Helping victims of domestic violence from all walks of life
by Cristi Sanchez
Many people think of domestic violence as something that happens only on television or in movies, when in reality it exists around us in our communities and challenges our preconceived notions of the face of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence aren’t always the stereotypical young woman explaining away a black eye or a bruised arm. According to Beth Cross, Executive Director of the Help and Emergency Response (H.E.R.) Shelter, victims of domestic violence come from all walks of life and every economic background.
“We don’t realize that a victim could be the soccer mom behind us in the store, the cashier helping us, or even the young sailor who’d never tell his commanding officer that he needs help,” she states with candor. “These are the people we help every day at the H.E.R. Shelter. We want to educate people that it’s happening in their neighborhoods, and we want people to know we’re here to help.”
“We don’t realize that a victim
could be the soccer mom behind us in the store,
the cashier helping us,
or even the young sailor
who’d never tell his commanding officer that he needs help.
These are the people
we help every day at the H.E.R. Shelter.”
Established in 1983, the H.E.R. Shelter, with facilities in Portsmouth and Chesapeake, provides support and resources to victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, and human trafficking. “We focus on the human experience,” Beth explains kindly. “We can’t take away suffering, but we do what we can to lessen it.”
H.E.R.’s coordinated crisis response hotline collects caller information from people needing help. While the shelter is temporary housing for eminent danger cases only, H.E.R.’s many services can all be provided off-premises for those ready to leave their abusive situations behind.
“The shelter is for someone who feels like they’re going to be hurt or worse within 24 hours,” Beth relates. “However, if they’re safe from harm but just want to make a plan to get out, they don’t have to come here. Our staff will meet with them in a safe place and partner with them to plan how to leave and make a sustainable living. We believe no one should live in a situation where they feel controlled or have no say in their own life,” Beth adds with compassion.
Among the resources that the H.E.R. Shelter provides for a successful transition are mental health counseling, court advocacy for custody and protective orders, housing and sustainability programs to help find gainful employment and affordable housing, and a children’s program for the most vulnerable, and often overlooked casualty in domestically violent relationships. “Our children’s program works with kids so they know and understand what healthy relationships are,” Beth explains.
One of the programs Beth finds most exciting is the Male Mentorship program. “We love for our boys to see a strong, positive male role model!” Beth enthuses. “They really need that. They shouldn’t be constantly surrounded by 40 strong-willed women!” she adds laughing.
In fact, the eye-opening catalyst for the mentoring program was an interaction Beth had with one of her 15-year old residents in 2012. “He and I were close. One day after getting in trouble at school, I gave him a standard ‘stay-out-out-of-trouble’ lecture. He said ‘Okay, Ms. Beth. So you’re telling me that if I keep my nose clean and stay out of trouble, I can be a middle aged white lady like you?” That’s when I decided ‘I’m going to find a man and you’re going to talk to him!’” she adds with a hearty chuckle.
So, with the help of Coach Bobby Wilder, the Male Mentorship program at the H.E.R. Shelter was born. “We have male volunteers come once a month for one to two hour activities with the kids. It could be anything from carving a pumpkin, to going skating, to just hanging out. The kids absolutely love it!” Beth smiles.
In fact, H.E.R.’s new “Band of Brothers” program— which focuses on positive male role models and mentors—will be highlighted at its “Night in Italy” themed Gala fundraiser on April 26th. “We want to honor our mentors and men in the community who keep our women and children safe,” Beth states.
She goes on to describe the Gala with bubbly enthusiasm. “It’s a big party with music and food to celebrate hope, and say thank you to our valuable volunteers, supporters, and the community. It’s a great way to let people see what we do, and all proceeds go to H.E.R. Shelter funding,” Beth says happily.
“We focus on the human experience.
We can’t take away suffering,
but we do what we can to lessen it.”
And funding is something H.E.R. needs now more than ever after taking on the responsibility of running the Restore homeless shelter in Portsmouth when the former administrating agency could no longer afford to keep it.
“We don’t normally do homeless services,” Beth discloses, “but the whole city would have been without a shelter. We know some of these families. The board agreed that it needed to happen and we had the skills to do it.” So, H.E.R. stepped up to the plate to fill the hole that would have been left by the loss.
Now running three facilities, H.E.R.’s monetary benefactors are especially important to keeping families safe. With an annual operating budget of 1.5 million dollars, 55 percent comes from federal grants. That means H.E.R. relies on donations and sales from the organization’s Sweet Haven bakery to provide the remaining $820,000 needed to maintain programs and services.
In addition to financial support from the community, H.E.R. relies heavily on volunteer service. Beth encourages people regularly to apply to volunteer with H.E.R. “There is so much that couldn’t happen here without our volunteers!” she exclaims passionately. “I believe that there’s more to life than watching Netflix every night and going to bed. Your life can be used to benefit somebody else, and everyone should have a feeling that they can do something that makes a difference. We all have the power to make a change and we can start in our community.”
The H.E.R. Shelter is a model of people being a part of something bigger than themselves by providing invaluable services to people whose physical and emotional well-being is threatened regularly. Working tirelessly and passionately to serve and empower families in crisis in Hampton Roads, Beth Cross and all H.E.R. Shelter staff and volunteers pour their hearts and souls into the lives of women, children, and men to make a difference, make a change, to benefit others, and save lives.
The H.E.R. Shelter Gala
“Night in Italy”
Norfolk Waterside Marriott
For tickets visit HERShelter.com