Michele Pollock Rich, the new executive director of The Retreat, a domestic violence service agency in East Hampton, is no stranger to domestic violence herself. As a survivor, she is dedicated to helping women who have fallen into the grips of abusive partners.
Although Ms. Pollock Rich does not like to discuss what led her to suddenly redirect her life and career at the age of 37, she said she is passionate about her calling.
“It was what prompted me to go to law school,” she said of her experience with domestic violence. “I was a teacher, and I decided to reconsider my career choices.”
Ms. Pollock Rich was a married mother of three and teaching high school in the Hudson Valley in New York when she separated from her husband and moved her three young children to South Jersey to attend law school. With a master’s degree in American history from New York University and a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany, she went to Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia on a scholarship.
“I was working full time, going to law school and raising three kids—so it was an interesting time,” she said.
While at Temple, Ms. Pollock Rich interned at the Philadelphia district attorney’s office in the family violence and sexual assault unit. During that time, she wrote many research papers on the issues of domestic violence and women and children.
“While I was in law school, that’s when I concentrated on law that affects women and children,” she said. “I became interested in women’s services and how best to make an impact.”
The Retreat appointment was a natural progression for Ms. Pollock Rich, 43, who previously worked for three years in a directing and supervisory role at the Camden County Women’s Center, a large domestic abuse service agency in Camden, New Jersey. She said that she is looking forward to bringing her expertise to The Retreat.
Nicole Behrens, president of The Retreat’s board of directors, said that Ms. Pollock Rich was chosen based on her breadth of experience in working on issues of domestic violence. “Michele lives and breathes the mission of breaking the cycle of domestic violence,” she said. “Michele has a lot of vision and a lot of passion.”
Ms. Pollock Rich said the work that is done at The Retreat is critically important. “From the shelter operation to the education and prevention—all of this work promotes safe and healthy families,” she said of the organization, which has been in operation since 1987 and where she started January 14. “It is a really wonderful opportunity to lead a really wonderful organization.”
Since coming to the East End of Long Island, Ms. Pollock Rich said that she feels very much at home here. “The character of the area reminds me very much of the Hudson Valley, minus the ocean,” she said. “The Hudson Valley, especially the northern parts, is very rural. You have farms and vineyards and such. So I’m really looking forward to getting to know this area.”
The appointment of Ms. Pollock Rich comes after an exhaustive search that included nearly 150 applicants to replace the outgoing Jeffrey Friedman, who is now CEO of Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services Inc., a non-profit mental health and substance abuse agency in Nassau County.
“I have heard wonderful things about him,” Ms. Pollock Rich said of her predecessor. “From what I understand, he’s really helped the agency grow in the last five years, and I’m hoping to continue that growth.”