she’d lose the rent-free space and the program itself, because it could not afford rent somewhere else.

Ms. Peysson told The Suffolk Times last week, “I am not at liberty to discuss anything.”

But after Ms. Summers dug in her heels and wrote her letter to the bank’s corporate executives, the mood changed. On Tuesday, Capital One officials Ellen Weber, regional executive and market president, and Patricia Kelly, vice president and district manager, met with Ms. Summers at the center in a conciliatory session that ended with Ms. Summers’ joyous announcement: “We’re staying. I want to thank Capital One for their community consciousness.”

The bank executives not only agreed that the eviction notice was cold-hearted, but promised to contribute $1,000 to support NFWRC’s Sailor Kids program. They also discussed other ways they might get involved with the center, Ms. Summers said, such as offering seminars for women on handling finances, which is something North Fork Bank used to do.

A statement issued by Capital One Bank after the meeting said that initial communications with the center “were not handled up to our usual standards. The resulting miscommunication was unfortunate and we truly apologize for the confusion and any uncertainty it may have caused.”

The eviction push apparently started after two incidents that gave bank officials concern about security. One involved a NFWRC worker who was locked inside the building one night after its 6 p.m. closing time. A wall clock in the center had showed the wrong time because of a power loss in Cutchogue that day, Ms. Summers said. When she got locked in, the woman called Southold police, who notified bank authorities to let her out and reset the bank alarm.

The second incident involved a therapist working at the center who had been given a smudge stick — a bundle of dried herbs — that she mistook for incense. When she lit it, the smoke inside the bank drew someone’s attention. They called the Cutchogue Fire Department. The firefighters, whose station is directly opposite the bank, responded.

Neither incident would ever be repeated, Ms. Summers said. “We really respect the place that we have,” she said.

She said Ms. Peysson had told her that another reason for the eviction was that NFWRC’s programs had changed through the years. But Ms. Summers said programs like yoga, tai chi and work training have always been a part of the center’s functions.

If the eviction had proceeded, the organization, which lacks resources to pay rent elsewhere, likely would have folded, Ms. Summers said. Since 2008, she has also operated a thrift store in Riverhead to support center programs but it doesn’t bring in enough money to cover rent, she said.

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