The room at the Pierre for the Spring Luncheon for The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) fell silent. Two hundred women listened and brushed tears from their eyes, as Regina Calcaterra spoke of her childhood growing up in Suffolk County. The New York Times best-selling author, attorney and official for New York State, was not recounting halcyon days on manicured lawns. Hers was a story of living on the streets, beatings at home and stealing from supermarkets with her siblings to have something to eat, recounted in her memoir, “Etched in Sand.”
The only thing worse than the hunger, the abuse and the shame, was the thought the foster system would separate her family. So Calcaterra kept her secret. The only times they could play like normal kids was at the beach. Stripped of their torn clothes and cleaned by the sea, they could blend in. By the time Regina turned 13, her two older siblings had fled, leaving her in charge of the family. She wasn’t as good at stealing as they were, so, she fed her younger siblings, and drank vinegar to stave off the hunger. She recalled: “I was about to turn 14 years old … I had no meat on my bones… my flesh was discolored because I was so unhealthy, my head had patches of baldness because when a child suffers from malnutrition they lose their hair, pieces of my hair were already gray because of the stress.”
She kept silent, “until one day my mother came home and decided she wanted to beat up on my little sister. I jumped in to protect Rosie and I got the beating of a lifetime.” A beating she couldn’t hide. A teacher reported it to the system, and that day when she came home, her two younger siblings had, in fact, been taken away.
These are the scenarios the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC), the first of its kind (founded in 1875), seeks to assuage, with counseling, legal and educational services. Child welfare agencies across the nation use it as a template.
Joan Granlund, Valesca Guerrand-Hermès, Tania Higgins, and Elizabeth Mayhew were luncheon co-chairs. Dr. Mary Pulido is the Executive Director of the NYSPCC. Sonja Morgan, Kelly Rutherford, ABC News’ Juju Chang, Dr. Penny Grant, Jean Shafiroff, Victor de Souza, David Stack (President, NYSPCC Board of Directors), Dori Cooperman, Hillary Gear Ross, Felicia Taylor, Karl Wellner were among the attendees.
For more information, visit www.nyspcc.org.