Children are Resilient

Kids playing

Guest post by Rachel Decker, Development Director, HAVEN and Executive Director, HAVEN Foundation

I’ve been with HAVEN nearly 4 years now. Having little background in the issues of domestic and sexual violence, I’ve come to learn a thing or two or three or….well you get the point.

Thing 1 – Nearly three quarters of women who are abused by their partners have children.

It’s a stat I’ve come to know well and it’s a stat I often repeat to our donors because it tells a story – a story of not just victimization, but the ability to stop the cycle of violence before it passes to the next generation.

Children who witness violence in their home often blame themselves for the violence. If I had cleaned my room maybe daddy wouldn’t be so mad at mommy. They experience guilt for loving the abuser. How can I love my dad when he hits my mom? Boys often have an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect the victim. Shouldn’t I fight back to protect my mother?

They live in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Never knowing what will trigger the next attack.

Thing 2 – Those emotions surface in various different ways. Older children begin wetting the bed because of anxiety and fear. Younger children don’t learn to respect their mother because their father is reinforcing her “worthlessness.” Children of all ages hit and they yell….at their mother, their siblings, their friends, anyone. Because hitting is the only way they’ve learned how to get someone’s attention.

And the list of issues goes on…emotional detachment, poor grades, trouble concentrating, cognitive and development delays, acting out, depression, cutting, drug use. But, of all the challenges faced by the children at HAVEN, the one I believe is perhaps the worst and the hardest to overcome, is learning that violence is not the answer. Without anyone modeling healthy relationships, sadly, boys grow up to be abusers and girls become victims. The cycle is repeated.

Thing 3 – Children are remarkably resilient. When they have adequate resources to simply be kids – playtime, field trips, art projects, and story time – they begin to heal from the violence that has unfortunately been a significant part of their young lives. And when given counseling, support and education, they are not only able to overcome the challenges; they learn how to NOT perpetuate the cycle of violence. Boys learn to be respectful, caring partners. Girls learn empowerment and self-worth. Everyone learns that love shouldn’t hurt.

More than just learning about the resiliency of the children of domestic violence, I’ve seen it firsthand. Children coming out of their shell while staying in our shelter; kids learning respect from our male mentors; students in our Redefine program learning what it truly means to be a man; our youth coordinator teaching kids not to hit; children excited about getting help with homework; and mothers learning better parenting skills.

But, perhaps most importantly, I hear from the survivors themselves – adults who grew up in homes plagued by violence, adults who tell stories of coming to HAVEN and feeling safe, adults who learned love shouldn’t hurt. Adults who stopped the cycle.

You can help stop the cycle by giving the kids in our shelter a chance to just be kids. Please consider supporting our Playground Initiative by making a donation here.  Want to be a kid yourself? Pick an item off of our summer activities list, grab your family and go have some fun.

 

 

 

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What does independence mean to you?

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Guest post by Meilani Wilder, HAVEN Intern

When people hear the word “independence,” often “The 4th of July” or “America” comes to mind. If we look at the definition of independence, Merriam-Webster simply breaks it down as, “freedom from outside control or support.” One might think that independence is a fundamental right for all, but for many, it is still a difficult right to gain, especially for those who suffer from abuse.

Victims of domestic violence can sometimes feel that they are prisoners of their situation. It can be difficult to imagine the abuse coming to an end and, often, the weight of the abuse can take a toll on a person’s mental and physical health. In an effort to maintain control, abusers may convince their victims that the abuse is their fault,  making it even harder to leave the situation.

That is why HAVEN is here; to help give domestic violence victims a voice where they can regain their rightful independence. We work daily to help provide an experience and environment where victims of domestic violence can identify as survivors while feeling supported and protected. We also work to give each person we serve the tools they need to regain their independence.

We offer a counseling program that includes one-on-one sessions as well as group therapy to help those that have experienced abuse on their journey of healing. Survivors often report after speaking with a HAVEN counselor; they feel that it was the first time they’ve shared their plight without feeling judged.

Counselors are specially trained to address the safety needs and concerns of domestic violence survivors. At HAVEN, the client determines her counseling goals in collaboration with the counselor. No diagnosis or labels are given because being victimized is not a mental health issue. All counseling programs at HAVEN are offered free of charge.

If you know someone who is suffering from domestic violence, offer her your ear and share information about HAVEN.  She may be feeling alone, scared or confused. Not knowing where to go or whom to ask for help can make a traumatic experience even scarier. By letting her know organizations like HAVEN are here to help, you can help her ease some of those feelings and start to focus on gaining back control of her life. Moving closer to independence.

For more information on our counseling program, click here. If you or someone you love is in need of immediate support, please call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at 877-922-1274.

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Our Children Learn Through Many

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As we get ready to embark on our cross country move to Arizona, we are keeping ourselves busy with nightly sorting, purging, and packing. This weekend, our son Colin came home to go through his items which we have continued to store at our home. The best part of this process, at least with him, is the constant walk down memory lane – photos, childhood books, toys, school papers, and many other treasures. At certain moments in the process, time stood still.

One reason that kept us in Michigan longer than our bargained 2-3 years (nearly 25 years ago), was the want to raise our only child near my rather large extended family. It was important to us to create space for our son to be exposed to and have the experience of being part of this greater family system. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents became and continue to be a significant part of Colin’s life, even today as he is clearly planted in adulthood.

Our children don’t learn how to be a responsible adult or a caring parent just through us, the parents. They learn it through their exposure to so many others in their lives – relatives, teachers, neighbors, friends, and the culture at large. As parents, we opted to stack the deck, and give Colin as many positive influences as possible.

In addition to learning how to fish from one of his uncles, he also learned the importance of education. In addition to learning how to drive a boat from another uncle, he learned the importance of having a strong work ethic. These are lessons his father and I also tried to impart, absolutely, but I’m sure the reinforcement from others made a difference.

Many children are raised without the presence of their father. Divorce, deployment, and abuse are possible reasons but also some women opt for single parenthood or in many families, two women are raising their children. There is no right or wrong configuration of parents, in my book. But having positive male influence is important. Thankfully there are many uncles, brothers, cousins, and friends who can fill that role. The role of modeling, for young boys and girls, that men can be caring, nurturing, loving, and kind.

At HAVEN we are fortunate to have men engaged with our services and programming. They share, by example, that equality works, that women and children matter, and that masculinity doesn’t mean power and harm.

To the men of HAVEN and to the incredible men in my life, thank you. Thanks for serving daily as a reminder of what can be right in the world. Thank you for standing by me, instead of in front of me. Thank you for teaching my son that he doesn’t have to be stuck in a stereotyped role of masculinity. Thank you for caring and for making a difference.

And to those that are Fathers – Happy Fathers Day!

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Bittersweet

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Bittersweet – defined by Webster’s as pleasure alloyed with pain. But today it is defined by me as a mix of sadness, tears, excitement, challenge, and change. After 13 years at HAVEN, my bittersweet moment of saying goodbye has come.

I will be leaving this incredible organization at the end of July and moving to my home away from home, Tucson, Arizona. I have accepted the position of CEO at another wonderful nonprofit organization in Tucson, Our Family Services. For years, it has been a dream of my husband and me to return to the beauty of the desert, and it is now time to make that dream a reality. With family ties to Arizona and great memories of having lived there a number of years ago, we are anxious to make our return.

My time at HAVEN is one filled with so much adventure, joy, success, friendship, growth, and service. This organization is special. The rich history of serving the community, the incredible staff and volunteers, the position of financial strength, and the partnership with so many other amazing organizations and agencies, makes it especially difficult to say goodbye.

But an organization, such as HAVEN, is bigger than one individual. I am confident that it will continue to grow, flourish, and remain a high quality program for years to come. Its new leader will have many challenges but with the continued dedication and support of the community, she will find the same support that I found.

Over the past decade, we have stabilized our financial picture, added an incredible depth and breadth of services due to our collaborations and partnerships, and built a beautiful space to do our work. These successes are due to the concentrated efforts of a dedicated board of directors, the expertise and passion of our staff, and the belief and trust of our funders and supporters. Clearly I am not the only person who knows just how special HAVEN is and will continue to be for years to come.

To the thousands of survivors that have been served by HAVEN during my tenure, I offer you my thanks. Thank you for allowing me to play a part, directly or indirectly, in your healing journey. In observing your courage and strength, you have challenged me to be a better person.

To the HAVEN staff, board, and volunteers, I thank you for your passion and dedication to a mission which often seems unsurmountable. But if there was ever a group of people who can achieve this giant challenge, it is you. The incredible culture at HAVEN is what kept me motivated to do my best and to weather a few storms along the way.

To the community of donors, funders, and supporters, I thank you for your faith and trust in my ability to be a good steward of your support and to lead HAVEN to go forth and do good. To think that an agency of our size can provide quality services and programming to nearly 20,000 individuals each year and to do so when 50% of our budget must be raised each and every year directly from our community is a bit crazy. Your belief in the importance of our work and your dedication to giving us the tools to do our work is what makes change happen.

Thank you for allowing me to have both the honor and the privilege to lead HAVEN. I can’t wait to see the greatness which happens next!

Image source: relatably.com

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Feed. People.

Garden Project

Feed people. A few weeks ago, a planning meeting for the HAVEN Garden Project revolved around those two words – feed people. And for the past six years, that is what this incredible project has done; feed the people of HAVEN, to the tune of 2 tons of fresh produce each year.

When our small founders group comprised of Michigan Young Farmer Coalition members Ben Gluck and Alexis Bogdanova Hanna, and HAVEN Director of Business Operations Marianne Dwyer and I, sat down we knew we had accomplished much more than the nutritional value of the food consumed. Our simple idea from seven years ago had far exceeded increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables available in the shelter. It had become a vital program within HAVEN, a program devoted to the holistic care, personal growth, and the sanctity of the garden space.

Our accomplishments over the past six years are many. In addition to the 12 tons of produce grown, we also have:

  • Educated hundreds of individuals about growing organic produce.
  • Taught multiple concepts of nutrition and health.
  • Created a space for quiet reflection and meditation.
  • Shown children, as well as adults, how real food is grown and harvested from the earth instead of a can.

The list goes on – the growing food led to conversations and training on budgeting, food preservation, land stewardship, mental and emotional health, and exercise. Who would have imagined that growing tomatoes, carrots, onions and more would add such depth to our programming?

A few summers ago, a woman residing in our shelter program was in the garden daily. In addition to using the produce to make some rather amazing meals, she often reflected on how she found her time in the garden to be soothing and she was able to use the quiet space to think and sort through her plans for the future.

The children in our residential program also have enjoyed the garden over the years, finding it a place of fun and learning. The children have had scavenger hunts, helped with planting and harvesting, food tasting contests, and learned to cook some great dishes. Imagine doing all of this while reaping the benefits of fresh air, exercise, and a beautiful setting. And imagine having this opportunity while healing from trauma and abuse.

At our new location, we are excited about the growth of our garden space. This year we are starting small with approximately 20 raised beds of vegetables and strawberries, but plans are in the works over the next several years to have an orchard and to expand to nearly an acre of growing space. We will soon add a children’s garden, gazebo for respite and educational sessions, additional berries, herb garden, and larger crops. The support of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan is instrumental in literally allowing our garden to grow!

We have accomplished much and institutionalized the garden due to the dedicated volunteerism and financial support of the community. The vast majority of all the necessary garden labor is completed by volunteers and the expenses of the garden covered by donors. The work has truly become a labor of love for many. If you would like to join our efforts, we can always use some additional garden volunteers as well as financial contributions.

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Susan and her Boots

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Guest post by Anne Sutton, MA, LPC, HAVEN 

The story of Susan, her children, and her boots demonstrate how HAVEN’S services can be woven intricately into the fabric of a family’s life. Susan’s story spans many years and between the many physical locations of HAVEN.

In the early 2000’s Susan was violently beaten and repeatedly kicked by her partner (who was wearing heavy work boots at the time).  The father of her young son attacked her at her place of work.  He jumped through a glass window to attack her. Susan and her children were taken to the old HAVEN Shelter once she was released from the hospital.   Susan’s perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his crimes. Susan and her children stayed in the shelter and slowly began to rebuild their lives.

Susan herself writes of her time in the old shelter so poignantly:  “some people get college sorority sisters, I got sisters of surviving abuse. We got to tell our stories; we got to go to group therapy to listen to positive things we probably have never heard about ourselves. I received counseling from therapists who were not only kind but strong women who were role models.  We survived our abuse and lived to tell about it. Our souls may have been cracked, but we had a place to go where we were accepted.  If a family is a place where everyone’s feelings matter, then HAVEN is part of my family.”

Susan spent the next ten years away from HAVEN’S services. She and her children were safe, and her children grew into adulthood. Susan returned briefly to individual counseling as the perpetrator’s release date approached. HAVEN advocates helped her with legal safety issues, and she resumed individual counseling, this time at our Bingham Farms offices. In sessions, Susan reflected on her time at the shelter and the importance she placed, then and now, on wearing big heavy boots. Perhaps, donning the boots is a reflection of the assault she endured or a reflection of her personal strengths, or maybe a bit of both. She continued to wear her boots every day and to every session.

In late 2015, Susan returned to individual sessions with HAVEN, this time at our beautiful new location. Susan’s body had been significantly weakened by major health crises, but she was still wearing the old, heavy work boots that represented so much to her.  She now used a walker to move about in those boots. Susan was moved by the old shelter doors that are displayed in our lobby. Susan recognized them right away as the doors to the place of safety and caring she had stayed at so long ago.

 

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Susan proudly took a picture of herself and her boots in front of those beautiful doors.

As she expressed in her words: “I drifted my whole life not planting any roots because my boots were always ready to go, my bag always packed, looking for a safe spot from the latest trauma. My wish is that there is a small part of me that can stay there, as a survivor, in the old convent and a piece of me will be at HAVEN. Perhaps then my soul will have peace.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at 877-922-1274. 

 

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Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

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Guest Post by Nkenge Burkhead, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

People often ask, “How did you get involved in this work?” This is a question advocates working to end domestic and sexual violence have been asked countlessly. Their answers are often filled with personal experiences. Many advocates identify as both survivor and activist. This is often not work people fall into by happenstance. We are led here on a deeply personal mission that includes serving those impacted by violence, changing laws or improving legislation, increasing awareness, or to find continued growth and healing by helping. These actions require time, energy, and relentless passion. If we’re not mindful we may risk forgetting our mission and neglecting ourselves. This is why self-care is critical.

Self-care is commonly referred to as any intentional action taken to maintain physical, emotional, and/or mental health. Plans for self-care are uniquely individualized and personal. Actions taken to maintain mental, emotional, or physical health cannot be considered any better than another. They simply need to be beneficial to the person participating.

I was first introduced to self-care at a mindfulness conference. After the conference many attendees organized a camping retreat to get in touch with nature as a means of self-care. A month later I found myself at a campsite surrounded by trees and feeling terribly afraid. I spent the next three days unable to sleep for more than three hours, bathing in bug spray, and completely convinced I’d be eaten by a bear. A day or so after we returned to our respective jobs, a group text went out. Other campers texted about how the trip cleared their heads and the clean air finally allowed them to breathe. Meanwhile, I was writing a complaint to the bug spray company!

This experience taught me to be honest with myself. While a camping trip may be what some people need, others may want to cook a new meal, or play golf.  Taking time to be mindful of what reenergizes you is necessary in creating your personal plan. We also must be conscious of our limitations. Our personality or circumstances are major factors. For instance, I do not find camping relaxing because I find the sounds of the city to be more familiar, therefore safer for me individually. This is a personality limitation. My ideal self-care plan would include an annual three month stay at a tropical resort. Conversely, my financial means would not support that plan and is a circumstantial limitation.

Developing a Self-care Plan

Still, I am able to use my limitations to create a feasible plan. I am able to reject camping trip offers and be intentional about going to a local beach at least four days each summer. We discuss self-care so much because what happens in the absence of care is neglect.

I view advocates that offer survivor services and resources as bridges. Bridges don’t make decisions for you; however, they are always there if you choose to go across. Some days many people will cross and that bridge will have to withstand a lot of weight. Other days no one will cross the bridge and it will only withstand rain and wind. If we want the bridge to remain as a viable option, it must be maintained, reinforced, and tended. Self-care is by no means selfish! It is putting your mask on first so you’re able to assist others. Take some time to create your plan, explore your options, and most importantly enjoy the benefits.

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