Hundreds of volunteers and several celebrities including “Law & Order’s” Mariska Hargitay, Alexandra Wentworth, George Stephenopolous, Debra Messing, Bravo’s “Real Housewives” stars, Ramona Singer and “The Countess” LuAnn deLesseps, Hope Award honoree, Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Legislator Jay Schneiderman, Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty, East Hampton Town Supervisor, Bill Wilkinson, Retreat Board President Barbara Olton, Executive Director Jeffrey A. Friedman, Development Director Jennifer Palmer, Heather and Michael Nardy, VP of Development Richard Demato, Kelly Connaughton, Dr. Richard and Marcia Firshein, Myntology’s Lori Wasserman, Richard Kubick, Brette Graber, Stephanie Cohen, Shane Gritzinger and Owain Morgan boarded the SS Retreat to fight back against domestic violence.
Captain Alexandra Wentworth and her first mate husband George Stephanopoulos hosted the boat-themed gala designed by Maria McBride and Russell Kolody of Maria McBride Productions and Dan from Luminous Design. Guests bid on high-end artwork to benefit the Retreat’s free domestic violence services.
The sea of guests sipped on specialty cocktails donated by Chatham Imports, and Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. beer. Peter Ambrose from Food for Forks and Miche Bacher of Sacred Sweets were the chefs behind the nautically-themed five-course dinner menu including Ceviche and Filet Mignon.
The Retreat team was thrilled to honor Hargitay with the 2011 Hope Award, due in part to her courageous efforts in starting the The Joyful Heart Foundation to benefit victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
Guests perked up when Wentworth took center stage to present the Hope Award to her close friend and fellow actress Hargitay. Wentworth joked, “There is no reason for Mariska to start a foundation, she’s gold!”
I asked Wentworth, “Are you and Mariska real friends or Hollywood friends?” She replied, “We’re real friends. I don’t like the Hollywood Mariska. She’ll jump in the pool in her pajamas, that’s the girl I like.”
When Hargitay hit the stage to officially deliver her acceptance speech, the Hollywood Mariska was nowhere to be found. All eyes and ears were on Hargitay who said it was fan mail to her character detective Olivia Benson that motivated her to start the Joyful Heart Foundation, “I have received thousands of e-mails from fans sharing their stories of abuse. Some of these individuals would reveal something so intensely personal to somebody that they don’t know. To somebody that is a fictional television character. Showed me and proved to me that they were desperate to be heard, and supported.” Hargitay even took a moment to thank the press, “They communicate the message” she added. Hargitay’s acceptance speech was so powerful that it inspired a single fan to motivate the crowd into making an extraordinary donation. Rich Decker, owner of Studio 89 Fitness in Sag Harbor, rallied his table to donate $1,000 a month for the next year. Hargitay led him up to the stage to personally thank him. Decker took the mic and asked guests to join in on the monthly donation, “It’s like an extra car payment! Are you guys in?” Suddenly, hands started popping up from the crowd shouting, “Me!” and “I’m in!” Keith Hernandez, Mark Fox, Gerald Wiegend, Alexandra Wentworth, George Stephanopoulos and even Hargitay herself agreed to donate monthly. The crowd was going wild cheering and screaming. VIPs were visibly tearing up in amazement. It was a magical moment that instantly raised more than $125k in less than five minutes. Clearly it is this same heart and determination that has earned Hargitay a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame alongside her mother, Jane Mansfield. Hargitay told me, “It will take me awhile to download it. It’s really exciting and an incredible honor and obviously a marker in my life. My mom had a star, so I am excited! I hope that they will put us close together.” Hargitay is going through a lot of personal life changes these days including a new addition to her family, a baby girl Amaya Josephine. When I ask about Amaya, Hargitay’s face lights up, “she brings us more love and more joy.” Hargitay and her husband Peter Hermann recently adopted the African American baby Amaya. Hargitay says son August takes the credit for the decision to adopt another child and he has been very protective of his little sister. “We are very excited that we are now a multi-racial family.” The picture-perfect family recently moved into a late 19th Century estate with 11 bedrooms in East Hampton, “We’re just loving it so much that we love to be home in our little cocoon,” said Hargitay. Their summer rituals include the beach and “Pool Time! We like to do a lot of pool time!” Hargitay admitted, “We grab every moment we can with schedules you know it’s kind of crazy. The problem is my husband is on stage at Lincoln Center doing War Horse.” Aside from her family life, Hargitay has recently experienced more changes but this time in the workplace. Her “Law & Order” co-star of 12 years, Christopher Meloni, recently left the show. “I will miss him terribly. It’s been a pretty great ride and an amazing partnership you know on and off screen.” In the coming months more changes are in store for Hargitay and the entire cast as they move into the 13th season. “I might be promoted. I don’t know what to expect.” Yet even in the face of more change, Hargitay exudes a powerful, cool, calm nature. “How does she juggle it all?” I wonder. For Hargitay the answer is simple, “We just like to be together.” She puts her family first.
Gina Glickman Giordan is a TV Host, News Correspondent, Executive Producer and founder of GMG Entertainment. Watch Glickman’s exclusive celebrity interviews and event-life coverage series, “In The Mixx” on People Magazine TV, Hamptons Magazine TV and DansHamptons.com.