Domestic violence shelter cooks up sweet success

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – You’ve heard the saying teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. Well, the same might be said for women and cupcakes. A local shelter is cooking up a way for domestic violence victims to take control of their lives.

It’s all happening inside a tiny kitchen in Portsmouth. “It’s all in the wrist and the twist,”  24-year-old Brittney Cowell demonstrated as she pumped icing from a large pastry bag onto a strawberry cupcake.

Cowell never dreamed she’d be here. “I actually didn’t think I’d be staying in the shelter, but it’s OK.”  And she certainly never expected to be baking. “My first time doing Sweet Haven we did key lime cupcakes and they were so awesome. Oh my God they were good.”

What’s even better are the opportunities this bakery is opening up for Brittney and other domestic violence victims.

“So far I believe 11 women have gone through the program and eight of them became employed,” Olivia Smithberger told

Smithberger is a case manager at the H.E.R. shelter, who, along with the shelter’s director, started the program about a year ago, out of frustration.

“Our ladies were coming into the shelter, they weren’t getting jobs, they were getting beat out by people who just had high school diplomas or maybe didn’t even have that,”Smithberger said.

Photos: Cupcakes making a difference

They started small, with orders for two or three dozen a week and in just six months they’ve become a preferred vendor for the Virginia Beach Convention Center. They’re looking to open a storefront and have partnered with Farm Fresh. The grocery chain has hired several women, including Brittney. It’s helped her secure her very first apartment, and a brighter future for herself and her two young daughters. Success has never tasted sweeter.

“It makes me feel like I’m that person,  I did it!” said Brittney.

All the money made through Sweet Haven bakery goes back into the program to train more women.

For more  information on the program or to order cupcakes, go to the HER shelter’s website or call Olivia at 757-485-1445.

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