GUILFORD — Dee Lock remembers the terror of living in a mentally abusive marriage. She remembers the fear of not being able to escape and worry that she would never make a new life for herself.
She also remembers how wonderful it was to find a way out and move on in a positive way, with thanks to family, friends and the Women & Family Life Center.
“I had so much stress and pressure even though I was out of the situation and then when I found out about it, I was just like ‘Wow, it’s just amazing how they help just with everything,’ ” the 41-year-old recalls, about her discovering of Women & Life in July. “It was just such a relief.”
Women & Family Life’s largest fundraiser, Men Who Cook, will be held Sunday, Oct. 20 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Guilford Yacht Club, 379 New Whitfield St., Guilford; for reservations call 203-453-6699 or visit womenandfamilylifecenter.org. Tickets range from $300 to $1,000 depending on number of guests attending.
The center, at 96 Fair St., provides support, referrals and wellness programs for Shoreline women and families who are facing divorce, violence, financial hardships, homelessness, bereavement or other major life challenges.
“Right now, we’re serving 16 Shoreline towns and last year we served 1,200 women and we’re on track to probably serve about 13- to 1,400 this year,” says Women & Family Life Executive Director Meghan Scanlon.
The Men Who Cook Event raises about one third of the Women & Family Life’s overall operating budget. With no federal or state aid Scanlon says the money raised at this weekend’s event is very important.
At press time, they had raised about $50,000 in sponsorships and were hoping to raise more than $100,000 in total, according to Scanlon.
The evening will include a meal prepared by over 30 amateur chefs, including Guilford resident Todd Angkatavanich. The food will be judged by Professional Chef Ric Orlando.
Angkatavanich has been involved for the past six years. This year, as in previous years, he plans to prepare an appetizer. Starting about two days before the event, he will be whipping up mocha porter brazed short rib with poached quail’s egg and truffle hollandaise sauce over a brioche bite, enough to feed about 200 attendees.
Being part of this event makes Angkatavanich think about “the impact that the important women in my life have had on me,” he says.
“First and foremost, my mother, who’s now deceased, but my wife, is wonderful, my daughter and my two sisters, who are just amazing people and, I guess I’d like to think that if they were ever in a position where they were going through difficult periods, it’s great to know that there’s an organization like Women & Family Life that’s out there that would be able to provide some support during some of the most trying moments in people’s lives,” he says.
Scanlon believes this is the reason many of the men get involved with the event.
“So, I think, part of them doing it is to support the women and families we serve, but also, just to take a stance and say, ‘This could be my sister, my daughter, my wife, my grandmother, my mother,’ ” Scanlon says. “I think they all recognize that and they recognize the importance of the event.”
Jennifer Cruet will be also be honored with the 2019 Cut Above Award.
The Guilford resident, a retired special education supervisor, started Women Recreating Retirement more than 10 years ago. Today, the organization totals more than 300 women from all over the state and immersed itself in volunteer opportunities including the Connecticut Food Bank; Meal On Wheels; and Project Under Cover, collecting slightly used or new, clean bras, new briefs, panty hose and tights for women and girls and assisting the local FBI with collecting clothing and supplies for trafficking victims, to name a few.
Cruet is modest about her accomplishment.
“If I could bring all 307 women in the group up there, I would, because they are what makes the organization,” says Cruet, of accepting the award. “Without them, the organization would not exist.”
Scanlon says Cruet exemplifies the spirit of the award to “honor people that are making a difference every day.”
“I think she is deserving because she shows how powerful women can be when they use their passion for helping others to change the lives of those in her community,” says Scanlon. “She’s a role model for me, but also for everyone in the community.”
A surprise key note speaker will talk about how she was assisted by Women & Family Life Center.
Lock says that the support she received, including getting a car, building a career wardrobe, receiving feminine products, among other things, was instrumental in helping her move on and create a new life.
While she lived in Branford when she was married for 10 years, she now resides in Hamden and works as a preschool teacher in Madison. She admits that talking about her abusive marriage is difficult, but it is important if she can help other women facing the same struggles.
“What I would say to any women is that ‘it’s not true,’ ” she says. “You’re stronger than you think and you can do it. When I found out that there’s programs out there to help you, there’s women out that support each other and help you through this … I just felt so relieved that I was not by myself.
“Everybody there (Women & Family Life) that I’ve met, they’ve all been very supportive. They’re very caring and nurturing and understand everything that you’re going through and there’s no judgment there at all. They don’t judge anything, which is amazing.”