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Palm Coast Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 3 years ago

STANDING O: Family Life Center, nonprofit

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Trish Giaccone is a “lovey, dovey, touchy, feely” public servant. She’s also a domestic abuse survivor.

(Click here for more Standing O Award winners.)

Mike Cavaliere

Contributing Writer

 

On paper, Trish Giaccone never should have been here — not in Florida, not a counselor at the Family Life Center and certainly never its executive director. 

That’s what she will tell you.

She was “a Brooklyn girl,” a “big-city girl.” This was before the baby, before the attack. That was before her father handed her a one-way ticket out of town. 

It was before her 20th birthday.

“I fled the state of New York,” she says. “I fled because my boyfriend pulled a knife on me. And he put it to my neck. And he was going to kill me.”

This was before she was so familiar with domestic violence that she started calling it “DV” to save time.

She was broke, carless. She slept on her cousin’s floor and walked Nova Road looking for job openings. 

Career requirements: The schedule had to be flexible; the place had to be nearby.

Back then, she was miserable — “confused and overwhelmed and emotional.”  She sold beauty supplies and waited at Denny’s, worked with car parts, manned the desk at a timeshare firm, a travel agency, anywhere. It didn’t matter. 

“I wasn’t sure where I fit,” she recalls.

Muffled laughter from her kids Aidan and Rayliana springs from a back room. This is today at the Family Life Center in Bunnell, where Giaccone’s cluttered desk is bordered with inspirational quotes on the wall and memories of women she’s helped stashed away in the cabinets. Then the gratitude flows over.

“God planted me at the right time, in the right season and the right place,” she says. “I really found who I am, and I’m comfortable with that.”

Eventually after the move, Giacconne got into real estate just in time to watch the market crash. She got married and, for a steady paycheck, applied to what sounded like an easy clerical gig at this place she’d never heard of called the Family Life Center.

The job challenged her, pushed her into public speaking. She started loving it. She even went back to school and, over nearly a decade, earned her bachelor’s. (She’s now in her second year of a Stetson University master’s program.)

“I didn’t know I could do this professionally,” she says. “I found my spot. I thought: ‘This is it.’ If I die today, I’m a happy camper.”

Then in 2011 the state dismantled her organization. Misappropriation of funds. Arrests. Talk of moving the center out of Flagler County.

“I couldn’t help but consider the families,” Giaccone says. “If they closed us, we’d never get another (shelter) here. I didn’t want to go backwards.”

So she applied to run the place. She was inexperienced and angry at her former bosses, had no grant-management skills.
Given the chance today, no way she would have hired herself, she says. But then one day an officer handed her a ring of keys, told her the passwords. 

“It’s all you, kid,” he said. That was the job offer. “It’s all you.”

The transition was tough. She was a rookie again, no mentors, making up a ministry as she went along.

“We would cry together and really try to figure out what in the heck we were going to do,” she says. “It was great, and it was horrible.”

The shelter would flood and she would call her church for help, her husband, her counterparts in other cities.

But this is a woman who hears the theme from “Rocky” play in her head when times get tough. “I will persevere!” she laughs. 

This is a woman who didn’t see her life flash before her eyes when a knife got pressed to her throat all those years ago — she saw the life of her daughter, and what it would have been like for her growing up without a mother.

“That’s why I think the good Lord himself said, ‘This is where you need to be,’” Giaccone says. “Because I could’ve been a lot of places.”

Back on July 8, 1996, when she stepped off that plane into Florida with her baby, “failure wasn’t an option.”

“I needed to do better, be better — because I had this little person,” she says. “For me, that’s the weight of the world.”

Today, this “big-city” girl gets flustered in big cities. She prefers the pace and charm of Palm Coast. Her husband’s here. Her kids are here. Her life is here.

“I’m where I’m supposed to be,” she says. “It’s just crazy. It’s crazy how we evolve.”

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