When the telephone rings at the North Fork Women’s Resource Center, it might be a call from a battered woman seeking refuge, a homeless man whose housing benefits have been stripped away or simply someone inquiring about yoga classes.
It could also be someone in need of a legal or health-related referral or other crisis intervention, such as cutting through red tape to help an Alzheimer’s patient discover who she is and where she lives.
But what worries NFWRC director Barbara Summers these days, more than solving those problems, is figuring out where those callers — as many as 1,000 a year — will be able to find her and her organization in the future.
Although Capital One Bank — and North Fork Bank before that — has provided her office with space above its Cutchogue branch, that’s all about to change. Capital One has announced it will close that branch, sending those customers’ accounts to the Southold branch and leaving Ms. Summers without the space that’s been vital to her operation for the past 21 years.
Even worse for her is that while the branch will remain open until mid-October, she has been told she must vacate the space by mid-September, leaving her little time to find and secure a new location.
“I am deeply concerned that this will endanger the vital services that we render to the community,” Ms. Summers said.
She doesn’t need a great deal of space: a single, small private office where she can interview people seeking her services and a room large enough to accommodate five to 10 people at yoga classes three times a week. An additional room that could house the center’s book collection — about 1,000 titles written by women about women — would be a plus. But if she can’t bring the collection to a new space, she’s willing to gift it to a library or other facility that would keep it intact and make the volumes available to the public.
The hitch for Ms. Summers is that the NFWRC has no budget for rent. Banks have a charter obligation to give back to the community — hence the free space Ms. Summers has had all these years.
She operates the center on a shoestring, taking no salary and depending solely on private contributions. In good years, those donations have added up to about $2,000. In recent years, however, the center hasn’t even received $1,000 in donations, forcing Ms. Summers to pay some bills — insurance, telephone — from her own pocket. And her pockets aren’t very deep, amounting only to her income from Social Security.
To better support the center, Ms. Summers opened a thrift store in Riverhead several years ago. It brings in enough to cover its own expenses, she said, but seldom generates more than $10 a day that can be put toward the center.
Clients who seek help from the NFWRC pay nothing, except those who take yoga classes with North Fork instructor Rosemary Martilotta — and she charges on a sliding scale to accommodate those who can’t afford to pay full price for lessons.
This is the second time that Ms. Summers has faced eviction. When Capital One bought out North Fork Bank in 2010, she was told to vacate but successfully convinced the company to change its decision.
This time, with Capital One closing the branch and planning to sell the Main Road building, there can be no long-term appeal. But Ms. Summers is hoping bank officials might extend her eviction by a few weeks so she has a bit more time to seek an alternative.
Corporate officials look only at the bottom line and fail to recognize it’s partly driven by customers’ perceptions, Ms. Summers said. They’re being shortsighted if they fail to recognize the impact decisions about programs like hers can have on their reputations, she said.
Ms. Summers said that a Capital One transaction manager in Ronkonkoma told her the center would have to close by Sept. 16, in order to accommodate the bank’s process of moving money from the Cutchogue branch.
That’s a rationale Ms. Summers can’t understand, since the bank has obviously been moving money regularly throughout the center’s occupancy -— and in two decades a problem has never arisen from her presence there or that of her clients.
The Ronkonkoma manager who spoke with Ms. Summers has been out of the office and unreachable, according to a Capital One spokesman.
“What’s going to happen to the battered women? What a devastating blow to the community,” Ms. Summers said.
While new space would have to be made available rent-free, it could be a tax write-off for the donor because the center is a nonprofit.
Anyone willing to offer space can reach Ms. Summers at 631-604-0107.
Photo: North Fork Women’s Resource Center director Barbara Summers is not sure where her organization will soon be housed due to the closing of the Capital One Bank branch in Cutchogue, where it has been headquartered for more than 20 years. (Credit: Julie Lane)