Domestic violence shelters fill up as school lets out

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — As schools are emptying out for the summer, domestic violence shelters are filling up. Many moms choose to wait until school is out to leave and that creates challenges for those who are trying to help them.

A room full of toys at the HER Shelter in Portsmouth can only entertain a child for so long — especially the ones who are constantly coping.

“A lot of them have witnessed their moms be abused. They’ve heard verbal abuse, they’ve seen physical abuse. They’ve been moved from house to house to house. Some of them have experienced legitimate homelessness,” said Children’s Program Director, Stephanie Gray.

Program Director Joy Shaffer remembers one little boy in particular, about seven-years-old. His father had brainwashed him into believing boys are superior.

“We take a family photo when people come into shelter and so even the photo, he wouldn’t stand with the family. He stood in front of them because he said that men were better.”

Now that school is letting out, there is an influx of kids at the shelters. Both the Portsmouth and Chesapeake locations are over capacity.

Gray and her volunteers are working to provide extra help for moms with activities for kids,

“Every week this summer we’re going to have a different theme week. We’re going to have pirates come and visit and we’re going to spend a week at camp with some of our seven to 12-year-olds.”

Trips to Busch Gardens, the Air and Space Museum and other local trips are also planned.

Gray explained, “It’s not just fun, but it’s a way to take a deep breath in and just remember what it’s like to be a kid and not have to think about anything else — even if it’s just for a little while.”

It won’t fix all the problems, but these programs and counseling at the shelter can go a long way. Shaffer said they did for that seven-year-old boy.

“His relationship with his mom and other females was a lot better by the time he left here.”

The catch is the shelter relies on donations to make things happen. They can send a kid to camp for a whole week for just $100. They have room for 14 if they can afford it. If you would like to help, click here.