Sunday Conversations: The Petit Family Foundation is devoted to helping others

Posted: Sunday, February 1, 2015 8:29 am

PLAINVILLE — After the tragic loss of his wife and two daughters seven-and-a-half years ago in a Cheshire home invasion, Dr. William Petit, Jr. has devoted his life to helping others — especially supporting causes for women.

Through the support of friends, colleagues and the community, Petit, a town native, formed the Petit Family Foundation in 2007. An endocrinologist for 18 years in Plainville and New Britain, Petit says his foundation gives about $300,000 a year in competitive grants to nonprofits and causes that align with the group’s mission. Many of those receiving grants are from central Connecticut.

“The public should know that our mission is three-fold,” the 58-year-old Petit said in a recent interview from the foundation’s headquarters on Whiting Street. “We are about educating young women, especially women in the sciences, helping people with chronic illnesses and helping protect people affected by violence.”

Petit said “we want to honor the memories of Jennifer [his wife] and Hayley and Michaela [his daughters] by continuing their kindness, idealism and activism.”

Those helped over the years through the foundation’s support include Pathways/Senderos, which offers a place to go for young people in need; Prudence Crandall, which provides support to victims of domestic violence; and the New Britain High School Health Academy. All three are based in New Britain.

From 2008 to 2012, the foundation, which has an annual golf tournament, 5K road race and a motorcycle “ride for justice,” funded 90 percent of the application requests for funds it received. But, because of the increased volume of requests from all over the country, the foundation has only been able to fund about one third in the past few years. The foundation has awarded more than $1.2 million since its inception. In addition, its raised more than $350,000 in awards and sponsorships.

The heartbreaking murders in 2007 made worldwide news, and Petit said he received more than 25,000 letters in the three months following the incident. While some would expect him to be bitter and despondent, Petit said he became committed to making the world a better place. He said those 25,000 people who wrote him and the many thousands of others who have supported him along the way show that kindness wins out in the end.

“All over the world, people care,” he said. “They see an injustice and a tragedy and they want to help.” Those letters were never thrown away, he said.

Petit recently sat down to discuss the difference the foundation has made, among other issues.

Robert Storace: One of the goals of the foundation is to provide support for women in the sciences. Why is that issue important to you?

Dr. William Petit, Jr.: It’s really because of my daughter, Hayley. She graduated in June 2007 and was killed in July 2007. She had gotten into Dartmouth [Petit’s alma mater] and was a great writer, and very good in English and French history. She told me she’d go to Dartmouth and major in biology and try to go to medical school. It’s in honor of her and the fact that women tend to be underrepresented in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] field, and we decided to make it a focus.

Storace: Tell us about the difference the foundation has made in your life.

Petit: What it did early on after losing my family is it gave me a sense of being a part of something positive. Due to the generosity of people and of the hard work of the board, we’ve been able to help other people in memory of the girls.

Storace: You considered running for the U.S. Congress as a Republican in 2013. How seriously did you consider the run and might you run in the future?

Petit: I considered it very seriously. Because of being married for one-and-a-half years and having a new baby on the way, I didn’t think the timing was right for me. I might consider a run in the future. You like to think you can make a difference by making good decisions for the community.

Storace: How can people volunteer their time to the foundation and/or provide financial support?

Petit: They can go to the website ( or call us at (860) 479-1436. The biggest need ends up being around the three events (golf event, motorcycle ride and road race), and things get busy for the Michaela’s Garden project. There is also the day-to-day filing and keeping track of stuff here.

Storace: Tell us about your connection to central Connecticut and why it’s such an important part of your life.

Petit: I grew up in Plainville. I have a large family here. My family was always involved in local business and politics. You went to Bristol back in the day to buy shoes, and you went to New Britain to buy sports equipment at Hadfield’s [which has since closed].”

Storace: What changes, if any, would you like to see the foundation make as far as its focus five years from now?

Petit: We’ve had seven plus years and two board retreats to discuss this in length, and the board is in agreement that we want to continue with the same mission statement. But, we will revisit this every three to four years.