PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When Perri Petricca and Michelle Thorpe were getting married, they decided the best way to celebrate their union was to provide support for the children served by Berkshire County Kids Place.
"Children have always been the center of our lives," said Michelle Petricca on Friday night at Kids Place's annual gala where she and her husband were presented with its Community Leadership Award. They both come from large families and have four children together.
"When we got married three years ago, we were talking about registering for gifts," she said, but realized that "we don't need any more china patterns and we don't need anymore crystal in our lives but what we do need is to give back to the community."
Instead of gifts, they asked their guests to donate to the center that offers social, emotional and legal support to sexually abused children and their families.
Michelle Petricca was impressed with the work that Kids Place does and noted the need it fills because Pittsfield and North Adams have the highest rates of sexual abuse in the state.
Perri Petricca, chief executive officer of Petricca Industries, said he was involved early on with the development of Kids Place but not lately. It was really his wife, he said, who had done the research on selecting an organization and visited Kids Place.
"She came up with the idea we should be giving to the community before she even got here," he said.
Since then, the Petriccas have continued to support the efforts of Kids Place, though Perri Petricca joked the only accolades he deserved was that "he married well."
His wife thanked those who attended the gala and asked them to give more.
"I know it's getting very expensive to be our friends," she laughed, adding, "we just want to recognize that this Community Leadership Award means a lot to us but the community — meaning you — took your Friday night out of your lives to be here."
She also credited those on the front lines of working with kids. "Keep doing what you're doing because you're doing it so well ... you're doing it the right way and we need you."
Friday's circus-themed fundraising gala, "Cirque du Hope," brought a crowd of supporters to the Crowne Plaza for dinner, silent auction and dancing. The co-chairs of the event, William and Lisa Blackmer, welcomed the attendees.
"As a former station commander of the Massachusetts State Police, I can assure you that Kids Place plays an invaluable role helping these children in stopping their abusers," said William Blackmer, a member of the center's board of directors. "We are very appreciative of your continued support."
More than 400 children come through the doors of Kids Place each year.
"One thing we need to keep in mind is the sobering fact that one in four girls and one and six boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday," said Laura Baran, development and special events coordinator. Kids Place is able to provide those children with a multidisciplinary response, she said, largely thanks to contributions.
Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless was presented with the Founders Award for his and his office's many years of work and support of the center and children, including the Sexual Assault Intervention Network that works closely with Kids Place.
"He's been a tireless advocate and supporter of Kids Place for over 20 years," said board Chairwoman Kelly McCarthy.
Capeless said he was "most proud of the relationship my office has with the Kids Place, serving and protecting the children of Berkshire County for many years."
Kids Place has been considered a "model advocacy center," Capeless said, for its staff, its programs and its partnerships with educational and social services and law enforcement.
"These are people who work tirelessly on what is a very difficult job dealing with children who suffer from abuse in their lives," he said. "They do it with dignity, with great perseverance and yes, they do it with great professionalism."
A young woman credited Kids Place with giving her the emotional support and counsel she and her mother needed severely years ago at a very difficult time in her life.
"I know now that I'm not alone with what happened and I definitely thank Kids Place for all the support and love I needed."
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